Two great competitions today: the women’s 75 and the men’s 77. Both had tight competitions in both disciplines, and both saw competitors taking weights around or above World Record levels.
The women’s competition was first. I got to the venue just as it was starting, after soaking in the Mediterranean for half the day. I had only planned on watching a few lifts, but soon realized it would be worth staying for the whole thing. Even after I got kicked out of the press table area while eating a lunch I had purloined from the event staff.
No problem. The stands had plenty of room, and there was a spot to the right of the stage where those of us without press passes could congregate for an up close view of the action. About half a dozen of us were staked out there, mostly guys taking video who looked to be coaches. Not surprisingly, Ze Germans were there with a video camera attached to a computer that seemed to analyze every component of a lift–bar speed, path, etc–in real time. No doubt they’re working on some 20-volume study of weightlifting.
The field was split in two, with a group of girls snatching around 110 to 120 and clean and jerking 130 to 140, and another group doing significantly more.
The top lifters in this class, starting with Nadezda Evstyukhina snatching 123, lifted some truly astounding weights.
The world record in the snatch fell twice, first to Natalya Zabolotnaya (RUS) doing 133, and then to Kazakstan’s Svetlana Podobedova doing 134.
The situation in the clean and jerk was similar, with Zabolotnaya power jerking–and a legitimate power jerk–160, only to be answered by Podobedova with 161 for a new record.
He’s not a machine!
The biggest surprise was the 77s. Going in I thought China’s Lu Xiaojun was a lock, especially the way he looked the other day in training. I figured for Tigran, Xiaojun’s closest competitor, it would simply be a matter of controlling how badly he’d get beaten. To me, this was Rocky versus Ivan Drago, except it’s real life, so Drago wins. On the one hand you have China, with its massive sports system–appropriately, for this metaphor, adopted from the Russian model–with sports schools, world class facilities, and a team of scientists and coaches manufacturing world class athletes the way manufacture tainted baby formula. On the other, Armenia, the scrappy underdog. I don’t know anything about Armenia, except that they have some loud fans. But my guess is it’s not China, since nobody ever complains about their aggressive economic expansion and international power-mongering. If anything, this is a more legitimate Rocky IV than Rocky IV ever was, since the underdog in this case actually is an underdog, instead of a legitimate superpower disguised in the body of a five-foot-nothing Italian meat packer from Philly.
Tigran opened with a solid 165. That was to be expected. But then the first kink in China’s armor showed: Xiaojun, who was listed as opening with 170, dropped to 165. Maybe it was nothing more than strategy, planned all along, but it still sends a certain message. And although he made it, this was a shaky lift, far less crisp and polished than what I had seen from this wunderkind just a few days ago.
Tigran went to 170 next, and it was just as solid as his opener. This guy can fucking move (although the Albanian 77, Erkand Qerimaj, is probably the fastest human being I’ve ever seen; he’s like an elastic band when he shoots under the bar). Xiaojun responded with his own 170, a far better effort than his opener; this was the guy I came to see.
This is a monster snatch. Or at least it would have been, had he not thrown it over his head. Apparently he, too, just saw Rocky IV (which will probably go back on the banned list in China now). Still, this was a goddamn extraordinary effort, and there is no doubt this kid has done this–and more–in training.
The same fight for the top took place in the clean and jerk, with a number of guys hovering around 200. Tigran missed his first shot at the weight but came back at his second attempt at it, though it was clear the guy was working at the top of his abilities. Xiaojun, by comparison, made his opening 200 with ease. This was it, I thought. Nice fight, Tigran, but time to let the pros take over. Xiaojun’s stated weight was then 208, forcing Tigran to jump to 205 to keep the gold. The clean looked like an empty bar, but it was too much for him to power jerk. The Chinaman then went down to 206, just for the win–for what I thought would be an easy win–but missed it. Twice. Two of the most incredibly powerful cleans I’ve ever seen, but it takes more than strong cleans to get white lights. At least officially. I’d give them to him.
The Armenians, who brought their country’s best yellers, shouters, and flag wavers with them, nearly tore the venue down with their screams. Impossibly, improbably, The Machine was beaten. Of course, here is where reality does differ from the movie; there was no slurring, sweaty speech about how we can all change and come together despite our countries’ political and ideological differences. Nope. Just a wild throng of crazy Armenians shouting, cheering, and celebrating–understandably so–like maniacs.