TOKYO: Seeking to end Pakistan’s 19-year wait for a medal in any Olympic sport, weightlifter Talha Talib was primed for a podium finish at one point in the 67kg category at the Tokyo Games on Sunday.
Talha had lifted 150kg in the snatch to go second in the field, just behind Colombia’s Luis Javier Mosquera Lozano (151kg).
But then the 21-year-old Commonwealth Games bronze medallist had to lift and wait an agonising 25 minutes before finally being bumped out of the medal places in one of the most dramatic sessions of weightlifting at the Olympics.
When it was all over after the clean and jerk, China’s Chen Lijun had won gold, a disbelieving Mosquera had been beaten into second place and Italy’s Mirko Zanni took the bronze.
Han Myeong-mok of South Korea, who thought he had won the bronze until Zanni bettered his career-best with a 177kg final lift, was fourth, while Talha ended fifth.
It was gold or nothing when Chen stepped onto the stage for his second lift in the clean and jerk.
Lying fourth, 6kg adrift of Mosquera after the snatch, world record holder Chen needed to clean and jerk 187kg, 1kg short of the world record, to take gold.
Moments before, Mosquera thought he had snatched a dramatic win when his final 180kg attempt was reinstated by the jury on an agonising TV review, after being initially ruled a ‘no lift’, to give him a 331kg aggregate.
It forced Chen, successful at 175kg, to pile on an extra 12kg on the bar for an all-or-nothing shot at gold in the Tokyo International Forum.
The 28-year-old from the southwestern city of Chongqing completed an unerring lift before screaming and punching the air in delight as he relegated Mosquera to silver by the slimmest of margins, 1kg.
“I felt confident,” Chen, who equalled his personal best set at the 2019 World Championships, told reporters. “Because I already had the experience to lift this weight. The clean and jerk is my strength, so even when I was behind after the snatch I knew I could do it.”
Mosquera said he had suffered mixed emotions before his final lift was allowed to stand.
“I thought I had lost it but then I was so elated,” he said. “The Chinese are the best, so to say I was just one kilogramme behind, I feel very proud.”
Minutes earlier, a delighted Zanni, 23, smashed his clean and jerk personal best by 4kg to snatch a surprise bronze with a 322kg total, just ahead of Han (321) and Talha (320).
Zanni kissed his medal as he spoke to reporters and then looked to the sky.
“I can’t believe this. I know my granddad was watching and helped me do it,” he said, revealing his grandfather, his inspiration, had died 10 years ago.
The Gujranwala-born Talha, who discovered he had been awarded a reallocated place only a few weeks ago, made five of his lifts — more than anybody else.
He went into the clean and jerk knowing his career-best was 20kg lower than Chen and Mosquera, and far lower than other rivals.
But Talha improved it by 3kg, making 170kg and posting a total that left him in the medal positions for an age.
It was a remarkable effort given that Talib collapsed on the platform when he looked short of breath on his first clean and jerk attempt.
After medical staff rushed to his aid, he returned to lift twice more and then had to sit and suffer as those below him gradually moved up.
Chen’s gold completed a Chinese hat-trick in weightlifting as Li Fabin earlier won gold in the 61kg category.
With Zhihui Hou winning the women’s 49kg category on Saturday, China has collected all three gold medals so far at the Tokyo Games.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2021