By Daniel Hicks
Chen Lijun made a stunning comeback to complete a Chinese hat-trick as the world’s most populous nation continued to dominate the Tokyo Olympics weightlifting on Sunday, with Li Fabin also winning gold.
Lying fourth in the men’s 67kg class, 6kg adrift of Colombia’s Luis Mosquera after the snatch, world record holder Chen needed to clean and jerk 187kg, 1kg short of the world record, to take gold.
Moments before, Mosquera thought he had snatched a dramatic win when his final 180kg attempt was reinstated by the jury on an agonising TV review, after being initially ruled a ‘no lift’, to give him a 331kg aggregate.
It forced Chen, successful at 175kg, to pile on an extra 12kg on the bar for an all-or-nothing shot at gold in the Tokyo International Forum.
The 28-year-old from the southwestern city of Chongqing completed an unerring lift before screaming and punching the air in delight as he relegated Mosquera to silver by the slimmest of margins, 1kg.
“I felt confident,” Chen, who equalled his personal best set at the 2019 World Championships, told reporters. “Because I already had the experience to lift this weight.
“The clean and jerk is my strength, so even when I was behind after the snatch I knew I could do it.”
Mosquera said he had suffered mixed emotions before his final lift was allowed to stand. “I thought I had lost it but then I was so elated,” he said.
“The Chinese are the best, so to say I was just one kilogramme behind, I feel very proud.”
Minutes earlier, a delighted Italian Mirko Zanni, 23, smashed his clean and jerk personal best by 4kg to snatch a surprise bronze with a 322kg total, just ahead of South Korea’s Han Myeong-mok.
Zanni kissed his medal as he spoke to reporters and then looked to the sky. “I can’t believe this. I know my granddad was watching and helped me do it,” he said, revealing his grandfather, his inspiration, had died 10 years ago.
Earlier in the day, Li Fabin had made it two out of two Tokyo weightlifting medals for China in the men’s 61kg bodyweight category, as he saw off Indonesian veteran Eko Yuli Irawan, who became only the fifth lifter in history to win four Olympic medals.
The flamboyant Li pulled off his signature one-legged ‘flamingo lift’ on his opening clean and jerk at 166kg on his way to a 313kg total and an 11kg margin over Asian Games champion Irawan in the 61kg class.
“It’s a lift I wouldn’t suggest anyone else should learn,” said Li, who somehow manages to regain his balance by standing on one leg while holding a massive weight above his head.
“Standing on one leg is not a regular balance move. I can only do it because I have great core and abdomen muscle strength.”
Irawan, who went lift-for-lift with Li in a pulsating two-horse race, was left with a final attempt at 177kg to win gold, which would have extended his own clean and jerk world record by a massive 3kg.
It proved too much but Irawan’s second consecutive silver meant he became his country’s most decorated Olympian after bronzes at the London and Beijing Games.
The 32-year-old from rural Lampung in Sumatra, who herded goats as a boy, joined four-time medallists American Norbert Schemansky, Germany’s Ronny Weller, Bulgaria’s Nikolay Pechalov and Greece’s Pyrros Dimas.
But Irawan lamented his disrupted preparation in coronavirus-ravaged Indonesia. “The training was harder, yes,” he told AFP. “We have been training in Covid lockdown since January.”
Kazakhstan’s 22-year-old youngster, Igor Son, claimed bronze with a 294kg total.
Chen and Li’s wins added to Hou Zhihui’s victory in the women’s 49kg competition on Saturday as China’s weightlifting gold rush gained momentum.
On Monday, Liao Quiyun is favourite to make it four in a row for China when she lifts in the women’s 55kg class.
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