Giant on the move
Watching China bring home its first Olympic gold
Weightlifting is not the most glamorous Olympic sport. Forget about glitzy endorsement deals, tabloid tell-alls and magazine shoots. This is a world where taciturn men from Belarus and compact women from China win their gold medals in relative obscurity.
But for 67 minutes on Saturday morning, weightlifting had its place in the limelight.
Millions of Chinese had hoped shooter Du Li would win the first gold on offer at the Olympics for her homeland. Du caved in under pressure and failed, leaving the hopes of an entire nation resting on weightlifter Chen Xiexia’s broad shoulders.
Weightlifting competitions progress from the weakest lifters to the strongest, and so we were watching several short women stumble, fall over or collapse under the weight of the barbells when suddenly the news broke that Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic had won the air rifle gold.
The Reuters news flash of Emmons’ victory and therefore, Du’s defeat, appeared at 11:54, Beijing time. All of a sudden, weightlifting seemed a lot more important than before.
At the shooting range, Chinese fans kept their voices down to avoid distracting Du. In the weightlifting hall, they had apparently decided there was no such thing as too much pressure.
The cheers and shouts built up gradually: a warm welcome for Thailand’s Laosirikul Pensiri, enthusiastic clapping for South Korean Im Jyounghwa, huge cheers and shouts of “Go! Go!” for Taiwan’s Chen Wei-Ling. The Chinese audience was generously rooting for everyone in the Asian neighbourhood, even the island they see as a renegade province.
Then their own Chen Xiexia stepped on to the stage, yelling a slogan to fire herself up. The crowd went berserk.
There were Chinese flags big and small, shouts of “Go China!”, whooping, cheers, applause, all converging into a deafening roar.
Chen was in a class of her own. Every other woman in the competition seemed to battle with the barbells, and many folded, failed to stretch their arms or lost their balance while straining to lift more than twice their bodyweight.
Again and again, Chen yelled, grabbed the bar, and lifted the weights with the confidence and precision. Easy. Her closest rivals all lifted around 195kg-199kg. In a sport where a single extra kilogram can make a lifter stumble, Chen hoisted up a combined total of 212kg.
At 13:01, we sent another newsflash: “China’s Chen Xiexia wins Olympic gold medal in women’s 48kg weightlifting.”
By then, I could hardly hear my own voice amid the cries of celebration.
PHOTO: Chen Xiexia of China poses with her gold medal for the women’s 48kg Group A weightlifting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 9, 2008. REUTERS/Yves Herman