2012 Asian Weightlifting Chamnpionships: The women

2012 Asian Weightlifting Chamnpionships:
The women

The 2012 Asian Weightlifting Championships

Pyeongtaek, Korea

April 23 – 30, 2012

Andrew Charniga, Jr.


The 2012 Asian Weightlifting Championships were held in Pyeongtaek, Korea on the grounds of the Yichung Cultural sports complex. The organization and facilities were all first class. Both the warm up area and the training hall were housed in tent facilities. The weather averaging around 20º C was perfect for these venues.

Although around 500 competitors were to be expected at these championships, significantly fewer competitors were entered due in no small measure to the fact most of the world’s economies are still in recession.

This event was very well organized. The Korean hosts provided excellent service for all participants. The technical organization was also exemplary, very efficient with first class facilities. 


An interesting feature of these championships was the chief announcer for all sessions which consisted of a team of officials with high pitched voices. The all lady crew was excellent. The no nonsense, technically proficient approach of the all lady crew created a smooth, seamless pace for the competitions. The sessions did not drag on which proved to be a service to all concerned.


Nevertheless, no matter how organized you are, there are unexpected glitzes. On a least two occasions the competition was abruptly halted for some interminable minutes while the officials had to sort out the order of lifting. During the 85 kg session, for instance, five coaches decided to jump the opening weight of their respective athlete at the same time. These were lower level coaches with lower level athletes who accomplished nothing. They just delayed the competition for the better athletes. The top three lifters (two Iranians, one Korean) in this class each selected an opening weight in the snatch. Each went out and lifted this weight successfully. The same cannot be said for the “thinking” coaches making all the weight jumps in the warm up area.


When you take into account that it is an Olympic year, the level of competitions was not extraordinarily high because some of the top athletes stayed home to continue training for the games which are a little more than three months away. Nevertheless, there were some interesting confrontations and, more importantly, a glimpse into the future.


General Impressions

Generally the high points or a memorable feature of an international competition are close competitions or world record performances. There were some close competitions at these championships. However, without question the single most unforgettable event of the entire championships was neither a record nor a tight competition; however, the circumstances surrounding the performance of a fourth place finish of a 53 kg lifter from Indonesia (see “Of wolves and dogs”) was.  


Even though female weightlifters have made unimaginably huge strides in the sport, there are still possibilities for this fantastic “leap forward” to continue. A resolution by the International Olympic Committee stipulates any country wishing to participate in the Olympic Games must have a contingent of female athletes.  Consequently, several countries with no previous history of female weightlifting, entered female teams. In some cases, these first time lifters to the international stage looked they had learned to lift only the week before the competition.


Nevertheless, the possibilities created by introducing females from this part of the world into the sport, with sufficient funding, may result in another China emerging from some Middle Eastern country or from the Middle East in general. Current conditions in the Middle East are similar to those conditions which once existed in China with a female population that had a thousand plus years of low social status and a pent up desire to achieve outside the restricted, sheltered confines of their homes.


The power relations in the sport have shifted almost entirely to Asia. Only one of the male world champions of the World championships in Paris was from Europe. Two of the female world champions were from Europe. Although, a good case could be made that even one of those gold medals was a gift to Europe. There are three significant aspects to the dramatic power shift away from the continent which created and taught the rest of the world the sport of weightlifting.


The first and most significant aspect of this power shift is that the Asian countries, especially the less affluent ones, do what the Europeans used to do, i.e., they out work the rest of the world. It used to be that you could easily recognize a lifter from Eastern Europe, who would be a medal contender, on sight or even smell. It was a guy who looked and even emitted an odor like he wore his workout clothes from morning until night. He would be unshaven, disheveled, and appear a little beat up from training morning to night. 


The second aspect, inextricably connected with the first, is that, in relative terms, the Asians are putting more money into the sport than Europe. 


The third aspect involves the culture of performance with enhancing substances introduced into the sport by the Russian and American teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It clouds the realities of modern training in an era of high level sophistication of testing. This negative culture inhibits the search for new methodologies to train under the current conditions. The general consensus seems to be the Asians are cheating because no one could lift those weights without special help.


A number of Asian teams, with lifters who are products of the special sport schools, are the ones who have the discipline to achieve high results under today’s conditions. These athletes have a single focus which is to lift bigger weights. Western lifters, burdened with digital distractions, will find it very difficult to compete with teams like Vietnam. The Vietnamese women’s team, as an example, reek of discipline. There is no headphones and no nonsense but just a single focus.

The women

48 kg


Since the Chinese had entered what were obviously a couple (both men and women) of ‘B’ teams, the women’s classes were a little more competitive than they could have been. HUANG Yuezhen (CHN) easily won this class with five good lifts, missing only her last lift with 112 kg after a big struggle to stand with the weight. Vietnam had two lifters in this ‘A’ session. Both show a lot of potential. The two girls, like the rest of the Vietnamese females, were extremely well disciplined.




