Weightlifting, like a lot of Olympic sports, is one of those things most people only pay attention to every four years. And even then it’s easy to ignore, as it’s inevitably dominated by China and buried on some channel you didn’t know you had. This year was complicated by the Tokyo schedule, with most of the lifting occurring in the wee hours for those of us in America. Never fear. The highlights are here. We look back at 2020 Olympic weightlifting and five things you need to know.
1. THE BASICS
• Athletes do three lifts of the snatch and three of the clean and jerk. Each competitor’s heaviest completed snatch and clean and jerk are added together for their total.
• This was the first Olympics with new weight classes, seven for men and seven for women.
• Doping is an ongoing concern. This year, 19 nations were either banned or restricted to the number of lifters they could send (one or two) because of doping violations.
• Teams send a maximum of eight lifters. This marked the first time since 1996 that the U.S.A. sent a full team: four men and four women.
• For the full results, go here.
2. THE TEAM
The last time China failed to win the weightlifting medal count was 1996, and they’d won five of the maximum eight gold medals in each of the previous five Olympic games. This time, they had their best team performance ever, winning a remarkable seven gold medals 🥇 🥇 🥇 🥇 🥇 🥇 🥇. Their only “loss” was a silver 🥈! Seven gold and one silver matches the Soviet Union’s tally in the 1976 Olympics (when there was only men’s weightlifting in nine classes) for the greatest Olympic weightlifting team performance of all time. Of particular note is Shi Zhiyong, in the men’s 73kg. class, who set a new world record 🌎 with his total of 364 kg. (802.4 lbs.) by upping his final clean and jerk attempt by 6 kg. after a rare miss on his second attempt.
3. THE FIRSTS
There were several precedents set in Tokyo:
🥇 Hidilyn Diaz, in the women’s 55kg. class, won the first gold medal in any sport for the Philippines
🥇 Fares Ibrahim El-Bakh, in the men’s 96kg. class, won the first gold medal in any sport for Qatar.
🥈 Emily Campbell is the first female weightlifter from Great Britain to medal. She won silver in the +87kg. class.
🔸 In Campbell’s class, the first known transgender athlete, New Zealander Laurel Hubbard, bombed out after failing on her snatch attempts. Her competing sparked much publicity and controversy.
4. THE AMERICANS
The American team collected two medals for only the second time since 1960, and, like that other time (2000), they were both won by women.
🥈 When Kate Nye took silver in the 76kg. class, it marked American weightlifting’s best result in 21 years. Perhaps heralding a golden future, Nye is 22.
🥉 As she did in Rio, Sarah Robles took bronze in the +87kg. class again in Tokyo. This time she was only one kg. behind the silver finisher. The 33-year-old is now the first American female lifter with two Olympic medals. Afterward, she had an encouraging message for female athletes: “You just have to try. Open your mind and don’t try to fit into boxes. Don’t listen to people who say you can’t do something until you try it.”
🔸 Also notable is the 4th place finish in the 81kg. class by Harrison Maurus, who made all but his final lift—which would’ve won him bronze. He’s only 21. His was the highest finish by an American male weightlifter since another 4th in 1988; no American man has medaled since 1984.
5. THE GIANT
Weightlifting is all about the biggest lifts, and the biggest lifts come courtesy of the biggest man, 6’6”, roughly 400-lb. Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia (the country, not the state), who has dominated the super-heavyweight class since his first of four World Championship wins in 2015. The 27-year-old, who won gold at the 2016 Olympics, has now set and broke his own world records 23 times. On his way to romping to another gold 🥇 in Tokyo, the super-heavy GOAT’s opening lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk were greater than any competitor’s final lifts, meaning he did all his lifting last, alone, with literally no competition. He hit all six lifts and made them look, dare we say, easy, methodically upping his snatch record to 223 kg. 🌎 (491.6 lbs.), his clean and jerk to 265 kg. 🌎 (584.2 lbs.), and the total to 488 kg. 🌎 (1075.9 lbs.). Afterward, the Georgian giant said he’d return to the Olympics in three years. With no competitor to push him, he’s in a class by himself. The only question now is: Can he reach the mythical 500 kg. total?
Opening Image: Lasha Talakhadze presses out 265 kg. for yet another world record. / Wikimedia