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Tashkent, Day 2: Five straight wins for unstoppable PRK – and three more world records

DPR Korea continued its record-breaking run of success by making it five wins from five medal events at the Asian Championships in Tashkent. There were three more world records, too, as the day’s three winners collectively finished 67kg clear of the silver medallists.

In the 18 weeks since they returned from an extended absence of nearly four years that kept them out of the Tokyo Olympic Games – a result of the country’s response to the Covid pandemic – PRK weightlifters have been unstoppable.

They have set 12 world records and have topped the medals table at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China and the IWF Grand Prix in Qatar. With six PRK athletes yet to compete between tomorrow and Thursday, and China absent, they seem sure to be the top nation again here in Uzbekistan.

Women’s 49kg podium – Photo credit: Isaac Morillas/

Their first winner today was Ri Song Gum in the women’s 49kg, which she won by 29kg. Pak Myong Jin was 15kg clear in the men’s 61kg, and Kang Hyon Gyong completed the hat-trick by finishing 23kg ahead of world champion Chen Guan-Ling, from Chinese Taipei, in the women’s 55kg.

PRK could take its record to eight from eight over the next two days, because it has the favourite in the next three categories – women’s 59kg and 64kg, and men’s 67kg. The good news for everybody else is that there is no PRK athlete in the men’s 73kg on Tuesday.

A delighted Ri waved to the crowd as she celebrated a final attempt that gave her two world records.

While her rivals struggled to hit top form, Ri made 95-125-220 to take the clean and jerk world record from China’s Olympic champion Hou Zhihui and better her own mark on total.

Rira Suzuki from Japan, who declined her final attempt in making 82-109-191, was second and Rosegie Ramos from the Philippines was third on 88-102-190.

Unlike Suzuki, Ramos and most others here, PRK’s athletes are not chasing gains in the Olympic rankings because they are not eligible to qualify for Paris 2024. They missed too many qualifying opportunities during their absence.

If she was eligible, Ri would be 4kg clear at the top of the rankings ahead of Jiang Huihua from China. Jiang and her team-mates are not competing in Tashkent, preferring to focus instead on training for the IWF World Cup in Thailand which runs from March 31-April 11 and ends the Olympic qualifying programme.

In three appearances since PRK’s return, Ri has won gold at the Asian Games and Asian Championships, finished second to Jiang in Qatar, and set four world records.

Only two of 11 women improved their ranking total, Lin Cheng-Jin from Chinese Taipei by 1kg and Klarisa Juliana from Indonesia by 5kg from the B Group, but none moved up into the all-important top 10. Those who fell short of their best total included Surodchana Khambao from Thailand, Shin Jaegyong from Korea, Windy Aisah from Indonesia, plus medallists Suzuki and Ramos.

It was a similar story in the next session when PRK won and nobody made ground in the Paris rankings.

Pak made five from six in his 134-172-306. Ricko Saputra from Indonesia made only two good lifts in second place on 130-161-291, failing with his final two attempts when he needed 10kg more to overtake team-mate Eko Yuli Irawan in the rankings.

Men’s 61kg podium – Photo credit: Isaac Morillas/

Lee Hyeseong from Korea won snatch silver on his international debut before dropping to fourth on total on 286kg. Lee, 29, made 1kg more than his world champion team-mate Shin Rok, who lifted in the B Group.

Shin Rok opened on 125kg before missing two attempts in both snatch and clean and jerk. The 2021 world champion posted 125-160-285, which was 2kg below his best qualifying total.

The 21-year-old has had two bombouts and made only 10 good lifts from 30 attempts in qualifying but he remains optimistic. He has had a knee problem and believes there is more to come. “Today was good – I can do it in Thailand, I can qualify for Paris,” Shin Rok said.

His target is 135-170, he said. That would be good enough to make him an Olympic medal contender, but he would surely need a six-from-six performance in Thailand.

Seraj Alsaleem from Saudi Arabia, who finished fifth at this weight at the Tokyo Olympic Games after a successful qualifying campaign, has also struggled to make lifts. He has withdrawn after weigh-in twice and after today’s bombout in snatch he is down in 17th place in the rankings, needing to find an improvement of about 20kg in Thailand to qualify.

Kang Hyon Gyong (PRK) – Photo credit: Isaac Morillas/

In the non-Olympic women’s 55kg category, Kang bounced back from a snatch bombout in Qatar by starting with three good lifts and bettering her own world record. Kang made 104-123-227 ahead of Chen on 89-115-204. Nigora Abdullaeva was a bronze medallist for host nation Uzbekistan on 86-106-192.

Kang, 24, would have beaten her world record on total, too, but for a jury decision. Her final attempt at 130kg was given a 2-1 verdict by the referees but the jury ruled it a no-lift for a press-out.

By Brian Oliver