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Paris Olympics, Men’s preview: Lasha and Shi Zhiyong aim for third gold, while Nasar can make record-breaking start

Lasha Talakhadze from Georgia and Shi Zhiyong from China, two of the world’s most popular weightlifters, will have a chance in Paris to join a select group of triple champions.

Karlos Nasar from Bulgaria will be the main focus of attention for the next generation. Judging by his most recent performance, 20-year-old Nasar is capable of winning gold and setting world records on his Olympic Games debut.

Lasha Talakhadze (GEO)

Naim Suleymanoglu and Halil Mutlu from Turkey, Kakhi Kakhiashvili from Georgia – who competed for the Unified Team (Soviet Union) and Greece – and Pyrros Dimas from Greece are the only athletes to have been Olympic champion three times. They won their medals between 1988 and 2004.

Nobody weighing more than 100kg has done it. Nobody from outside Europe has done it. Talakhadze and Shi Zhiyong, who collectively have been lifting internationally for 26 years, could become the first in those respects. Both men were born in October 1993 and either or both may retire after Paris.

Talakhadze, from Georgia, has had problems with his knees. He will have been off the competition platform for 328 days by the time he lifts on August 10. When he won his seventh world title in Saudi Arabia last September, four of his rivals totalled 450kg or more.

“The others are closing in on Lasha. The standard he showed today will not be enough any more,” Georgia’s head coach Giorgi Asanidze said at the time. Talakhadze has not lifted in competition since then.

Talakhadze heads the rankings by 10kg and remains favourite for gold after his lengthy break. Gor Minasyan is ranked second for Bahrain and his former Armenia team-mate Varazdat Lalyan, who was in top form at the IWF World Cup in Thailand in April, is third.

Another super-heavyweight to watch for is 19-year-old Ali Ammar Yusur from Iraq. Yusur set a junior world record last year and is already talking of winning gold at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games. He will be favourite to win the junior world title in León, Spain in September.

Shi was absent for 862 days after suffering a back injury at the 2021 Chinese National Games. When he returned at the Qatar Grand Prix last December he was in so much pain he had to decline his last two attempts.

Shi Zhiyong (CHN)

He moved up to second place in the 73kg rankings at the World Cup in Thailand with a 356kg total behind Rizki Juniansyah from Indonesia, who caused a sensation by overtaking team-mate Rahmat Erwin.

I went for it as if it was the last international event in my weightlifting career,” Shi said.  “I focused on the lifts and enjoyed every single minute without other considerations.

“The results turned out to be just as good as expected. That’s why I felt happiest in that moment as I showed my best condition to my loved ones as well as the fans. I will keep my current attitude (in Paris) and enjoy the Olympic Games.

“I will make some good lifts and I think the final result is not the most important thing. For me, to participate and to enjoy are what I am focusing on now.” 

Shi won at 69kg in Rio then at 73kg in Tokyo. His 364kg total in Tokyo was a world record until Juniansyah made his last lift at the World Cup. The contest between Shi and Juniansyah – who also had injury problems during qualifying – could be the closest head-to-head for gold in Paris.

China has strong favourites at 61kg and 102kg, Li Fabin and Liu Huanhua, both of them world record holders. Liu is the only athlete to have bettered world standards at 102kg since the category came on to the programme in November 2018.

Liu Huanhua (CHN)

Liu finished clear at the top of the rankings and has already shown he can do better. When he won 109kg gold at the Asian Games last October, where there was no 102kg category, he totalled 418kg despite weighing less than 102kg. That is 5kg more than his current world record.

The athletes ranked below Liu could provide the closest medal contest of the week in Paris. Six men have a realistic chance of being on the podium: the Tokyo 96kg and 109kg champions Meso Hassona and Akbar Djuraev, Garik Karapetyan from Armenia, the Independent Neutral Athlete Yauheni Tsikhantsou from Belarus, Jang Yeonhak from Korea and Lesman Paredes from Bahrain.

Li Fabin won at 61kg in Tokyo and finished 11kg clear of the 20-year-old American Hampton Morris in the rankings. Li set a snatch world record at the World Cup in Phuket, where Morris claimed a clean and jerk world record. That was the first world record by an American in 55 years. The United States has not had a male Olympic champion since 1960, nor a male medallist since 1984.

Eko Yuli Irawan (INA)

Other contenders are Sergio Massidda from Italy and Eko Yuli Irawan from Indonesia. Irawan, who won a World Junior Championships medal when Morris was aged two, will be 35 this month. He is hoping to become the first weightlifter in history to win a medal at five straight Olympic Games. Irawan was third at 56kg in Beijing, third at 62kg in London, second at 62kg in Rio and second at 61kg in Tokyo.  

Nasar is widely expected to become the youngest gold medallist in Paris, at 89kg. When qualifying for the Tokyo Games began in 2018, Nasar was 14 – too young to take part. By the time the delayed Games took place in 2021, he was good enough to be an Olympic medal contender.

Karlos Nasar (BUL)

He claimed his first senior world record aged 17 that year, when he also set 15 youth and junior world records. During the Paris qualifying period Nasar has set another five senior world records, all as a teenager. At the recent Bulgarian national championships Nasar, who was 20 in May, lifted more than the 89kg world records in snatch, clean and jerk and total. It seems nothing can stop him.

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia 



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