Hidilyn Diaz among athletes to watch in Tokyo Olympics weightlifting

Daniel Hicks, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 21 2021 05:34 PM | Updated as of Jul 22 2021 09:01 AM

TOKYO, Japan -- The Olympics weightlifting competition begins on Saturday with medals up for grabs in the women's 49kg, the lightest of 13 weight classes to be contested over 10 days at the Tokyo International Forum.

Here are five athletes to watch in the explosive test of strength and technique.

Lasha Talakhadze

The giant from Georgia is already the world's strongest man and could push his staggering world record closer to a scarcely believable 500kg in Tokyo.

Talakhadze will be looking to defend his Rio gold won at +105kg class with a snatch of 215kg and clean and jerk of 258kg for a then world record 473kg.

Since the bodyweight categories were readjusted in 2018 by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), Talakhadze has set several new marks at +109kg.

In April this year he hoisted a scarcely believable total of 485kg (222kg/263kg) at the European Championships in Moscow.

Unfortunately, the 27-year-old does have a doping history. In 2013, he was given a two-year ban by the International Weightlifting Federation after testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol.

Laurel Hubbard

Hidilyn Diaz among athletes to watch in Tokyo Olympics weightlifting 1
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes. File Photo. Paul Childs, Reuters.

While Talakhadze is expected to rule the men's superheavyweight class, the women's equivalent at +87kg will see Hubbard garner huge attention.

The New Zealander, who was born male and transitioned in her 30s, is the first openly transgender athlete to be selected for the Games.

The 43-year-old became the first New Zealand weightlifter to stand on the podium at the world championships when she won silver medals in the +90kg overall and +90kg snatch at the 2017 World Championships in Anaheim.

Her Olympic selection has proved controversial, with critics saying Hubbard has numerous physical advantages from growing up male that make her presence unfair for female-born athletes.

Hidilyn Diaz

Hidilyn Diaz among athletes to watch in Tokyo Olympics weightlifting 2
This picture taken on May 21, 2021 shows Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines lifting weights during a training session in Jasin in the Malaysian city of Malacca. File photo. Mohd RASFAN, AFP.

In Rio five years ago, Diaz became the first female athlete from the Philippines to win an Olympic silver medal and now has a real chance of turning it to gold in her fourth and final Games before retiring.

The 30-year-old became a national hero after winning Asian Games gold at Jakarta in 2018 and stands to be feted across the sprawling Pacific archipelago if she can realize her dream of becoming the first Filipino gold medal winner.

"I'm ready -- my mind is there, my heart is there, physically it's there," she told AFP while training in Malaysia last month, where she has been exiled since February 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Her silver in Rio broke a 20-year medal drought for the Philippines, who first took part in the Olympics in 1924 in Paris. On Monday, in the 55kg class, Diaz could end their 97-year wait for a first gold.

Lyu Xiaojun

The reigning world champion from China is searching for a second Olympic gold to add to the one he won at London 2012.

He was pipped to gold in Rio five years ago on countback having lifted the same 379kg total as controversial Kazakhstani gold medalist Nijat Rahimov.

Rahimov raised eyebrows when he smashed his personal best to lift a then world record 214kg in the clean and jerk only months after completing a two-year ban for doping.

Rahimov, however, was in January charged by the International Testing Agency for swapping his urine samples in 2016, and could yet see his Rio gold stripped, meaning Lyu could inherit gold and be therefore on the verge of an unusual hat-trick.

If the 36-year-old favorite Lyu does triumph in the 81kg class, it may be down to carrying what he calls his "lucky singlet" from London 2012 which he brings with him to every competition.

Lidia Valentin Perez

One of weightlifting's great competitors, Valentin Perez already has a complete set of Olympic medals after gold in 2012, silver in 2008 and bronze in 2016 in the women's 75kg class.

The Spaniard, 36, is also a double world champion, having won in Anaheim in 2017 before switching to 81kg to triumph again in Ashgabat a year later.

She will be moving up once more in Tokyo because the 81kg class is not being contested at these Games.

She originally finished fourth at London 2012 and fifth at Beijing 2008, but due to doping violations of athletes on the podium, she was upgraded to 2012 gold and 2008 silver.

It would be monumental feat to win a fourth medal in Tokyo when she will be making her competitive debut in a class 12kg heavier than her previous appearances at the Games.

© Agence France-Presse

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