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Sofia, Day 1: Colourful Cambei breaks record and wins again for Romania  

Mihaela Cambei wore her national colours with pride once more as she won her second senior continental title on the opening day of the 2024 European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Cambei broke her own 49kg European record in total as she made five good lifts for 90-109-199. That was 1kg more than her best in Olympic qualifying and leaves her in a strong position in fifth place, only 1kg behind three of the four above her.

Mihaela Cambei (ROU)

She has now won three European titles taped up in the colours of Romania’s flag, blue, yellow and red. It has helped her to another triumph, too – the EWF’s award for top female lifter in 2023. The men’s winner, at the opening ceremony after yesterday’s three sessions, was super-heavyweight multiple champion Lasha Talakhadze from Georgia.

At the European Junior Championships in Albania in 2022 Cambei decided to cover her shoulders and upper arms with K Tape. The Kinesiology Tape is used to improve circulation and support muscles but Cambei – who has 266,000 followers on Instagram – saw it is a way to promote her country, too. “It has worked well,” she said.

Teenager Olivia Drzazga from Poland was second on 74-96-170 and Thammy Nguyen won another landmark medal for Ireland in third place on 74-95-169.

Thammy Nguyen (IRL), with her medals

Last year Nguyen became Ireland’s first medallist at the senior European Championships when she took bronze in clean and jerk, finishing fifth overall. This was her country’s first medal in total at the continent’s flagship event.

Nguyen was sick at Christmas and has had a knee injury. “This one was tough,” she said after making only two good lifts. That was better than some others on a day when there were many red lights and three medal contenders failed to make a total.

Turkey had two chances to make the podium but finished with two bombouts by Alici Duygu, second in snatch, and Medine Belicier. Giulia Imperio from Italy, who was hoping to move up the Olympic rankings, was another who failed to make a total in a session that featured many red lights. Imperio missed all three snatches and retired from clean and jerk.

Mara Strzykala was a very happy winner of the B Group. Strzykala, who will be 32 next month, is Luxembourg’s only current international weightlifter and the first woman ever to represent her nation in major international competitions.

Mara Strzykala (LUX. right), with her coach

Today she recovered from two snatch failures to make all three clean and jerks for 66-92-158 before celebrating with her coach Sabine Kusterer, the German who has twice lifted at the Olympic Games. It was good enough for sixth place, ahead of seven A Group lifters.

Strzykala would never have been in Sofia, or even in weightlifting but for losing a bet a few years ago. A weightlifting coach knew she had a background in gymnastics and track and field, and kept asking her to try a new sport.

“I kept saying no, then one night we were in a bar and we had a bet on whether the next customer through the door would do this or say that, I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, I lost and that meant I had to go and do a weightlifting session with him. Soon the sessions became weekly, then twice and three times a week.”

Kusterer became her coach when Strzykala, met her at the 2022 World Championships, seven months after her first international appearance. “Sabine saw mistakes everywhere. She gave me detailed instructions on what to do and all those mistakes have magically disappeared.”

Strzykala competes in the German Bundesliga for KSV Grunstadt. She will keep going in the sport as long as she can balance her training with her job as an environmental scientist for the Luxembourg government.

Turkey fared much better in the women’s 45kg when two 20-year-olds finished 1-2, Cansu Bektas and Gamze Altun.

Bektas continued her phenomenal run of success despite failing with her final two attempts when she looked sure to register career-best numbers.  She is a double world and continental junior champion and today she won her second senior European title on 75-88-163, equalling her best total. Altun made 65-92-157, and Marta Garcia from Spain was third on 72-84-156.

By Brian Oliver