The build-up to the highly anticipated 96 kg session was littered with debate and predictions as to who would come out on top.
Would it be the favourite, Tian Tao, the Chinese superstar whose 236 kg clean from the world championships and whose incredible leg strength would always keep him in these discussions? Would it be the young up-and-comer Meso Hassona, the junior world record holder who clean and jerked 225 kg at just 20 years of age? Or, would it be the undefeated Ilya Ilyin, the world record holder and most contentious weightlifter on the planet who hasn’t competed internationally since 2015 due to a subsequent 2-year ban?
As it happened, things sorted themselves out pretty neatly and easily. In the end there really was no battle. No one challenged anyone.
Here’s what happened.
The last time we saw Ilya Ilyin compete he snatched 191 kg, clean and jerked 246 kg, and totaled 437 kg, numbers and world records for which he is still credited. Since, Ilya has taken a lot of time off, and has of course been watched like a hawk by WADA. Even so, it came as a surprise to all of us when Ilya opened the snatch at 155 kg. Perhaps more surprising was his miss at 160 kg on his second attempt. The last time Ilya couldn’t snatch over 160 kg was… well, never. According to our Ilya Ilyin tracker, at the age of 17 Ilya had already snatched 182 kg in training and had snatched 170 kg in competition on his way to becoming a senior World Champion, one of the four World Championships titles for which he is still credited.
It came therefore as quite a shock to see Ilya snatch just 83% of his best competition snatch. He went on to clean and jerk 185 kg, 75% of his best. In Ilya’s defense he did only take one attempt in the clean and jerk before withdrawing having gained a total, the only thing he came to the competition for. This total affords Ilya the opportunity to continue in his bid for a place at the 2020 Olympic Games. Considering Kazakhstan can only qualify one male lifter, Ilya is going to have to do significantly better if he hopes to make the Olympics, let alone win.
Meso Hassona is the youngster of the group, the fastest improving, and as a result relatively difficult to predict. Meso last competed in December at the Qatar Cup in his home country and performed fantastically, snatching 172 kg, clean and jerking a new junior world record of 225 kg, and totaling a new junior world record of 397 kg.
In a recent conversation with Meso Hassona he told me that he was ready to attempt a new clean and jerk world record of 231 kg. For this reason it seemed likely that he would pose the biggest threat to Tian Tao.
In the snatch Meso predictably suffered. He managed 174 kg on his third attempt, respectable, but certainly not enough to regain a lead over Tian Tao in the clean and jerk without a bit of luck on his side. Unfortunately for Meso, he ended up bombing out, successfully and rather effortlessly cleaning 220 kg, 221 kg, and 222 kg in quick succession, but failing to jerk any attempt.
Tian Tao ended up with a much easier than expected run to the top of the podium. In the end neither Meso nor Ilya joined him on the podium. In fact, he ended up placing 22 kg over the silver medalist Seyedayoob Mousavijarahi (IRI) in the total.
Tian, for the first time since 2014, was successful with his first two attempts in the snatch, landing him on 181 kg, equal to his best from the 2018 World Championships. This performance moved Tian’s balance of makes to misses over his career in the snatch into the positive, but only by one! He now sits at 11 makes and 10 misses!
In the clean and jerk Tian opened up at 220 kg which turned out to be enough for the gold medal in the lift and the total. With his final two lifts, Tian took two valiant attempts at a new world record of 231 kg. As we expect from a man whose legs will seemingly straighten regardless of the weight imposed on them, Tian cleaned the weight beautifully both times but was unable to land the jerk.
Congratulations go to Tian Tao for his first international win as a senior!
In the end, only one of the three lifters stood on the podium. I guess we will have to wait until the World Championships to see the showdown again. Ilya will be in better shape and Meso will hopefully have cleaned up his lifting.
Oh, and world record holders Sohrab Moradi and Kianoush Rostami will be back in the mix.