53 kg

Vuong Thi Huyen (VIE) 53 kg. Charniga photo.


Technically, China had three teams entered in this class, i.e., China, Tapei and Hong Kong. HSU Shu- Ching (TPE) was far and away the superior lifter in this class. She made three snatches finishing with 97 kg which looked to be the easiest of all. In the clean and jerk HSU opened with 115 kg for a very easy lift. She was followed by LI Qimei (CHN) who missed the jerk with her second attempt at the same weight after a big struggle to stand with the barbell. She took the same weight on her third and this time made an easier clean and a good jerk.


HSU took a modest 2 kg jump to 117 kg and made a very easy lift, especially the jerk.  HSU struggled to clean 123 kg on her third attempt but made a very strong jerk. She was the easy winner of this class.


58 kg

ZHOU Jun (CHN) 58 kg jerks 131 kg. Charniga Photo


Of the three medalists SIRIKAEW Pimsiri (THA), ZHOU Jun (CHN), KUO Hsing – Chun (TPE), KUO was up first with a very solid 94 kg. ZHOU Jun (CHN) followed with a near perfect technique opener of 95 kg. SIRIKAEW Pimsiri (THA) made a powerful no foot movement 96 kg for her first. KUO Hsing – Chun (TPE) grabbed the bar and pulled before fully getting set which caused the bar to drift backward too far for a miss. ZHOU Jun seemed to have 98 kg for her second, but it was never secured so the barbell fell backwards. KUO Hsing – Chun corrected her mistake with 98 kg and made a single continuous motion lift.


ZHOU Jun jumped to 99 on her 3rd, seemed to have it up easily but it drifted backwards. SIRIKAEW Pimsiri muscled up her 2nd with 100 kg with a narrow stance, no foot movement lift. SIRIKAEW Pimsiri’s 3rd with 102 kg was up easily but drifted too far backwards to control. She had a 2 kg lead going into the jerk.


KUO Hsing was the first to appear in the jerk with her opener at 123 kg. She cleaned the weight extremely easy, jerked a little forward but it was good. SIRIKAEW Pimsiri played it safe with her opening weight of 125 kg. She muscled the clean followed it with an easy jerk. ZHOU Jun followed with 125 kg making an easy clean with a slightly forward jerk, but she stepped under it for a good lift. KUO Hsing made another easy clean with 128; she jerked it further forward than her 1st but managed to step under it to save the lift. SIRIKAEW Pimsiri’s clean knocked her backward on her 2nd. ZHOU Jun took 130 kg for her 2nd. She jumped forward in the clean about 7 cm, took two steps to get her balance, then jerked way too far forward. KUO Hsing pulled 130 kg forward and jerked the barbell forward, but, once again, she stepped under the weight for her third good lift.


SIRIKAEW Pimsiri selected 131 kg to get all three gold medals. This time she was very careful not to let the weight knock her backwards. A careful, easy jerk and she was the champion. ZHOU Jun took 131 for the gold in the jerk. This time she did not jump as far forward in the clean but had to take two and half steps forward before setting up for the jerk which went way forward for no lift.


63 kg

ZHOU Wenyu (CHN) with perfect jerk technique. Charniga photo.


This class had two clear favorites with the two Chinese girls: the former junior world champion DENG Mengrong and ZHOU Wenyu. ZHOU had a result of 115 + 139 = 254 kg at the 2009 Chinese National Games. DENG had a result of 98 + 123 = 221 at the 2010 Junior World championships in the 58 kg class. 


ZHOU Wenyu was out first with 105 kg which was an easy opening weight. She does not have a high degree of flexibility but she makes up for it with a very smooth, efficient technique. DENG took the same weight for her 1st. Looking up hard and dropping low fast she also made an easy lift. ZHOU followed with 108. She pulled the weight to arm’s length and seemed to have it but it dropped forward. Sticking to what appeared to be a script, DENG followed with the same weight and a very smooth jump back snatch with 108 kg.


ZHOU repeated with her 108 and this time made sure the weight was securely fixed before standing. DENG went to 110 kg. She fixed it well in a deep squat but at the last second it drifted backward and she lost it. DENG was in the lead on bodyweight going into the jerk.


This situation in the snatch set up what was to be the highlight of the entire championships with the two Chinese fighting back and forth in the clean and jerk. ZHOU started it off with 131 kg. ZHOU bounced five times in the deep squat before she was able to stand with this weight. After this prolonged strain ZHOU, from a relaxed stance, proceeded to make an easy jerk.


ZHOU cleans the weight with a wide hand spacing and even moves her hands out for the jerk in such a way that the edge of her hands are touching the snatch markings of the bar. Although there is no particular advantage for a weightlifter to employ a wide hand spacing for the jerk; if anything it is a disadvantage; you will find no better technician of a wide hand spacing jerk than this young woman from China. She makes the jerk look easy, almost effortless.


