Whatever other sport was going on around the world yesterday (Sat) it surely cannot have matched the IWF World Championships for drama, excitement and breathtaking quality. The world’s most popular weightlifter rounded off a remarkable evening by setting a third world record in three successive lifts – all by different men.
Ilya Ilyin, double Olympic champion and favourite not just of the home Kazakh supporters, but of many thousands more around the world, brought the crowd to their feet in a stunning finale to the men’s 105kg.
It would not have been possible to script a better finish for the fans, who had paid $90 a ticket, and the worldwide television audience.
Tactical switches by the coaches of Ilyin, his good friend Ruslan Nurudinov of Uzbekistan, and David Bedzhanyan from Russia meant that the last four clean-and-jerk lifts of the night would all be higher than the world record of 238kg.
Ilyin, having made four out of four, failed with his fifth lift, a world record attempt at 239kg. Next up was Nurudinov, who made the lift. He nodded approval of his own effort while the partisan crowd cheered and applauded respectfully.
Bedzhayan, the man whose record had just been beaten, had missed at 236kg but had to go to 240kg to take the lead. He did it. Nurudinov’s world record had lasted little more than a minute.
So did Bedzhayan’s. Ilyin, wearing a light blue uniform with his name printed on the back, marched purposefully forward. The bar had gone up to 242kg, which would be enough for clean-and-jerk and overall victory. He cleaned it quickly and easily, and as he raised his arms the whole crowd stood and roared – spectators, fellow athletes, VIPs, Press and even some of the officials. It was magnificent.
As if that was not enough for one night, we then had the bizarre sight of Ilyin taking a phone call while he was on the podium for the snatch medal ceremony. The sports minister handed him the phone and Ilyin took the call, from the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Narzarbayev. They arranged to meet each other on Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, December 16.
To round off the entertainment Ilyin then revealed that he had increased his weight, trained relentlessly – especially in the last six weeks – and won his world title as a vegetarian. When he had won gold at London 2012 Ilyin spoke of the benefits of eating plenty of chicken and horsemeat, a favourite in Kazakhstan. Now he said that he did not digest meat easily and that, despite the misgivings of his coaches, he had cut it out altogether several months ago.
“I feel lighter, freer, and I exercise more efficiently,” he said. “I base my diet on my feelings. It helps and it works.” As long as he takes in enough protein, he is fine without meat.
Although many Indian lifters are vegetarian, nobody has yet been able to name a vegetarian who ever won a world title.
Ilyin has now won IWF World Championship titles at three weights – 85kg, 94kg and 105kg. His Olympic golds in 2008 and 2012 were both at 94kg. His next target, he said, is a third Olympic gold, this time at 105kg.
He was planning to celebrate with his close friends last night (Saturday), and as well as training hard he will continue his English lessons. He is planning visits to the United States and Britain. Maybe some vegetarian food companies will want to sign him up.
In the women’s 75kg PRK strengthened their position at the top of the medals table. Kim Un Ju won both the clean-and-jerk and the overall golds, while China could not manage any. Kang Yue, China’s big hope, was one of three lifters who finished on 126kg in the snatch but lost out to Russia’s Nadezhda Evstiukhina on bodyweight, with Kim third.
Evstiukhina then faltered badly in the clean-and-jerk, missing her first two lifts. “I wasn’t aggressive enough, and I have some technical problems to sort out,” she said after finishing on 153kg, four behind Kim.
PRK are favourites to finish on top of the medals table for the first time in any major championship in any sport. They are three golds ahead of China, whose last chance lies with Suping Meng in the women’s +105kg today (Sunday). She needs a clean sweep for China to overtake PRK.