Thai weightlifter wins first gold at Rio Olympics

THAILAND: Thailand’s national anthem was played at the Olympic Games for the first time in eight years yesterday after determined weightlifter Sopita Tanasan captured the first Rio Games gold and became the fourth women’s weightlifter from Thailand to win an Olympic gold.

The pint-sized lifter from Chumphon, 22, dominated the women’s 48kg event, lifting 92kg in the snatch and 108kg in the clean and jerk for an aggregate of 200kg, to land Thailand the first gold medal in the quadrennial sports extravaganza in Rio de Janeiro.

Ms Sopita, a regular weightlifter in the 53kg class – who finished fourth overall after lifting a combined 210kg at last year’s World Weightlifting Championships in Houston – took full advantage of the withdrawal of title-hotshot Hou Zhihui of China due to a knee injury before the games.

With only 12 weightlifters vying for the first Rio weightlifting gold at the Riocentro Pavilion 2, Ms Sopita lifted 88kg on her first attempt – the best in the round – and then bettered her mark twice to 90kg then 92kg.

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She also easily succeeded – at 106kg – to take the lead in the clean and jerk. Her second lift for the increased 108kg was also successful, but she failed at 110kg on her final attempt.

Ms Sopita’s strongest challenger Vuong Thi Huyen of Vietnam – silver medalist at last year’s world meet – failed to advance past the snatch round after three unsuccessful attempts at 83kg and 84kg. That trimmed the field to 11 weightlifters vying for the medal, all chasing Sopita.

Indonesian Sri Wahyuni Agustiani twice tried to lift 115kg to overtake Sopita in a last-ditch bid to snatch the gold, but failed on the first attempt. Sopita celebrated by hugging her coaches in the weight room.

Sopita claimed gold with a total lift of 200kg, well off the existing world record of 217kg established by Chinese Yang Lian in 2006 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Chinese Xie Xia’s Olympic record of 212kg set at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Indonesian Sri Wahyuni Agustiani picked up the silver after lifting 192kg, while Japanese Hiromi Miyake had to be content with a bronze with a total lift of 188kg.

Ms Sopita, who dropped down from the 53kg class to make her Olympic debut in Rio and lifted 195kg to claim the gold at the IWF Junior World Championships in that class in 2014, was the fourth women’s weightlifter to earn Thailand an Olympic gold.

Udomporn Polsak and Pawina Thongsuk had earned Thailand the first two weightlifting gold medals in the women’s 53kg and women’s 75kg events at the 2004 Athens Games, while Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon captured the third gold in the women’s 53kg class at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Sopita’s gold, which is Thailand’s 8th gold in Olympic history, was a slap in the face for a US-based news agency which predicted the Thai athletes’ contingent would return from the 2016 Rio Games with six medals, but no gold.

However, Sopita defied all odds to win the Kingdom the first gold medal on the very first day at the Rio Games and especially, the very first gold medal at stake in the weightlifting competition.

The Thai athletes finished 57th overall at the 2012 Olympic Games in London after winning only two silver and two bronze medals. The national anthem of Thailand was played at the Olympic Games for the last time at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Ms Sopita sang along in tears to the Thai national anthem during the awards’ presentation as she ended Thailand’s eight-year Olympic gold-medal drought.

For winning the Olympic gold, Ms Sopita is assured of 10 million baht in cash incentives from the National Sports Development Fund. Millions of baht are additionally expected from generous sponsors and the private sector upon her arrival in Thailand.

With this gold from Ms Sopita, Thailand can now stand at 6th place at the medal standing.

— The Nation

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