Cripes! Day one of my Kazakh adventure was a blur, most of which I passed in a sort of fugue state. I attribute this to a number of factors: twenty four hours of travel, a twelve-hour time change, falling asleep to the sound of Graber talking, waking up to the sound of Graber talking, and a steady stream of caffeine to combat the effects of sleep deprivation and jet lag. But per the instructions of Lu Xiaojun I must cover the story, no matter how detrimental to my physical or mental health, so I awoke early (ish) and went straight to the Grand Ai Ser breakfast buffet, where I consumed a plate of:
Interesting, no? The olives, rice, and bread were all recognizable food items, but the rest was somewhat of a mystery. Some strange pink sausages, a baloney-like substance, an undifferentiated cheese slice, and a scoop of something that was either eggs, oatmeal, a combination of both, or neither. Also it was all cold.
Breakfast, uh, peculiarities aside, the Grand Ai Ser is a reasonably comfortable place to spend your next Almaty vacation. The room even has a convenient feature whereby you can keep an eye on what’s going on in the shower/bathroom from the sleeping area (and vice versa). It reminds me of the hotel at the 2007 Nationals, whose rooms had TV screens embedded in the bathroom mirrors; here, to solve the problem of wanting to watch TV from the toilet or tub, they simply cut out the wall. The Kazakhs are nothing if not resourceful…
Still, anything is better than
EuroDisney Hell. But nobody comes to Worlds for the hotel—you come for the lifting, and there was plenty of that to be seen today. After my unidentifiable decadent breakfast I headed over to the training hall, located in a hockey arena and filled with 60-some platforms and weight sets. As in previous years, the training hall is a true weightlifter’s paradise: row after row of new bars, new plates, new platforms, along with world class lifters of every stripe.
I arrived here just in time to watch Russia’s Ruslan Albegov go through some easy clean and jerks up to 205, followed by a few sets of back squats. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but Ruslan is just huge—huge in a way that makes you wonder if he had to travel here strapped to the back of a Boeing 737, in much the same way they used to move the Space Shuttle around. When he finished training he was kind enough not only to take a picture with me, but to do so with one massive, sweaty arm slung across my shoulders. I nearly buckled under the weight of it, as well as from the heat radiating from his body, which was easily enough to raise the ambient air temperature by several degrees. Somewhere, a Conservative science denier is probably claiming that Global Warming is nothing more than Ruslan Albegov entering and exiting various buildings around the world.
But I digress. Following the training, as well as a lunch that was filled with more items of mystery than a Hardy Boys novel, it was time for the day’s main events: the 63 women’s A session and the men’s 85 A session. Both featured tight competition for placement, with the top spots separated by only a few kilos. In the former class, China’s Deng Wei—who nearly bombed out in the snatch, only making 110 on her third attempt—edged out Russia’s Tima Turieva by virtue of lighter bodyweight (both totaled 252). But that result only tells part of the story: consider that the top eleven snatches were separated by only five kilos (108 to 113). One of those—a second-place 113 due to bodyweight—was by Kazakhstan’s own Karina Goricheva, who had a tremendous hometown following in attendance.
Unfortunately the showing for the 85 session wasn’t nearly as strong. A group of us feared we’d have trouble finding a seat, so we arrived well before the start time. But by the opening lift—by France’s Benjamin Hennequin—the venue was still far from filled. What else would one be doing on a Thursday night in Almaty if not watching what may be the most competitive class of the competition?! [NB: eating mystery meats while watching TV from the shower in one’s hotel room, perhaps…] Consider for a moment how extraordinarily competitive a class must be for someone like Apti Aukhadov—a guy who knows a thing or two about picking up heavy things—to place no higher than fifth. The top spot went to Rostami Kianoush at 391, after he nearly bombed out in the clean and jerk (ultimately making 213), followed by Bulgaria’s Ivan Markov (390), and Russia’s Artem Okulov (385).
But enough. The crowds are only likely to grow, and already I’ve heard that Illin’s session is sold out on Saturday. No doubt this will require some maneuvering to get access. In the meantime, enjoy this image of a silver medal—that of Uzbekistan’s Ulugbek Alimov, for his 213 clean and jerk—which also comes with a diploma, just in case your future employer doubts the veracity of your lifting claims.