North Korean sets weightlifting world record after four-year absence

HANGZHOU: North Korea's Ri Song Gum set a staggering world record today as she won gold in the first weightlifting event of the Asian Games in Hangzhou, four years after her last international competition.

Competing in the women's 49kg class, the 4ft 7in pocket-rocket secured gold on her second attempt in the clean and jerk at 122kg.

She then drew gasps from the packed crowd as she raised the bar to 124kg, four kilos greater than had ever been lifted in that discipline before this competition.

She hoisted it aloft to set a new total of 216kg, then leapt for joy, before bursting into tears as she was hugged by her coaches.

It was the 25-year-old's second consecutive Asian Games gold, having taken the now-defunct 48kg category in Jakarta five years ago.

China's world champion Jiang Huihua, who held the previous world record at 215kg, won silver and said she was "surprised" at Ri's success after such a long absence.

"Ri is very impressive," Jiang said after taking the silver medal at 213kg.

"Back in 2019 I could see she was already making a lot of improvements.

"But the result today, yes, I was surprised."

There were more tears on the podium as Ri saluted the raising of the North Korean flag – in contravention of a World Anti-Doping Agency edict.

"I feel very happy about breaking the world record and when I see my national flag flying I feel very excited to bring this good news to my people," said Ri.

North Korean weightlifters have not taken part in international competition since 2019 because the country's borders were sealed until recently because of Covid.

Ri said that taking part in domestic competitions had kept her sharp.

But to come out in her first event and smash the previous clean and jerk and 49kg combined world records is bound to raise eyebrows.

WADA declared the country's national anti-doping body "non-compliant" in 2021 and slapped it with sanctions that still remain.

North Korea did not take part in the Tokyo Olympics that year, citing the pandemic, and was then barred from the 2022 Beijing Winter Games for skipping Tokyo.

"Participating in the Asian Games after four years, I feel like my efforts in training were not in vain," said Ri.

"During the Covid period I did a lot of hard training and that's why today I achieved this great result and broke the world record," she said.

"All my training was in my own country and I participated in a lot of national competitions."

Thailand's Thanyathon Sukcharoen took a surprise bronze on 199kg. Olympic silver medallist Mirabai Chanu of India was fourth.

Chanu needed a clean and jerk of 117kg, a weight she has lifted on many occasions, to snatch bronze but failed with her final two attempts.

The men will be under the weightlifting spotlight on Sunday for the first time at these Games, with China expected to dominate.

World record holder Li Fabin is a hot favourite to take gold in the 61kg division, likewise fellow Chinese world-record holder Chen Lijun in the 67kg category. --AFP

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