Records tumble but Egypt take the honours after long wait


By Brian Oliver at Riocentro, Rio de Janeiro
Kazakhstan had one gold, one silver and one world record. China had one
gold, one silver and one world record. But the stars of day five of
weightlifting at Riocentro were the nation who finished third in both
events, Egypt.

For the first time since the 1948 Games in London an Egyptian man won a
weightlifting medal – Mohamed Ihab in the 77kg. A few hours earlier Sara
Ahmed, aged 18, had become the first Egyptian woman in any sport to stand
on the Olympic podium after taking 69kg bronze.

They both agreed that for Egypt, the future is very bright. “By the time of
Tokyo 2020 Egypt’s status in world weightlifting will be completely
different,” said Ihab, 24.

The world records came in the men’s 77kg. Lyu Xiaojun, wearing gold shoes
provided by his confident sponsors, broke his own snatch world record with
a lift of 177kg. After his third clean & jerk he stripped off his top and
screamed in triumph.

But Lyu reckoned without Nihat Rahimov. With two lifts left Rahimov, who
was born in Azerbaijan and lifted for them until 2013, had to make up 12kg
to match Lyu’s total of 369kg and win on bodyweight. Unbelievably, he did
it at the first attempt, beating the clean & jerk world record by 4kg.

It finished Kazakhstan gold, China silver, the opposite of the women’s 69kg
in which Xiang Wanmei beat Zhazira Zhapparkul.

But the bronze medallist was the star of that show. Sara Ahmed, from
Ismailia, was not only the first Egyptian woman to stand on the Olympic
podium, she was the first Arab woman to be presented with a medal in
weightlifting.

“This is such a big honour,” said Ahmed, who won the Youth Olympic Games
title two years ago. “All Egypt was waiting for one or two medals from our
team.”

Technically, Abeer Abdelrahman preceded Ahmed. At London 2012 Abdelrahman
finished fifth in the women’s 75kg but because of two doping cases ahead of
her, revealed by recent retesting, she becomes a silver medallist.

“But I was the first to be on the podium,” said Ahmed, who took up
weightlifting because her brother competed in it. She went to cheer him on
and later trained and competed herself.

Her father died in a motor accident last year and Ahmed, who has two
brothers and two sisters, said she would use her reward from the state
(500,000 Egyptian pounds, worth $56,000) to help her family.

“My father was an agricultural engineer and he was the only breadwinner in
the family,” she said. “Now it can be me. I intend to win more medals.”

Before the International Weightlifting Federation changed the rules in 2011
to allow muslim women to wear a full-length unitard, very few females
practised the sport in the Arab world as they considered the clothing
immodest.

Ahmed, who wore a full-length unitard and a sports hijab, said, “I have
worn the hijab only for a year. It is not compulsory, but I like it.

“I hope this medal will encourage other girls to take up the sport. A new
weightlifting generation can be born, a new beginning.”

Weightlifting and handball were the most popular sports for Egyptian girls,
she said.

“I hope I can help to reestablish Egypt as a successful weightlifting
nation.”

Ahmed made six good lifts and had an anxious wait when Colombia’s Leidy
Solis Arboleda made her last clean & jerk attempt at 146kg.

Had she made it she would have edged Ahmed out of the medals, but she
failed and Egypt’s coaches celebrated loudly.

Xiang won with a lift to spare, totalling 261kg. Zhapparkul made 259kg.
Xiang thanked her parents for helping her through her career “My parents
raised four daughters and it was very difficult for them, especially my
father,” she said.

Zhapparkul won the contest for most sisters. She is the youngest of seven
girls.

There was an interesting contrast in speed of lifting during the two
sessions. Darya Pachabut, of Belarus, took so long she was timed out on her
first snatch attempt. Earlier, in the B Group, Britain’s Rebekah Tiler had
52 seconds on the clock when she made one of her clean & jerks. “I like to
get on with it,” said Tiler, 17, who finished 10th and is already looking
forward to Tokyo.

Egyptian men had won nine weightlifting medals, including five golds, when
Ahmed won her bronze. A few hours later the 68-year wait for a tenth male
medal was over.

Ihab Mohamed totalled 361kg for third place, 18kg behind Rahimov and Lu. He
said, “There are Egyptian athletes waiting to be promoted into medal
positions because of the doping [at 2008 and 2012]. I hope this was a 100%
clean competition.”

Ihab, from Al-Fayoum, is one of six brothers, all weightlifters. He is the
only one competing at this level and he is assured of a hero’s welcome
after the Games, he said.

Kazakhstan won their first gold of the 2016 Games
through Rahimov, who served a two-year doping ban after testing positive at
the 2013 Universiade. At the time he competed for his native Azerbaijan.

When Rahimov made the lift the Kazakhstan national coach, Aleksey Ni, ran
on to the platform to hoist his hero off the ground. Ni then fell on to his
back and kicked at the air.

On the basis of that record Rahimov was asked, “What would you say to
Olympic fans who doubt the validity of your medal?” His reply was, “I am
not aware of the problem so that is what I would tell them.”

Lyu, who had broken his own snatch world record with a lift of 177kg, said
of Rahimov, “I met a stronger competitor. I admire him.”

Lyu’s sponsors gave him a pair of specially made gold shoes in the
expectation that he would retain his Olympic title. After he made his sixth
and final lift he clearly thought he had done enough to win.

But Rahimov had the final say.

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