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Phuket, Day 5: Gold medal favourite Rahmat Erwin knocked out of Paris Olympics by record-breaking team-mate Rizki Juniansyah 

Rahmat Erwin, one of the strongest favourites for Olympic gold, has been knocked out of Paris 2024 by his Indonesian team-mate Rizki Juniansyah in one of the biggest upsets in weightlifting history.

It happened on another day of drama in the 73kg category at the IWF World Cup in Phuket, Thailand, the final qualifying competition for the Paris Games in which there have now been 14 world records in five days.

“I can’t believe it, I don’t know what to think,” said Juniansyah afterwards. “I had appendix surgery about six months ago and I didn’t start training properly until January the first.

“I can’t take it all in. It’s crazy. I’m so proud.”

Rizki Juniansyah (INA)

Erwin had led the rankings since December 5, 2022 when he won at the World Championships in Bogota, Colombia. He has set multiple world records at two different weights since then, and only two months ago he said, “It has to be gold,” when asked about his prospects in Paris.

Erwin appeared to be under no threat of being overtaken by anyone from another country, including  Shi Zhiyong from China, who had his best day since winning Olympic gold for a second time in Tokyo nearly three years ago.

But because nations are limited to one athlete per weight category, Erwin had to protect his lead over team-mate Juniansyah. He failed.

Juniansyah broke the world record on total when he made 201kg with his fifth attempt. He missed at 203kg but had gone ahead of Erwin by making 164-201-365, a 12kg improvement on his best effort at the Asian Championships in Uzbekistan in February.

Rahmat Erwin (INA)

Erwin, who had finished 10kg ahead of him there, had two attempts left to make 206kg.  He was close with the first one, but not the final attempt, which he made after a break of only 35 seconds when he could have taken two minutes.

Erwin, who congratulated Juniansyah, was distraught afterwards. His father Erwin Abdullah, who is also his coach, tried to console him before the medal presentations.

Juniansyah said he had never made 206kg in training. “I’ve done 202,” he said. “I always thought I had a chance when I performed well at the Asian Championships. Yes, I was 10kg behind Rahmat and he is amazing, but I always believed. I don’t really know how I did it.”

Erwin, who was third in snatch, finished on 160-195-355. He had never previously missed two clean and jerks during qualifying.

Shi did well after a lower back injury caused him long-term problems. On his return from an 862-day absence at the Qatar Grand Prix in December he totalled 340kg. Here he led in snatch, and despite missing his last two attempts he improved that by 16kg on 165-191-356, leaving him 9kg behind Juniansyah in the rankings.

Shi Zhiyong (CHN)

There were other big improvers, including the Tokyo silver medallist Julio Mayora from Venezuela who moved up from 12th place to qualify on 151-188-339. That knocked David Sanchez from Spain – unable to lift here because of injury – out of the top 10.

Apart from Erwin and Sanchez, everybody else who started in the top 10 stayed there even if the order changed: Shi, Masanori Miyamoto from Japan, Weeraphon Wichuma from Thailand, Bozhidar Andreev from Bulgaria, Bak Joohyo from Korea, Ritvars Suharevs from Latvia, Furkan Ozbek from Turkey and Luis Javier Mosquera from Colombia, who was a Tokyo silver medallist at 67kg. Karem Ben Hnia from Tunisia claimed the continental slot.

Bektimar Reyimov from Turkmenistan started in 21st place and came close to making the top 10. He improved his best total by 10kg but failed with his last two attempts.

There was a sea of red lights in the B Group, where 10 athletes managed only four good clean and jerks between them. Six bombed out as they chased a place in the top 10, trying to lift far more than they had ever done before.

Two of them nearly made it. Caden Cahoy from the United States twice went close to his target of 193kg in clean and jerk. Cahoy, at 20 still a junior, had never lifted more than 180kg in a competition.

He was too upset to talk afterwards but his father and coach Chad Cahoy said, “What a great effort. Caden showed the maturity of a professional athlete that you don’t usually get at that age. He’d never cleaned anything like that before, even in training. He got his adrenalin flowing after he so nearly jerked the first one at 187. I’m proud of him.”

The Albanian Briken Calja was on course for a fourth Olympic Games after making his first four attempts – his best effort since finishing second to Erwin at the 2021 World Championships.

But Calja, 34, who was fourth at this weight in Tokyo, failed with his last two attempts. He managed only four good clean and jerks in six qualifying competitions.

Ri Won Ju (PRK)

DPR Korea had its fifth winner of the week when Ri Won Ju broke a world record – the eighth for his team in Phuket – in the non-Olympic 67kg category. It was his third straight victory after successes at the Qatar Grand Prix and the Asian Championships.

Another PRK lifter, Pak Jong Ju, had set the clean and jerk world record in 2019. Ri beat it on his final attempt and improved his best total by 12kg in making 144-189-333. He was in tears when his national anthem was played after the medal presentations.

Sergio Massidda from Italy – a medal contender at 61kg in Paris – had led by 1kg at halfway. He was also in career-best form, improving his snatch by 4kg, clean and jerk by 7kg and total by 14kg.

“When I go back down (to 61kg) I might lose four to six of those 14 kilos but I’ll keep the rest,” he said, looking ahead to Paris. He finished 145-172-317. Third place went to Ishimbek Muratbek Uulu from Kyrgyzstan on 122-172-294.

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia