Stockholm, July 1
Weightlifters have curious ways of pumping themselves up before competing. Some close their eyes in quiet meditation. Others cry out for help from God.
Holley Mangold, the U.S. women’s superheavyweight for the London Olympics, likes to do a cartwheel before each competition.
"It’s a superstition kind of thing," she told The Associated Press. "It’s part of my routine."
You only get six lifts, so the weights you pick are crucial. Start too low and the medals could be out of reach. Start too high and you may crash out without a result.
Imagine one of your competitors is coming in at 150 kilograms so you decide to start at 151. But wait, the other guy just changed to 152. Do you go up to 153, your personal record? Or play it safe and stick to 151, hoping he’ll bomb out at 152? Often, your coach will decide for you.
Svetlana Tsarukaeva of Russia lost this game of chicken in a big way four years ago. Among the medal favorites in the Beijing Olympics, the former arm wrestler put too much weight on the bar for her first lift. After failing all attempts, she was so devastated she missed the exit when she left the platform and walked straight into a wall.
"It was very hard. But what doesn’t kill us strengthens us," she told World Weightlifting, the official quarterly magazine of the International Weightlifting Federation.
Tsarukaeva bounced back and heads to the London Olympics as the 63-kilogram favorite after becoming world champion last year.
Russia has an impressive lineup and should challenge the Chinese in the heavy divisions. China, which won one silver and eight gold medals in Beijing, still dominates the lower weight categories. Kazakhstan has a few gold medal contenders like Ilya Ilin, defending Olympic champion in the men’s 94-kilogram category, and double world champion Zulfiya Chinshanlo in the women’s 53-kilogram class.
There are eight weight categories for men and seven for women. Interest is the highest in the superheavyweight division, where you will find the thick-necked hulks that people typically associate with weightlifting.
Competitors in the lower weight categories have a completely different build. Slim, even petite, they look like gymnasts, but with bigger thighs.
The quest for gold and the unofficial title of world’s strongest woman likely will be a showdown between Zhou Lulu of China and Tatiana Kashirina of Russia.
Zhou established a world-record total of 328 kilograms when she became world champion last year. Kashirina equaled that total this year at the European Championships.
Among the men’s superheavyweights, no one is expected to threaten Iranian giant Behdad Salimikordasiabi, the world champion for the past two years and the snatch world record-holder.
Returning from injury, defending Olympic champion Matthias Steiner of Germany will be hard-pressed to get the bronze this time.
As always, weightlifting is struggling to contain its dark side — doping. Some would-be medal candidates have been barred from competing in London after failing drug tests, including former Olympic, world and European champion Taylan Nurcan of Turkey, Ukrainian superheavyweight Olha Korobka and China’s Olympic champion Liao Hui.
"The IWF is doing its utmost to make sure that weightlifters in London lift clean," federation president Tamas Ajan told the AP in an email. "The rest is up to the athletes themselves."