The 10 days of weightlifting competition that took place between July 24-Aug. 4 at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 proved to the world what weightlifting fans have long known to be true: the barbell is the great equalizer.
Weightlifting is a global sport – accessible to men and women of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, abilities and countries – and that was on full display at the Tokyo International Forum more so than ever before.
For the first time since women joined the Olympic weightlifting program 21 years ago, Tokyo saw an equal representation among the two genders with seven men’s and seven women’s bodyweight categories and 14 athletes entered in each.
A total of 196 lifters competed, representing 76 countries. All six continents were accounted for among the competitors, with medalists coming from five.
In a test of both physical and mental strength, the 42 medals awarded in the sport were spread across 24 nations, which ties the sport’s all-time high from the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, where 15 classes were contested.
That means that athletes from 32% of the countries competing stood on the podium, an impressive distribution.
While China put on a show, winning seven gold medals and one silver, the Tokyo Games still demonstrated that weightlifting truly is a sport for all, with 12 countries experiencing historic and memorable firsts.
Turkmenistan claimed its first Olympic medal of any color, in any sport, with Polina Guryeva’s 59kg silver. Formerly part of the Russian Empire, then Soviet Union and Unified Team, Turkmenistan has been its own nation in Summer Olympic competition at every Games since 1996.
The Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz became a viral sensation when the 30-year-old won the women’s 55kg and secured her country’s first gold medal in Olympic history (any sport, either gender). She had also made her mark five years prior when she took silver at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the first Olympic medal by a Filipino woman and the Philippines’ first Olympic medal in 36 years.
Qatar also saw its first Olympic gold medal, thanks to weightlifting, when two-time World medalist Fares El-Bakh conquered the men’s 96kg in Olympic-record fashion.
Neisi Dajomes etched her name in Ecuador’s sporting history when she won the women’s 76kg. Dajomes became the first Ecuadorian woman to win an Olympic medal, as well as the country’s first weightlifter to do so. The following day, Dajomes’ countrywoman Tamara Salazar took silver in the women’s 87kg.
The Dominican Republic won its first Olympic weightlifting medal when Zacarias Bonnat earned silver in the men’s 81kg, then made more history two days later with its first women’s weightlifting medal thanks to Crismery Santana’s 87kg bronze.
Man Asaad secured Syria’s first Olympic weightlifting medal when he finished third in the men’s +109kg.
With silver in the women’s 64kg, Giorgia Bordignon won the first weightlifting medal by an Italian woman.
Emily Campbell achieved the same feat for Great Britain with her silver in the +87kg; her medal also marked Great Britain’s first in the sport in 37 years.
Lasha Talakhadze, one of only two weightlifters to set total world records in Tokyo, became Georgia’s first athlete, regardless of sport, to win a second Olympic gold medal when he dominated the men’s super heavyweight division just as he had in Rio five years prior.
Julio Mayora (men’s 73kg silver) and Keydomar Vallenilla (men’s 96kg silver) had Venezuela’s best Olympic weightlifting results; only Israel Jose Rubio had medaled in the sport previously (2004 62kg bronze) for the South American nation.
Mirabai Chanu’s silver medal in the 49kg was the best Olympic finish by an Indian weightlifter; the country previously had one bronze medal in the sport, earned by Karnam Malleswari (69kg) in 2000.
Finally, the U.S. saw its first Olympic silver medalist in women’s weightlifting, with Kate Nye in the 76kg (the country’s best result in 21 years), as well as its first two-time women’s medalist when Sarah Robles finished third in the super heavyweight category for the second consecutive Olympic Games.