Sopita Tanasan earned Thailand its fourth Olympic medal in women’s weightlifting since it was introduced at the 2000 Sydney Games as she managed a combined total of 200 kilograms in the women’s 48kg final at the Riocentro – Pavilion 2 here.
She took full advantage of the controversial absence of China’s 19-year-old talent Hou Zhihui, who made a tearful exit from Rio 2016 just days after she had arrived.
Hou had the opportunity to become the second youngest woman to win Olympic weightlifting gold, but team officials - limited to four lifters in each of the men’s and women’s sections - decided to replace her with Meng Suping, world silver medallist in the over-75kg category which now lacks her rival, world record holder Tatiana Kashirina, part of the Russian squad banned by the International Weightlifting Federation.
Wang Guoxin, head coach of the women’s team, said on Monday (August 1) that Hou had not recovered from a knee injury sustained during a Beijing training session.
“Our team has decided to compete in the women’s over-75kg division instead of 48kg division, and Meng Suping is the best choice,” Wang told the South China Morning Post.
"Yes, Kashirina’s absence did give us a big opportunity to win in this division because only Meng and Kashirina has the ability to lift over 300kg in total in the world."
One Chinese journalist commented: "We’re not angry that she was dropped.
"But she had come all the way here and it is suspicious."
China has topped the weightlifting medal table at every Olympic Games since Sydney 2000.
The 21-year-old Tanason, world bronze medallist in 2013, managed eight kilograms more than her nearest challenger, Indonesia’s Sri Wahyuni Agustiani.
Japan’s Hiromi Miyake, silver medallist in London four years ago, became the first lifter to win two medals in this event at the Games as she made up a four kilograms gap on the top three after the initial snatch lift to take bronze with 188kg after a clean-and-jerk of 107kg.
That left her a kilogram ahead of the Dominican Republic's Beatriz Elizabeth Piron Candelario, who could only manage a clean-and-jerk of 102kg.
The Thai had taken a seven kilograms lead into the clean-and-jerk with a best of 92kg ahead of Agustiani and Piron Candelario, who had managed 85kg.
After Tanasan managed a best of 108kg in the clean-and-jerk, Agustiani was left to make two attempts at 115kg to beat her, but it was more than she can manage.
For Vuong Thi Huyen, hoping to claim Vietnam’s first women’s Olympic weightlifting medal on a day when compatriot Hoang Xuan Vinh became the country's first-ever Olympic champion after winning the men's 10 metre air pistol event, the competition ended in premature disappointment.
Vuong was unable to register a lift in any of the three snatch efforts, failing at 83kg and twice at 84g and thus failing to reach the clean-and-jerk conclusion.
Tanason is the first Thai female Olympic gold medallist since Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon won the 53kg category at Beijing 2008.
She had changed her name in 2007 on the advice of a fortune teller who said it would improve her chances of winning the Olympics.
Her name was so long that it was listed as "J" on the digital scoreboard during the competition.