DENG took the same 131 for her 1st. She sat very deep, had to bounce several times to stand but followed with a wide split powerful jerk.


ZHOU only had to bounce three times in the deep squat with her 2nd weight of 133 kg; then, she had to take a half step forward in the recovery, but once again the jerk was effortless. DENG followed with 133 kg and cleaned it with no pause in the deep squat which was followed with another wide split, easy jerk. ZHOU selected 136 kg for her third. After two bounces in the deep squat, she struggled some more through the middle of the recovery. But, despite this fatiguing clean, she made another effortless jerk. DENG took the same 136, sat deep, bounced twice, then followed with another perfect, powerful jerk.


These two were the class of the entire championships. It was a pleasure to watch their battle in the clean and jerk.


   69 kg


HUANG Shih – Hsu (TPE) 141 kg. Charniga photo.


HUANG Shih – Hsu (TPE), WANG Ya – Jhen (TPE) and Li Juan (CHN) were the favorites in this class. A few months shy of 37, HUANG had placed fourth in Paris. She was almost old enough to be the mother of the other two top competitors. Her arms are unusually large for a 69 kg female, and she has difficulty getting the weight behind her head in both lifts.


Of the top three WANG Ya – Jhen started first with 97. It was a good lift after a little struggle at the bottom of the squat. WANG Ya – Jhen selected 100 kg fro her 2nd which she made easier than her first with a fast pull and fast squat. Finally, she took her second 3 kg jump to 103 and made the fastest, easiest lift of the series.


Li Juan (CHN) dropped her opener with 100 in front, then came back to make this weight with a slight hop backwards. Her final attempt at 105 was a very fast, very efficient, jump backwards lift. HUANG Shih – Hsu (TPE) pulled 106 kg in fast, sat low briefly then dropped it behind. She repeated with this weight but lifted it easily with a slight hop backwards. HUANG then took a big jump to 117 kg. Pulling fast, she sat low briefly and then had to take a very careful step forward for a good lift and a huge lead.


HUANG Shih – Hsu had a big lead in the snatch, so her 1st attempt in the jerk with 133 was just to secure a gold medal. She has obvious age related difficulties getting her elbows high in the clean, locking her elbows and getting the weight behind her head in the jerk. WANG Ya – Jhen took the same 133, pulled it in a deep squat and then fell over backward with the barbell still on her chest. She took the same weight for her 2nd and this time made no mistake with an easy clean and strong jerk.


Li Juan pulled 134 to her chest and fell backward but managed to dump the weight forward first. Her 2nd attempt mirrored her first. Finally on her third attempt at 134, she cleaned the weight easily but had to step forward. Then, standing on knees which hyperextend she jerked the weight until her elbows hyperextended. HUANG Shih – Hsu selected 135 for her 2nd. She made a better clean and a good jerk, but her right elbow was a borderline press out. She cleaned 141 kg on her third with the weight sliding off her chest slightly on the right side; she managed to pull it back on her clavicles and jerk the weight, but she was unable to hold it overhead long enough.


75 kg

LAN Huixian (CHN) jerks for her a power clean weight. Charniga photo


Most of the field in this class were beginners. Some looked like they had just learned rudimentary technique in the training hall. However, for these athletes from places like Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates, the desire was there. LAN Huixian (CHN) and LIM Ji – Hye (KOR) were way ahead of the rest of the class, but their competition looked much better on paper than what had actually transpired.


LIM Ji – Hye (KOR) made three good lifts finishing with what was obviously a maximum for her weight of 104 kg. LAN Huixian (CHN) made three good lifts as well. She sauntered out on her 3rd attempt to equal LIM’s 104, with what was obviously a power snatch weight, to politely move into first in the snatch on bodyweight.


In the clean and jerk LIM Ji – Hye made 124 and missed the jerk with 130; then she made a maximum (for her) lift with 131. She lifted with excellent, modern technique. However, her performance was overshadowed by LAN Huixian who politely took the same increments and squat cleaned what, for her, were power clean weights.


+75 kg

JANG MI – Ran (KOR) goes under 165 kg. CHarniga photo.


The Olympic champion of Beijing, current world record holder in the clean and jerk and Korean national hero JANG MI – Ran was the only top lifter in this class which had all of seven lifters.


Three of the seven entries were from countries with newly formed female teams; consequently, their results were very low. After second place Aborneva (KAZ), there was a precipitous drop off in totals. JANG, who once held the world record at 140 kg, opened with a modest 116 kg in the glare of a dozen television cameras. Her second with 120 kg was OK, but 125 kg gave her a little trouble.


