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Sofia, Day 2: Four medals for Bulgaria as USA guest Morris moves up Paris rankings

Host nation Bulgaria had four men on the podium in two contests, an Armenian teenager claimed the women’s 55kg, and American Hampton Morris made a big gain in the Olympic rankings on the second day of the European Championships in Sofia.

Morris moved up from 10th place to seventh after outperforming all the Europeans in the 61kg session. Team USA cannot win medals here but their totals count in the Paris 2024 rankings.

They were given permission to compete in Bulgaria rather than the Pan American Championships later this month in Venezuela, a country with which USA has no diplomatic relations.

Hampton Morris (USA, right) posing with the European medallists

Among those Morris overtook was the Bulgarian Ivan Dimov, who was surprisingly beaten by team-mate Gabriel Marinov. Morris broke three American records in making 126-171-297, which was 16kg more than Marinov’s winning total.

Marinov declined his final attempt after making 121-160-281. Dimov successfully opened with 130kg before missing four straight attempts, then finished with 150kg for a total of 280kg.

Shota Mishvelidze from Georgia had his lowest total for many years, making 125-147-272 for third place. But that was a phenomenal effort by last year’s champion, who is fifth in the Paris rankings, because he was recently laid low by a virus that got into his lungs. He was in hospital last month and was not sure he would be fit enough to lift.

Morris was especially happy with his career-best snatch of 126kg. “The last two weeks before this competition went very well,” he said.

“I was really happy with the way my snatch was moving, and so was my dad (coach Tripp). I felt very good out there – the event has been amazing. My only target was to improve my place in the rankings and I did that.”

Pavlo Zalipskyi from Ukraine and Valentin Iancu from Romania, who finished fourth and fifth, also won medals. Zalipskyi was second in snatch and Iancu second in clean and jerk.

Marinov and Dimov had plenty of support from a noisy home crowd, just like winner Angel Rusev and third-placed teenager Dzhan Zarkov in the earlier 55kg session.

For Rusev it was a sixth European title since 2018 as a youth, junior, and now four straight times as a senior. Rusev was helped by the jury, who reversed a unanimous no-lift decision on his second snatch of 109kg. He declined his final attempt after making 109-135-244.

Five of the other 11 athletes in the session have stood alongside Rusev on the podium during his run of success, sometimes with a snatch gold but never ahead of him on total.

One of them, Josue Brachi from Spain, was out of contention at halfway after three snatch failures. He took clean and jerk bronze on 131kg. Two others, snatch winner Muammer Sahin from Turkey and the Georgian Goderdze Berdelidze, dropped away after two clean and jerk failures. It was the last appearance for Sahin, 30, who retired afterwards.

Cristian Luca from Romania also fell just short after losing his final attempt. Luca was fourth,  which left only one of the five in the medal positions on total this time – second-placed Ramini Shamilishvili from Georgia. Shamilishvili made five good lifts for 111-130-241.

Zarkov, 17, was making his first appearance in a senior competition and was the only athlete to make all six lifts. He was nearly 50kg up on his last result in the European Youth Championships nine months ago, making 102-133-235 to move from eighth in snatch to third overall.

There was an exciting finish in the women’s 55kg where two teenagers fought it out for gold and a 31-year-old won her first international medal in third place.

Junior world champion Aleksandra Grigoryan from Armenia kept up a good run of results when she edged ahead of the 18-year-old Italian Celine Delia, who was competing at the senior Championships for the first time.

At the World Juniors in Mexico in November, Grigoryan was fifth in snatch before winning gold on total with her final lift. Here in Sofia she was seventh at halfway and did it again, winning with a final clean and jerk of 115kg.

Italy’s coach Sebastiano Corbu said Grigoryan “truly performed a miracle in the last attempt”. He was very happy with Delia’s performance. “Let’s take this silver medal which was an excellent result for a rookie and confirms the excellent preparation made.”

Grigoyan, 19, has competed five times in seven months. “I like to keep busy,” she said. She plans to lift again at the IWF World Cup in Thailand, which starts in seven weeks. “Was I confident of winning at halfway? It was 50-50. I know I’m more powerful in clean and jerk.”

Armenian teenager Aleksandra Grigoryan with team-mates after her 55kg victory

Delia made her last two lifts to take the lead and finished 84-11-195, a career-best total. Sol Anette Waaler from Norway was the only snatch medallist to make the top three on total.

Waaler, 31, made a remarkable save on her second clean and jerk, ending up right on the front edge of the platform. That helped her to 86-104-190.

“I’ve never medalled before internationally so I’m happy with that,” she said. “But I’m also disappointed because I’ve been making more in training.” Waaler, from Trondheim, was a late starter in weightlifting in 2016, switching from CrossFit, and plans to keep going for a while yet.

Waaler won gold in snatch ahead of Yulia Hulina, the independent neutral athlete from Belarus, and Burcu Alici from Turkey, who was also third in clean and jerk. Hulina finished sixth and Alici fourth. Alici’s twin sister Duygu was a snatch medallist at 49kg on Monday before bombing out in clean and jerk.

By Brian Oliver