Pimsiri Sirikaew brought cheer to Thai hearts when she lifted 236kg in the women’s 58kg class of the weightlifting to hand the country its first Olympic medal. At press time, Thailand share the 21st position with Cuba, Mexico, Poland, Taiwan and Germany.
Thais have had to swallow disappointment when medal prospect Sailom Ardee was denied a victory by the judges, who controversially ruled in favour of Kazakhstan’s boxer Ghani Zhailauov, then skeet shooter Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit put in a woeful performance to miss the final.
It was a fine comeback for Pimsiri, the 22-year-old Khon Kaen-born weightlifter. She managed to lift only 100kg in the snatch event. Her second and third attempts to better that mark were ruled unsuccessful. Only one of the three judges gave her the green light. As Pimsiri returned to backstage, the lone judge who favoured her changed his decision. The Thai tried 103kg again but failed. Pimsiri was a distant 10th among 19 competitors from 17 countries when the snatch event ended.
In the meantime, team-mate Rattikan Gulnoi also snatched 100kg to stay in ninth place. China’s Li Xueying lifted an Olympic snatch record of 108kg in her third attempt to top the standings.
Things looked bleak for the Thai. However, fortunes changed dramatically. Ukraine’s Yuliya Kalina, Azerbaijan’s Boyanka Kostova and North Korea’s Jong Chun-mi, all of whom were better in the snatch, failed to make their mark in the clean and jerk event. Pimsiri grabbed the chance, lifting 136kg on her second attempt for silver. She then tried for 140kg and a personal best but her effort went in vain. Rattikan also tried to lift 136kg, but failed.
Li captured the gold medal with a combined lift of 246kg, with Pimsiri finishing second on 236kg, narrowly ahead of Yuliya, who claimed the bronze with 235kg. Short by one kilogram was Rattikan, who finished fourth. While the other two medallists showed off their medals during the awards presentation, Pimsiri instead held aloft the photographer of His Majesty the King.
Pimsiri’s medal was Thailand’s first ever silver in weightlifting, the country’s first in the London Games and the 22nd in the Olympic history.
Pimsiri’s silver means she is assured of cash awards of more than Bt9 million. Besides Bt6 million from the National Sports Development Fund, she will also get Bt500,000 apiece from Siam Commercial Bank, Channel 7, Channel 3, Chang and McDonald’s, while Honda (Thailand) will give her a CRB 205R motorcycle worth Bt120,000.
While Pimsiri was contesting the women’s 58kg class, her parents Khampoon and Amornrat and a large crowd in Khon Kaen were cheering for her in front of the television.
Khampoon couldn’t contain his joy. “I’m very proud of my daughter Taew [Pimsiri’s nickname]. She fulfilled her Olympic dream. It’s Thailand’s first medal in the London Games and that has delighted all Thai people. I’m now planning to go to Bangkok and pick Taew up upon her return to Thailand.”
Pimsiri’s mother Amornrat was in tears. “Taew’s success was a nice birthday gift for me. She kept her promise that she would give me an Olympic medal on my birthday. I’m very, very glad,” said her 48-year-old mother.
Pheu Thai Party MP Thanik Maseepitak said Khon Khaen people will give her a hero’s welcome upon her return.
Pimsiri shot to fame last year when she finished third in the World Championships in Paris and also won a gold medal in the SEA Games in Indonesia. Early this year, she captured a gold medal in the Asian Championships in South Korea.
Charismatic North Korean Kim Un-Guk and China’s Li Xueying broke a raft of records as they handed out two masterclasses in weightlifting.
Kim set a world record in the total thanks to equalling another in the snatch that was the basis for an emphatic victory in the men’s 62kg class.
Li broke two new Olympic records as she crushed her rivals on the way to claiming gold in the women’s 58kg class.
While Li was understated in her performance, Kim was anything but as he whipped the 6,000-capacity stadium into a frenzy with his flamboyant showmanship at the barbell.
Kim snatched 153kg, also a new Olympic record, to match Chinese lifter Shi Zhiyong’s world record, and then went on to clean and jerk 174kg for a combined total of 327kg, beating the previous record held by China’s Zhang Jie by 1kg.
Colombian Oscar Figueroa claimed a shock silver with a total of 317kg (140, 177), his clean and jerk a new Olympic record, while Indonesia’s Irawan Eko Yuli took bronze with 317kg (145, 172) on the bodyweight rule.
Each time he set foot on the podium, Kim grinned at the cheering crowd, a roar as he approached the barbell eliciting similar grunts in reply from the delighted spectators.
Kim’s reaction after each successful lift was one of unmitigated joy, prompting him to scream, shake his right fist over the bar and jump in the air before rapidly skipping off the platform. The crowd, quite simply, adored it.
His superiority in the snatch saw him take a massive 13kg lead over Zhang, the favourite for the event, into the clean and jerk. The Asiad champion failed with his third clean and jerk and missed a podium place by 3kg.