In the clean and jerk she opened with an easy 155, then went to 165 kg for an easy clean but missed the jerk. She corrected on her third with this weight for a 290 kg total. JANG is expected to compete in London. If she does, she can still clean with the best, but it is unlikely she will be able to snatch or jerk the weight from her chest like she used to.


Of Wolves and Dogs:

A She Wolf


British author George Orwell wrote that “Sport is war minus the shooting.” He was commenting about sport in general but primary game and combative sports. In elite sport, a unique world of its own, there is much truth in that statement.


On the other hand, elite sports, which involve absolute maximum performance, such as weightlifting, track and field and cycling, are in another world in and of itself. Analogous to what Orwell said about football and combative sports, someone once said “Elite sport has nothing to do with good health.” Whether one is straining to lift a maximum weight or running all out to break a world record, an elite athlete accepts the risk to his/her health that goes with the territory of straining to stretch the limits of human performance.


However, a clear cut line of demarcation as to what constitutes acceptable risk to one’s health is difficult to establish where maximum performance in elite sport is concerned.


A newly released book A Demasculinization of Strength elucidates a genuine phenomenon:  the female weightlifter. The central theme of the book is the notion that no one really knows the potential of the female athlete. Today’s female lifters are lifting weights once reserved for the world’s strongest men of the 1950s.


Female participation in power sports, historically, has been an amortization in reverse; it has been  a gradual acceptance that females could participate in events once considered male only because they were perceived to be too strenuous for the female body.  Female weightlifters represent the culmination of a long struggle female power athletes have had to wage to overcome barriers to participate in male only events.


However incredible the accomplishments of today’s female lifers, one never ceases to be amazed.


Citra Fabrianti (IND) competing in the 53 kg class at the 2012 Asian championships cleaned (lifted to her chest) 112 kg. She struggled to stand erect with the heavy weight. After pausing a few moments, she dropped the barbell and fell over backwards. She had obviously suffered a black out episode. This is a fairly common situation in weightlifting if the bar is shifted too far backwards as it rests on the clavicles. A weightlifter can experience a black out episode if the bar restricts the blood flow of the carotid arteries in the neck, or it can be caused by prolonged breath holding while straining (the valsalva effect).


Citra Fabrianti (IND) pulls in 107 kg. Charniga photo


Citra was attended by her coach, doctors and medics while she lay on the platform for what seemed an eternity. The situation was greatly compromised by the inability of the doctors to communicate with the athlete. She was urged to breathe into an oxygen mask which had been placed over her face, but she could not understand English. No one in the immediate vicinity could translate.


Suddenly, she stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. The medics performed CPR. Fortunately, Citra was revived and placed on stretcher to be taken to hospital. However, she suffered a seizure before an ambulance arrived and had to be stabilized before she was removed from the building.Citra was taken to hospital, examined and subsequently released from the hospital that evening to return her hotel.


The very next day found her in the training hall with her teammate where she was engaged in a rather strenuous workout for someone who had just competed in a major international competition the day before, let alone someone who went into cardiac arrest from lifting a heavy barbell about 14 hours prior to this workout. Any normal human being or any other lower level sportsman/sportswoman would have, at the very least, decided to take the day off from training; especially since it was the day after, albeit briefly, visiting the afterlife. Many, in all probability most, would have called it a career and never competed again.


However, elite sport is not about being normal; certainly it is not for just any athlete. Weightlifting at the elite level is all about stretching the limits of human strength and endurance.


Imagine, for instance, if members (both male and female) of the US team who competed in weightlifting at the 2008 Olympics, after competing at the Games with no shot at any medal, decided to a take a year off from training to rest from the strain of training and competition.


The distance between those athletes, who had participated on the fringe of elite sport and someone like Citra, is a measurement best left to astronomers.


It has been said with considerable validity that, with respect to their status in traditional male dominant societies, “Women in many countries of the world are still living in the dark ages.” However, at least some of these societies do not handicap the prospective female from participation in such a profoundly physical and psychologically demanding sport like weightlifting.


Consequently, in the words of Citra’s coach, “She felt ok, so she went to train;” this is considered to be normal. After all, this is elite sport and Citra is an elite sportswoman; gender is not a factor.


Hypothetically, a typical question which would be asked of Citra, by a western journalist for instance, especially a male, would be, “Why do you want to do that sport anyway?” The implication of such a question would be obvious; women are weaker than men; this sport is a man’s sport; it is unfeminine; women should stick to feminine appropriate activities like softball and soccer.


Obviously, whatever Citra’s socioeconomic standing, her motivation to succeed has not been stifled by androcentric propaganda of gender appropriate sports; especially what is supposedly possible or not possible for a female athlete. Anyone, regardless of gender, who goes to the gym for hard weightlifting training the day after literally dropping dead from weightlifting, is convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, all things are possible.


In this particular case, this elite weightlifter cannot conceive the female body is in any way frail, or otherwise inferior to a man’s body.