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‘Flamingo’ Li hoists China’s second weightlifting gold

Li Fabin made it two out of two weightlifting golds for China in Tokyo on Sunday as he saw off Indonesian veteran Eko Yuli Irawan, who became only the fifth lifter in history to win four Olympic medals.

The flamboyant Li pulled off his signature one-legged ‘flamingo lift’ on his opening clean and jerk at 166kg on his way to a 313kg total and an 11kg margin over Asian Games champion Irawan in the 61kg class.

“It’s a lift I wouldn’t suggest anyone else should learn,” said Li, who somehow manages to regain his balance by standing on one leg while holding a massive weight above his head.

He first stunned the weightlifting world by doing it at the 2017 Asian Championships, but said because of injury he hasn’t been able to perform it much since.

“Standing on one leg is not a regular balance move. I can only do it because I have great core and abdomen muscle strength.”

Irawan, who went lift-for-lift with Li in a pulsating two-horse race, was left with a final attempt at 177kg to win gold, which would have extended his own clean and jerk world record by a massive 3kg.

It proved too much for runner-up Irawan, who became his country’s most decorated Olympian by adding to his silver in Rio and bronzes at the London and Beijing Games. 

The 32-year-old from rural Lampung in Sumatra, who herded goats as a boy, joined four-time medallists American Norbert Schemansky, Germany’s Ronny Weller, Bulgaria’s Nikolay Pechalov and Greece’s Pyrros Dimas.

Disrupted build-up

But Irawan lamented his disrupted preparation in coronavirus-ravaged Indonesia and said that had the Games taken place a year ago, as originally scheduled, he might have been better placed to win gold.

“The training was harder, yes,” he told AFP. “We have been training in Covid lockdown since January.

“But it is a beautiful feeling to be one of only five weightlifters to win four Olympic medals.”   

Li, 28, from the southern Chinese province of Fujian, took a crucial advantage in the opening snatch discipline, despite a surprise failure with his first attempt at 137kg.

Li’s third successful attempt of 141kg gave him a 4kg advantage going into the second discipline, which he extended with a mammoth 172kg in the clean and jerk, just 2kg off Irawan’s world record.

Irawan could not make up the deficit in his stronger discipline and had to settle for silver for the second successive Games on a 302kg total.

Before the big two battled it, the battle for the final podium place had been just as enthralling, with Shota Mishvelidze of Georgia failing with a final attempt at 165kg that would have given him bronze.

Saudi Arabia’s Seraj Al-Saleem then failed twice at 166kg as he attempted to snatch the last medal, which left Kazakhstan’s 22-year-old youngster, Igor Son, to claim bronze with a 294kg total.

Li’s gold added to Hou Zhihui’s victory in the women’s 49kg competition on Saturday. 

China have the chance to make it a golden hat-trick later on Sunday when Chen Lijun is favourite in the men’s 67kg class at the Tokyo International Forum.

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