JAKARTA: North Korea’s pint-sized weightlifters ruled the roost as the secretive nation bagged their first two gold medals of the Asian Games on Monday.
Ri Song Gum pipped local favourite Sri Wahyuni Agustiani to open their account in the women’s 48kg class then pocket rocket Om Yun Chol retained his Asian Games men’s 56kg title with ease as he defeated eternal Asian rival Kim Tuan Thach of Vietnam.
Ri, who is just 4ft 7in (140cm) tall, hoisted a massive 112kg in her first clean and jerk attempt to power past Agustiani who had led after the first snatch discipline.
Then Om, who is not much taller at 4ft 11in (151cm), raised 160kg in the clean and jerk for a 287kg total, 7kg ahead of Thach, the reigning world champion, who also had to settle for silver behind Om in Incheon four years ago.
Indonesia took their second lifting medal of the day as Suramat Bin Suwoto Wijoyo was awarded the bronze after a 272kg total.
London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Om, known for his exuberant celebrations, gave a reserved fist pump as he made his winning lift and departed the stage with just a wave before failing at two 172kg attempts that would have beaten his own Asian Games record set in 2014.
Om stood to attention and saluted throughout the anthem on the podium with his country’s flag wrapped around him to the delight of massed ranks of unified Korea supporters in the crowd.
Earlier Olympic silver medallist Agustiani, aged 24 and known affectionately as Yuni, tried and agonisingly failed twice to lift the 112kg she needed to take gold ahead of Ri despite the huge cries of “Indonesia, Indonesia” ringing around the Jakarta International Expo venue.
Ri reemerged twice to attempt an Asian Games record and personal best of 117kg but departed in agony as her left knee buckled on both attempts and she had to be helped from the platform on one leg.
Tears and cheers
A few moments later draped in the North Korean flag, the 20-year-old Ri’s pain turned to ecstasy as she received the gold medal and belted out the anthem of the secretive nation with tears streaming down her cheeks and dribbling from her chin.
Ri’s victory was watched by North Korea sports minister Kim Il Guk who told Korean media: “She did a great job.”
“I’m very happy that I won the first gold,” said an emotional Ri after emerging from doping control with her left knee encased in an ice pack.
The rising star, who came fourth as a teenager at the 2015 world championships, was cheered to the rafters by a large phalanx of supporters clad in unified Korea T-shirts. “I felt good because many people supported me,” Ri said.
It left Yuni with yet another silver medal to add to those she won four years ago at the 17th Asiad in Incheon and again at the Rio Olympics two years ago and, crestfallen, she too was left in floods of tears.
“I have lifted 116kg in training but today never felt like I could repeat it, no,” a still visibly upset Yuni told AFP after the medals ceremony, feeling that she had let her country down as Games hosts.
Thailand’s feisty Thunya Sukcharoen took bronze with a 189kg total.