LONDON (Reuters) - The rise and fall of steel-loaded barbells on the London Olympic weightlifting platform decided 15 gold medals, rewrote eight world records and revealed a challenge to China’s dominance.
Five titles put China on top but after winning eight in Beijing, losses to North Korean and Kazakh lifters will rankle in a squad where anything less than gold is a disappointment.
After winning China’s fifth and final gold medal, women’s super heavyweight champion Zhou Lulu summed up the team’s performance: “Mission unaccomplished.”
North Korea’s 20-year-old Om Yun-chol threw down the gauntlet early, winning the first of his country’s three gold medals with a stunning world record 168kg clean and jerk lift that beat China’s Wu Jingbiao on the second day of competition.
On their way to winning four gold medals, Kazakhstan produced the only lifter from Beijing to retain an Olympic title, when the flamboyant Ilya Ilyin put in a flawless performance to set two world records in the men’s 94 kg class.
“I love my life, I love to work, I love training and I give it everything,” he said.
“All this makes the athlete which is Ilya Ilyin. I give my life to the sport and I love bringing joy to people.”
In a sport usually determined by speed, technique and raw power, the margins between success and failure are often slim but none more so than for Poland’s Adrian Zielinksi who scooped gold by virtue of his lighter bodyweight.
When tied with Russia’s Apti Aukhadov on total weight lifted, he won his country’s first weightlifting title for 40 years because he weighed 130 grams less than his opponent - equivalent to a chicken fillet or a small cup of water.
Those fine margins, and the combination of athletes pushing their physical capacity to their limits with 200kg weights, also mean that when something goes wrong, it can really go wrong.
No one knows this better than Germany’s Matthias Steiner who, on the final evening of the competition, buckled under a lift and received a heavy blow to the head from the 196 kg barbell, leaving him briefly stricken on the platform.
But the former Olympic champion left the stage on his feet and waved to the crowd packed into London’s ExCel arena to see the headline event - the battle for the title of strongest man at the Olympics.
In that contest, Iran’s colossal Behdad Salimikordasiabi did not disappoint the expectations of a nation where strong men are held up as idols, winning super heavyweight gold and reinstating an Iranian at the top of the Olympic weightlifting tree.
For all the competition’s colourful and noisy support, nothing rivalled the flag-waving chants of “Ir-an, Ir-an” that reverberated through the arena and spilled out onto the venue’s concourse.
“In Iran I know they’re all partying in the street already,” Salimi said.
In London they were too.
Editing by Ian Ransom