President of the NOC of Madagascar Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko with weightlifters Rosina Randafiarison, left and Tiavina Andriamitantsoa ©IWF

Madagascar finished off its most successful IWF World Championships to date when Tojo Andriatsitohaina made a huge jump in the Olympic rankings in the men’s 73 kilograms, from 35th place to 12th.

Like his three team-mates "Tojo", as Andriatsitohaina is known, made a big improvement to his career-best total with 153-178-331. He had never competed before at this weight in an IWF competition, having posted his previous qualifying best of 300kg at 67kg.

A 153kg snatch won the bronze medal in last year’s IWF World Championships and if things go his way in the other sessions tomorrow, Tojo might win a medal from the D Group.

That would be a fourth medal for the team. Rosina Randafiarison had a sweep of silvers in the women’s 45kg, the best performance at a World Championships in any Olympic sport by a Malagasy athlete.

All four team members in Riyadh won a sweep of golds at the Indian Ocean Island Games in their home nation less than two weeks ago, two of them with bigger totals than they made here.

And all four prepared for their Island Games-World Championships double header by working hard at a four-month training camp in China.

Madagascar has been sending dozens of athletes from five sports to training camps in China since 2017 - disrupted for a couple of years by COVID - and the results are clearly paying off.

"What we learned most while we were there was discipline," said Tojo’s brother Eric, who has turned to coaching after his career was ended by injury.

"Everybody has benefited from the training camp, and the rest of the world should take notice and start worrying about Madagascar. Here we come."

IOC scholars Rosina Randafiarison and Tojo Andriatsitohaina in Riyadh ©IWF
IOC scholars Rosina Randafiarison and Tojo Andriatsitohaina in Riyadh ©IWF

China is Madagascar’s main trading partner and the two nations have had a strong relationship for decades. In weightlifting, the world’s strongest nation has welcomed several nations to training camps recently, including France and Samoa as well as Madagascar.

Tojo is well on course for a place in Paris, with more improvement to come in the three remaining qualifying competitions, and two of those ahead of him in the rankings vulnerable to exclusion because of multiple doping violations by their team-mates.

He failed with his final two attempts at 182kg and was not happy afterwards. "If I’d made that 182 I would be in the top 10," he said.

Tojo knew he could do it, because his total in the Island Games was 2kg higher than today at 333kg.

The other two Malagasy athletes here were Jean Ramiarimanana, who topped the B Group to finish eighth overall in the men’s 55kg, and Sarikanirina Bakoliharisoa, who was 18th in the women’s 55kg.

Both Tojo and Randafiarison are on International Olympic Committee (IOC) scholarships. Tojo competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with brother Eric, where they both finished 11th at 67kg and 61kg.

Back home in Antananarivo, the capital, National Federation President Alex Randriamanarivo said: "We can win more medals and keep improving.

"We have good Government support for all Olympic sport, and we have a lot of weightlifters - 100 to 200 in most of our regions, and we have 21 regions."

Randriamanarivo, general secretary of his National Olympic Committee, lifted at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games and was national coach before he became President 12 years ago.

"We have quite good media coverage here, because we have champions," he said.