Four first-time Paralympic champions were crowned in a sensational Para powerlifting opening day at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Thursday (26 August).
Kazakhstan and Jordan made history topping the podium for the first time, Nigeria kicked off in fine form and a Chinese star triumphed in record-breaking style.
It was Paralympic debut day for China’s Guo Lingling and a highly anticipated one as she arrived in Japan as the two-time world champion.
The Chinese appeared to lift with ease 109kg to set a new world and Paralympic record in the women’s up to 41kg at the Tokyo International Forum.
Her starting lift was 105kg, she had one failed attempt at 108kg, before she nailed it on the third. Lingling then requested a 'power lift' for an extra world record attempt at 109kg, which cemented her place in history.
“I’m very excited,” said the 32-year-old after receiving her gold medal. “This is the first time I’ve participated in the Paralympic Games, so to break a world record and win this medal for China is very special for me.
“I’m excited to speak with my family. Yesterday [25 August] was my birthday, so I received lots of messages from my friends wishing me happy birthday and good luck in the competition. I’m happy I was able to win the gold for all of them.”
Indonesia’s Ni Nengah Widiasih upgraded the bronze medal she won at Rio 2016 to silver, but her lift was still 11kg off Guo’s on 98kg. Clara Fuentes clinched the bronze in 97kg to give Venezuela its first Para powerlifting medal in history.
First for Kazakhstan
There were also celebrations for David Degtyarev who won Kazakhstan’s first gold medal in Para powerlifting – and its second in Paralympic Games – in the men’s up to 54kg.
Degtyarev triumphed with a lift of 174kg, which was 9kg ahead of France’s silver medallist Axel Bourlon on 165kg and Greece’s Dimitrios Bakochristos who added to the bronze medal he won at Rio 2016 when he came third.
With no other athlete attempting a lift of more than 165kg, Degtyarev essentially had his gold locked up as soon as he successfully completed his first lift of 170kg. He would go on to complete lifts of 172kg and 174kg to prove his dominance.
“I’m very happy. I have nothing else to say, but I’m very happy. My coach decides my strategy, and everything else is a secret, so I’m not going to explain what my plan was. The most important thing is that I won,” he said.
Nigeria began its Tokyo 2020 campaign the same way it wrapped up Rio 2016, winning gold. Latifat Tijani dominated the women’s up to 45kg forcing world champion Cui Zhe from China to settle for her fourth Paralympic silver.
Tijani lifted 105kg at her second attempt to establish a commanding lead. When Zhe elected to focus on the silver by putting 102kg on the bar for her third attempt, the Nigerian was essentially given a victory lap, where she lifted 107kg to put an exclamation point on her performance.
“I know that the Chinese lifters are very strong, but I promised myself that I would win my gold today. Ever since Rio 2016, when I took silver, that time I said that I would get the gold in Tokyo and I would collect it,” Tijani said.
“I wanted to achieve it. I was non-stop. Non-stop training. And I thank the almighty Allah that he gave it to me,” she added.
The bronze medal went to Poland’s Justyna Kozdryk, as she claimed her second Paralympic powerlifting medal 13 years after winning silver in Beijing.
The first gold of the day went to Omar Qarada in the men’s up to 49kg. It was Jordan’s second ever Paralympic glory and Qarada’s first after two silver at Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016.
The 40-year-old lifted 173kg on his third attempt to bag the victory ahead of world record holder and Rio 2016 champion and long time rival Le Van Cong from Vietnam.
The Vietnamese also lifted 173kg but Qarada finished first due to a lower body weight of 100 grams (47.21kg against Van Cong’s 47.31kg). Parvin Mammadov gave Azerbaijan the bronze medal (156kg).
“I speak a lot to Le. He is a friend. In Rio the same thing happened, we both lifted the same weight on our third lift, but in Rio it was Le stealing my gold medal. Today it was me who was able to steal the gold medal from him,” Qarada said.
Friday's powerlifting competition continues with women’s up to 50kg and up to 55kg finals, as well as the men’s up to 59kg and up to 65kg.
Complete schedule and results can be found on Paralympic.org.