SEA CHANGE - SOPITA TANASAN

In cruise control en route to gold

Sopita Tanasan on her way to clinching Thailand's first gold in Rio. The Thai capitalised on the absence of China's Hou Zhihui by lifting 200kg, 8kg more than Indonesian silver medallist Sri Wahyuni Agustiani's total.
Sopita Tanasan on her way to clinching Thailand's first gold in Rio. The Thai capitalised on the absence of China's Hou Zhihui by lifting 200kg, 8kg more than Indonesian silver medallist Sri Wahyuni Agustiani's total. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO • Russia's Olympic ban and China's ruthless selection policy helped pave the way for Thailand's Sopita Tanasan to win the first weightlifting gold medal of the Rio Games in the women's 48kg on Saturday.

Tanasan, the daughter of an international boxer, became Thailand's fourth gold medallist in women's weightlifting with a total lift of 200kg. The 21-year-old lifted 92kg in the snatch and 108kg in the clean and jerk.

"I dedicate the medal to our king. That is the Thai way," she said. The 88-year-old Thai king is the world's longest-reigning monarch and is widely revered in a country where his frail health is a matter of public concern.

China had the favourite for the contest in Hou Zhihui, who lifted 210kg in her national championships in April. But, with each country being allowed to enter only four lifters, Hou was sent home from the pre-Games training camp in Sao Paulo last week after China decided they had a better chance in the heaviest over-75kg category.

Hou injured her knee in July but felt she had recovered enough to compete. China's women's team coach Wang Guoxin opted instead to send for Meng Suping.

NOT AN OUNCE OF DOUBT

I was surprised that she was going for it but I was still very confident I was going to win.

SOPITA TANASAN , Thai lifter, on Indonesia's Sri Wahyuni Agustiani's attempt to go for 115kg to leapfrog her.

He said the decision was influenced by Russia's ban from Rio for "bringing the sport into disrepute" with their doping record. Once that ban was confirmed last week, it meant the hot favourite in the over-75kg, Tatiana Kashirina, would not compete.

"Yes, Kashirina's absence did give us a big opportunity to win in that division, because only Meng and Kashirina have the ability to lift over 300kg in total," said Wang.

Sopita won by 8kg from Indonesia's Sri Wahyuni Agustiani. In third place was Japan's Hiromi Miyake, the 2012 silver medallist competing in her fourth Games.

Sopita was in control throughout the competition at the 6,500-capacity Riocentro Pavilion 2, and went into the clean and jerk leading by 7kg.

Her only stumble came when she failed to lift 110kg in her final attempt of the night. That left Agustiani needing to haul 115kg to take first place. The Indonesian never came close in her two attempts.

"I was surprised that she was going for it but I was still very confident I was going to win," Sopita said afterwards.

"I believed I could do it but it just wasn't meant to be," lamented Agustiani.

Another of Sopita's strongest rivals, Vietnam's Thi Huyen Vuong, failed to register a total after three failures in the snatch.

The weightlifting started under a cloud of doping after it was reported earlier in the day that Cypriot weightlifter Antonis Martasides had been sent home from Brazil after failing a drug test.

The Cyprus Mail said on its website that he had tested positive for a banned substance following an out-of-competition test in Athens on July 25.

Martasides' credentials for Rio were revoked following the result.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2016, with the headline 'In cruise control en route to gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe