Freyja Mist Olafsdottir of Iceland ©Icelandic Weightlifting Federation

Freyja Olafsdotttir, a 20-year-old from Reykjavik, was never going to challenge for a place on the podium on a day when Ukraine won three European junior titles, but she won the popularity contest in Eilat – and recent happenings in Iceland have been one of the big talking points of the week among coaches and officials here. 

The reason is Crossfit, the hugely popular competitive gym sport that features gymnastic, strength and lifting disciplines, and has led to a worldwide increase in weightlifting, especially among women.

At the recent Crossfit national championships in Iceland drug-testers were sent in by organisers to test the top three. 

The men who came first and second refused to provide samples and have been banned for two years from all Crossfit gyms and competitions in the country.

There has never been much dialogue between Crossfit and weightlifting at the top level. 

Crossfit is a 21st century creation that is huge on social media, but many in weightlifting have voiced concerns about the level of coaching expertise and anti-doping in the sport that has provided them with so many new recruits who take up weightlifting after being introduced to it in a Crossfit environment.

Iceland has produced four of the past five women’s world champions in Crossfit and the two women who won two titles each, Annie Mist Thorisdottir and Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir, have nearly a million followers on social media between them, way more than anyone else in Iceland, including the singer Bjork.

They both tried international weightlifting when they competed at the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships in Houston last year, but have since restricted themselves to Crossfit.

Iryna Dekha of Ukraine was already the senior under-75kg European champion ©Alex Padure
Iryna Dekha of Ukraine was already the senior under-75kg European champion ©Alex Padure

The popularity of Crossfit is largely responsible for a three-fold increase in barbell production at the world’s leading equipment manufacturer, Eleiko in Sweden.

Olafsdottir may have finished eighth in the under-75 kilograms class but her Crossfit connections mean she won the popularity contest in Eilat. 

She trains with the two champions and has more than 11,000 fans on Instagram, way more than anybody else in these European Junior and Under-23 Championships, including the men’s Olympic super-heavyweight champion Lasha Talakhadze, who competes on Saturday (December 10).

The Iceland Weightlifting Federation is delighted with an increase in competitor numbers fuelled by Crosssfit. 

In 2010 they had five males and no females: now the numbers are 60-plus for both, and membership has risen from 28 to more than 700.

Those numbers are dwarfed, though, by Crosssfit. 

Olafsdottir’s Crossfit Box (gym) in Reykjavik has 2,000 members alone.

"I can see the attraction in both Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting," said 20-year-old Olafsdottir, who will study medicine at university from next year.

"I like being able to sweat a lot in Crossfit, and of course there’s a lot of money in it. 

"But I love the stress, the tension and the atmosphere in weightlifting, and to be honest I prefer competing in weightlifting to Crossfit. 

"And who doesn’t love the Olympic Games? 

"I’m going to be the first Icelandic woman to go to the Olympics in weightlifting."

She will have to improve quite a bit, as the winning total of Iryna Dekha was 81kg higher than Olafsdottir’s 179kg. 

Dekha, the senior European champion, was fifth in the Rio Olympics and was the easiest winner of the week. 

Her total was 10kg higher than the 250kg she made in winning the senior title in April.

There was a German national record in clean and jerk and total for third-placed Tabea Tabel, from Loerrach near the Swiss border. 

Tabel finished on 218kg, level with silver medallist Sona Poghosyan of Armenia - and 42kg behind Dekha.

Russia's Nadezda Likhacheva topped the podium in the women 69kg Under-23 class ©Alex Padure
Russia's Nadezda Likhacheva topped the podium in the women 69kg Under-23 class ©Alex Padure

Another highlight was Volodymyr Hoza’s unbelievably fast lifting in the junior men’s 94kg, which he won very easily.

Hoza, a former world junior champion who finished ninth in the Rio Olympics, had a remarkable routine - even faster than Britain’s Rebekah Tiler, who is renowned for her "let’s get on with it" style.

Hoza would walk out, put some chalk on his hands, cross himself, take a few paces behind the platform then… whoosh! 

He walked on to the platform, gripped the bar, settled himself and made his lifts in five seconds flat. 

Some rivals took six to eight times as long to make a lift.

None of his rivals could mount a challenge and Hoza, despite being 25kg below his best total, finished 16kg clear of Russia’s Eduard Chuikov and Armenia’s Samvel Gasparyan.

Ukraine also won the women’s junior 69kg when Hanna Panova, on her international debut, made six good lifts and a career-best total of 217kg.

It was a remarkable performance for an 18-year-old who has trained hard for four years, as she beat the far more experienced Moldovan Ecaterina Tretiacova, the 2013 European Youth champion who competed at last year’s senior World Championships.

The bronze on total went to Alona Shevkoplias, also of Ukraine, and Turkey’s Zeynep Atakan won clean & jerk bronze.

Ukraine had high hopes in the next junior contest, the men’s 85kg, with Kyryl Pyrohov and Igor Obukhov among the favourites. 

But they missed too many crucial lifts and Pyrohov dropped from first in the snatch to third overall, while Obukhov made only two good lifts and finished fifth on total and second in the clean and jerk.

Italy’s Antonino Pizzolato was third best in snatch and clean and jerk but because so many rivals struggled in the latter part of the contest he won on total, with 342kg, from Georgia’s Revaz Davitadze. 

Hakob Mkrtchyan of Armenia won the clean and jerk on 190kg but, having been ninth in the snatch, he could not make the top three overall.

There was a decisive win the under-23 women’s 69kg for Russia’s Nadezda Likhacheva, whose total of 235kg was well clear of Asastasiya Mikhalenka of Belarus and Jolanta Wior of Poland. 

Likhacheva was a world youth champion in 2012 and runner-up in this year’s senior European Championships at 63kg.