Best write up ever. This is actually good Journalism, from Jim White at the Daily Telegraph
The 63kg women’s event took place in the gym of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. An unlikely setting: there was not much aerodynamic about what was going up here.
These were metal bars loaded down with so much gravity-attracting metal that never mind soaring skywards, the sane would employ a JCB to get them off the ground.
Britain’s Michaela Breeze was an early faller. She managed a total of 185kg in two skyward thrusts, roughly the equivalent of some couch potato watching back in her home town of Watford (plus the couch).
If that seemed a superhuman effort, it placed her only 15th. The leader in the preliminaries had been a stern Russian called Svetlana Tsarukaeva, who doesn’t appear to have smiled since 2003. But in the final, she had trouble with her snatch, the discipline which involves hauling the bar in one smooth movement to above the head.
After failing three times, she whelped like a forlorn dog and then compounded her misery by walking into the frame of the stage exit, whacking her head. As with every competitor, she was followed from the stage by a cameraman, the images relayed on a big screen as she staggered back to the dressing room. Thus could the entire crowd watch as she decided to slap her coach. Talk about drama, this was like an episode of EastEnders.
The competition was left to Kazakhstan’s Irina Nekrassova and North Korea’s Pak Hyon Suk. The Kazakh had an elderly coach who carried crutches, perhaps to defend himself should things turn slappy, while Pak had an osteopath, who gave her a vigorous bear hug before every lift in order to snap her back into place, ready to take the strain.
And what a strain it was. There is no equivocation about weightlifting, no close things, no 8.5 from a judge for artistic merit: you either lift or you don’t. This is primal sport, stripped of flim and flam. And the weight these women were lifting is preposterous. In the final round, Nekrassova went first, attempting to hoist what appeared to be the weight of a small bus. She almost got it up, but, as the bar rested temporarily on her throat, her feet would not stay put. She wobbled forward, her massive load heading ominously in the direction of the referees. Unable to recover, she dropped the bar with a thump that rattled the rib-cage. And promptly burst into tears.
So Pak had one lift left to become the first North Korean ever to win Olympic gold. As the crowd stomped, she stood behind the bar, leaned forward and pulled it up to her chest. The collective breath was held as she lifted again and locked her elbows. To a huge roar, she stood for a moment, the winner, holding the bar with an ease that suggested she must start as favourite in the forthcoming annual Pyongyang dissident-tossing championships.
Afterwards, Pak faced the press. She made only one statement, announcing, in a bold attempt to cut through political stereotype, that “I am overjoyed that with this medal I have brought joy to our Dear Leader.”
If only a British medallist could similarly dedicate their success to Gordon Brown, that really would constitute drama.