Olympic frenzy in full swing; North Korea is the new China

Day three of weightlifting at the 2012 London Games and any attempts to maintain a semblance of normalcy have deteriorated beyond recognition. I know the Olympics are an overhyped, bloated, horrible spectacle that turns real-live human beings into pawns of politicians and corporate entities, but I can’t help myself. And really in that respect it’s not so different from normal life. The people are just fitter and on more expensive drugs.

What? Jesus, I can’t even formulate coherent thoughts. I tried to restrain my intake of weightlifting today but failed about two minutes into the day’s first A session, the women’s 58-kilo class.  I am now little more than a giant eye taking in weightlifting streams by this point, having long ago abandoned things like personal hygiene or the ability to survive in “polite” society. I’ll worry about those things again next week.

photo of the author, before and after succumbing to the “vice” of streaming olympic weightlifting (photo: http://books.google.com/books?id=yUTIuGGsvxYC&lpg=PP1&ots=sIcnGpNtui&dq=vitalogy%20book&pg=PA52#v=twopage&q&f=true)

After China’s disappointing performance in the 53-kilo class (their Jun Zhou bombed in the B session with 95 kilos in the snatch), they returned in proper form for the 58s. In that class, Xueying Li managed 108 (an Olympic record) and 138 for an Olympic record total of 246. That put her well ahead of second-place finisher Pimsiri Sirikaew (Thailand, 236), and third place’s Yuliya Kalina (Ukraine, 235). That ten-kilo lead is the sort of dominance I think we’ve all come to expect from China by this point, especially considering their steller performance at the 2008 Games (and at many international competitions since).

xueying li snatching 108 (photo credit: © Gallo Images, http://www.supersport.com/olympics/weightlifting/news/120730/Chinas_Li_wins_gold_rewrites_record_book)

Which is one of the reasons why the men’s 62-kilo class was such an extraordinary spectacle. I mentioned earlier that the entry totals all spanned no more than five kilos. The final spread in the A session was not quite that tight (as could be expected) but it was a well-fought competition. The most stunning performance was from North Korea’s Un Guk Kim, who went three-for-three in the snatch, ending up with an Olympic Record-breaking 153 (tying the current World Record). That’s three kilos better than he managed in Paris EuroDisney Hell at the 2011 Worlds. Going into the clean and jerk, Kim’s 153 gave him an eight-kilo lead over Indonesia’s Irawan Eko Yuli (145), and a massive, 13-kilo lead over China’s Jie Zhang and Colombia’s Oscar Albeiro Figueroa Mosquera, both of whom snatched 140.

un guk kim, who appears to be sporting the same 1980s-era shoes as teammate yun chol om (but in blue). (photo credit: BBC, http://www.allthingsgym.com/2012/07/62kg-men-2012-london-olympics-weightlifting/)

A word on Colombia’s Oscar Mosquera: this was the athlete who, in 2008 in Beijing, was unable to maintain his grip in the snatch after injuring his right hand. If you, like me, watched those Olympics you no doubt recall the agony of seeing Mosquera go out for each snatch and lose his grip (multiple times) on each attempt. I generally find the contrived human interest bullshit in sports to be about as compelling as the Twilight movies, but this scene was genuinely heartbreaking. Mosquera had been a medal favorite in Beijing, and watching him tearfully—and futilely—attempt to maintain a grip on the bar was awful.

Thus I was a bit nervous when he took the platform this time around, especially during the clean and jerks. Mosquera opened with a phenomenal 177 (an Olympic Record) but missed both of his first two attempts. I haven’t been so nervous watching a third attempt since Tanir Sagir bombed at the 2008 Games. Fortunately for the Colombian—and my frayed nerves—Mosquera made the lift, which gave him a 317 total that was good for a silver medal.

figueroa, using the klokov technique of yelling at the bar until it moves of its own accord. (photo: http://olimpiadas.ultimahora.es/2417_destacadas/1685859_el-colombiano-figueroa-se-cuelga-la-plata-en-62-kilos-con-un-record-olimpico.html)

With his 153-kilo snatch, Un Guk Kim was all but guaranteed to take home the gold medal. He finished the day with a 174 clean and jerk, good for a new World Record total of 327. (What the hell are these Koreans doing? Perhaps it’s more accurate to ask what they aren’t doing…) Third place went to Indonesia’s Irawan Eko Yuli, who tied Figueroa’s 317 total but placed lower due to bodyweight.

The biggest surprise? China’s Jie Zhang failed to medal. The rules of the universe appear to have been upended. This is like finding out the Higgs Boson is really just a small cupcake. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so surprised by something, at least not since watching The Sixth Sense.

“china didn’t medal?! jesus, i must be dead…”

Of course, taken in perspective, China’s performance isn’t really all that bad. In fact, they currently lead the medal count, with two golds and a silver, barely edging out North Korea’s two golds and a bronze. By any reasonable standard, three medals by the third day of lifting is not bad. The US hasn’t earned that many Olympic medals over the course of twenty odd years. But for China, a country that has become synonymous with weightlifting excellence, the recent performances are nothing short of disappointing.

But the Games are not over yet, much to the detriment of my physical and emotional well-being. So long as the carrier pigeons of Maine keep delivering internet I’m going to keep watching. Tomorrow the 63-kilo women and the 69-kilo men take the stage. In the women’s class I imagine it will come down to Russia’s Svetlana Tsarukaeva and Kazakhstan’s Maiya Maneza. At the 2011 Worlds, Tsarukaeva edged out Maneza, 255 to 248, but Kazakhstan has consistently put forth lifters ready for a fight. In the men’s session I am predicting results based on my new model of the (weightlifting) universe:

1) is there a North Korean in the session? (yes, Kum Sok Sim)

He’s only entered with a 330 total, which is ten kilos less than that put down by class leaders Arakel Mirzoyan (Armenia), Razvan Constantin Martin (Romania), and Lin Qingfeng (China), but by now we’ve all learned that North Korean entry totals are as trustworthy as Carnival vendors. Time to catch what rest we can before the streaming begins anew. And, of course, we are less than a week away from Klokov…

photo of klokov as he is caught leaving the queen mum’s private bedchambers. (photo credit: prince philip)

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One Response to Olympic frenzy in full swing; North Korea is the new China

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