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Sofia, Day 9: Lalayan takes gold after Lasha withdraws, and Britain’s Campbell wins fourth title

Lasha Talakhadze’s long run of European titles came to an end in Sofia when he withdrew from the men’s super-heavyweights. Varazdat Lalayan from Armenia is the new champion after winning the final session of the 2024 European Championships on 205-250-455.

In the women’s super-heavyweights Emily Campbell overcame another injury scare to win her fourth title for Britain. It was her first competition in 10 months.

Giorgi Asanidze, Georgia’s head coach, said, “Lasha has a minor trauma in one of his knees and we made this decision to mitigate the risk as much as possible.

“Our objective in Paris qualification. An athlete at any stage should retain ‘the feeling of the podium’. We are definitely looking to compete in Thailand (at the final IWF World Cup) for Lasha to retain that feeling of the podium.”

Emily Campbell (GBR)

The World Cup in Phuket brings to a close the qualifying programme for Paris 2024 when it ends on April 11.

Lalayan is third in the Paris 2024 rankings behind Talakhadze and Gor Minasyan from Bahrain, who suffered a surprise defeat in the Asian Championships two weeks ago.

Lalayan was the only one of 10 lifters to snatch more than 200kg. He finished 18kg clear of team-mate Simon Martirosyan on 190-247-437. Eduard Ziaziulin, the individual neutral athlete from Belarus, was third on 195-241-436, a 5kg ranking improvement that takes him up one place to seventh.

Caine Wilkes fared best of the two Americans competing as guests. Wilkes made 176-214-390 while Alejandro Medina bombed out in clean and jerk after snatching 167kg.

The only man on a zero total in the entire Olympic rankings finally got off the mark in the B Group. Enzo Kuworge from the Netherlands, who lifted in Tokyo, competed for the first time since May 2022.

He has had a serious knee injury and withdrew after weigh-in at previous qualifiers. This time bad luck struck again before he went out to make 168-202-370, retiring after four attempts to protect his knee.

“I could only train for one week for this,” Kuworge said. “I’ve had asthma attacks, a bad leg infection, and I was in hospital three times when I should have been training. Making 168-202 after only four sessions is pretty good. There’s clearly plenty of improvement to come.”

He will go to the World Cup in Thailand needing another 50kg to have a shot at the top 10. After 633 days away from the platform, Kuworge now has 51 days in which to work a miracle.

Campbell has had a run of injuries and thought she was over the worst in preparing for this competition, her first since last April. “And then on Friday in the training hall my adductor went, ‘No you’re not.’ It could have kept me out of the competition but Stu (head coach Stu Martin) has worked really hard to get me here over the past three days.

“Obviously I’m more than happy with today, after that scare. Now I can go home for rehab and to prepare for Paris. There’s no need to lift in Thailand because I’m well set in the rankings.”

Anastasiia Hotfrid (GEO)

Campbell declined her final attempt in making 112-151-263, finishing 6kg clear of Anastasiia Hotfrid from Georgia. Hotfrid made six good lifts in her 117-40-257, up 5kg on her best ranking total. She needs at least 6kg more in Thailand.

“I think I can do it,” she said. “I had a virus in January and didn’t expect this because I haven’t done as well as this in training.”

The double European youth champion Fatmagul Cevik from Turkey was third. Cevik, 18, made five good lifts after missing her opener for 107-131-238.

Two snatch failures meant Mary Theisen Lappen was unable to make ground in the Paris rankings. The American made 116-155-271 and remains fifth.

By Brian Oliver