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Doha, Final Day: Tearful scenes after USA’s Theisen Lappen overtakes Olympic medallist team-mate Robles in Paris rankings

Only one of them was a winner but there were two Americans on top of the podium when The Star-Spangled Banner was played for the only time at the IWF Grand Prix in Qatar, which ended today.

“I couldn’t bear to see Sarah cry, so she came and joined me,” said super-heavyweight gold medallist Mary Theisen Lappen after overtaking team-mate Sarah Robles in the Olympic ranking list for the first time. The two friends had their arms around each others’ shoulders, and both were in tears as they left the platform.

Robles, twice an Olympic bronze medallist and the leading American in her weight class for many years, felt unable to continue after failing with her first clean and jerk at 150kg. Her team-mate has been closing in on her throughout a busy year and when Theisen Lappen made her second clean and jerk on 163kg it put her fifth in the Paris 2024 reckoning, 1kg ahead of Robles. Nations are limited to one athlete per weight category.

Mary Theisen Lappen and Sarah Robles (USA)

“I’m not hurt, except for my ego,” said Robles, 35. “I wanted to congratulate Mary there on the podium. I’ve come this far and I’ll keep going, my work is not done.”

Robles and Theisen Lappen, described by national coaching director Mike Gattone as “two wonderful human beings”, will both head to Bulgaria for the continental championships in February, the penultimate Olympic qualifier.

USA will compete in Europe as guests, with performances counting in qualifying, because they have been advised by their government not to travel to Venezuela for the Pan American Championships. There are no diplomatic relations between USA and Venezuela.

Theisen Lappen, 33, is looking forward to visiting Europe for the first time, if not the journey. She has competed in Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Chile and Qatar since last December.

“This has been a crazy long year,” she said. “At the start of it I was excited about travelling to international competitions. Now I’m dreading the 17-hour flight home and looking forward to not travelling.

“I haven’t had any time off the whole year, none. Now with this result I can take a break for Christmas. I’m going to my parents home where I can spend some time just hanging out without lifting. I’ll be back in the gym on December 27th.

“My aim at the start of 2023 was to be where I am now. I feel super strong but there’s been plenty to work on with technique. I have a good coach (Wil Fleming) to help with that.”

Mary Theisen Lappen (USA)

Theisen Lappen made a career-best total by 6kg in international competition on 120-163-283. She failed with her final snatch on 123kg and with a clean and jerk attempt at 166kg. In a field of ten, she was the only athlete to improve her Olympic ranking.

Robles won the snatch gold on 124kg and tried, but failed, for 128kg, a career high last made in Tokyo when she won her second Olympic bronze medal. Her retirement from clean and jerk left the way clear for Duangaksorn Chaidee from Thailand and Iuniarra Sipaia to finish second and third on 121-152-273 and 109-153-262. Li Wenwen, China’s Olympic champion, withdrew to await better fitness.

Sipaia will be determined to qualify after being denied the chance to lift in Tokyo because of Covid. Like Don Opeloge, who won a clean and jerk silver at 102kg in Doha, and Nevo Ioane, she qualified for Tokyo but was refused permission to leave the country during lockdown in Samoa.

The team was locked away at training camp for months on end during a period of more than two years when Samoa could not compete overseas.

Iuniarra Sipaia (SAM)

Samoa’s hopes of another medal in the men’s super-heavyweights disappeared when Sanele Mao made only his opening snatch and failed to make a total.

With the rankings leader Lasha Talakhadze an absentee, Armenia had a 1-2 finish when Varazdat Lalayan finished ahead of Simon Martirosyan. Lalayan, second in the rankings on 462kg, made 200-241-441 and Martirosyan declined his final attempt after making 190-240-430.

The biggest mover among the 11 who lifted was fourth-placed Eishiro Murakami from Japan, who clearly enjoyed his time on the platform. He was 22nd in the extended list before today, 3kg behind team-mate Kosuke Chinen, who totalled 370kg in the B Group. Murakami, 28, made five good lifts for 188-225-413 and is just outside the top ten now.

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia