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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - China ensured top place in the weightlifting medals table for the fifth successive Olympic Games when Meng Suping won her nation’s fifth gold on Sunday.
Sarah Robles, in third place in the +75kg, won the first weightlifting medal for the United States since 2000.
Meng had to make her last clean and jerk of 177kg to edge out Kim Kuk Hyang of North Korea, who lifted more than 300kg for the first time. Meng did it and justified her last-minute selection for the Rio team.
Meng occasionally looked shaky, missing her first snatch and her first clean and jerk, but did enough.
“I was at home in China training hard when I heard I had been selected,” she said. “It was a personal challenge for me and I know there was a lot of weight on me, but it was my duty to perform well for my country and I did it.
“I was a bit nervous on my first lift but I stabilized. I didn’t think about how much I had to lift, I just followed my coach’s directions and the end result was pretty good.”
Meng's gold takes China’s weightlifting tally to 28 in the five Games this century. They have never won fewer than five in a single Games since women’s contests were added to the schedule in 2000.
Their total in Rio is five golds and two silvers with one lifter yet to compete - Zhe Yang in the men’s 105kg on Monday. No other team can overtake them.
A knee injury to the 48kg favorite Hou Zhihui prompted the decision to call for Meng, 27. Hou thought she had recovered sufficiently in a pre-Games training camp in Sao Paulo but China’s head coach of the women’s team, Wang Guoxin, made the change.
His decision was influenced, he said, by the absence of Tatiana Kashirina of Russia, the world record holder who beat Meng in the past two IWF World Championships. She was excluded when the entire Russian team was banned from Rio for state-sponsored doping. The ban was not confirmed until the week before the Games started.
Kashirina’s world record total of 348kg is way beyond the winning total in Rio. “It’s a pity she was not here,” said Meng. “She is a very strong competitor.”
Both Robles, 28, and Kim have served two-year doping bans. Kim's total 306kg was 1kg behind Meng. She was in tears afterwards and said, "I am happy to win silver but also sad that it was not gold."
At 143kg Robles was 20kg or more heavier than her rivals and turned that to her advantage to become the first American on the weightlifting podium since Tara Nott won at Sydney 2000.
“This means a lot, to be on the podium and give exposure to our sport at a time when it’s already growing,” said Robles. “It’s good not just for me, but for women of size, for women who want to get up off the couch and do something different.”
Her two-year ban, she said, was the result of unknowingly taking an over-the-counter supplement that contained a banned substance. Life was hard for Robles. She lost her funding, took three or four menial jobs, kept training and strove to return.
“I know I’m a good and honest person and if I put hard work in I would be able to reach my goals.”
Reporting by Brian Oliver; Editing by Andrew Hay