Weightlifting powerhouse North Korea struggles in Rio
Weightlifting is North Korea’s strongest Olympic sport, but something has been amiss at the Rio Games where its athletes are flopping badly compared to the dizzying heights of London 2012.
Four years ago the reclusive communist state took home three gold and a bronze, dominating the lighter categories, for its most successful medal haul in weightlifting at any Summer Olympics.
This year however, seven gold medals in lightweight sections have come and gone with North Korea failing to nab any of them, leaving only two opportunities left for first-place finishes.
Om Yung-Chol, who’s just 4 foot 11 inches, wowed crowds at the last Games with his exuberance and record-breaking exploits as he struck Olympic gold in the men’s 56kg competition.
The 24-year-old had dominated the men’s lightest category since triumphing in London, when he become only the fifth man to lift three times his bodyweight, claiming three consecutive world championships.
He was the bookmakers favorite for a second consecutive gold at Rio but was stunned by China’s Long Qingquan who forced the North Korean to collect silver.
“I put a lot of effort in but I’m not satisfied. I was hoping for gold,” said Om, who even went as far as apologising to the North Korea leadership.
“He will be my inspiration forever and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to repay with a gold medal,” Om said, referring to supreme leader Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011.
“I hope to come back at the next opportunity and compete again and repay my gratitude with gold,” he added.
Choe Hyo-Sim was equally disappointed with her silver medal in the women’s 63kg. Choe, competing in her first Olympics, lost to China’s Deng Wei by a whopping 14kg.
“I am not happy with the result,” a miserable-looking Choe said afterwards, before adding: “I am going to try much harder to win gold next time.”
It was a disastrous Games for Kim Myong-Hyok, who was looking to build on his fourth-place finish in London by stepping on the podium but bombed in the men’s 69kg.
The North Korean had entered the joint highest entry total, a clear indicator that he intended to battle for gold but didn’t even finish after failing to register a successful clean and jerk.
And in the men’s 77kg Olympic debutant Choe Jon-Wi finished in lowly eighth place, 18kg off a bronze medal and a massive 36 away from the gold medallist.
North Korea has won a total of 15 Olympic weightlifting medals, including the two silver picked up so far in Rio, ahead of second-placed wrestling on 10.
North Korea’s best chance for a weightlifting gold in Brazil now lies with defending champion Rim Jong-Sim who grabbed first place in the women’s 69kg four years ago.
The country’s other weightlifting medallists in London were Kim Un-Guk, who struck gold in the men’s 62kg and Ryang Chun-Hwa, who finished third in the women’s 48kg.
Rim has upped her weight and will compete in the 75kg category on Friday.
Kim Kuk-Hyang is North Korea’s other hope in the women’s heaviest category of +75kg, taking place on Sunday.
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