BEIJING (Reuters) - Weightlifter Chen Xiexia won China’s first gold medal of the Olympics in the women’s 48kg class on Saturday, prompting thunderous applause and shouts of “Go China!” from flag-waving fans.
China had high expectations of taking the very first gold medal on offer in the 10m air rifle but that dream start failed to materialize. It was left to Chen to take the glory with the second gold up for grabs on the first full day of competition.
“I didn’t feel under pressure because I had a lot of support behind me, but I did feel a responsibility to do as well as I could,” a beaming Chen told reporters after the competition, clutching her gold medal and a bouquet.
The 25-year-old from Guangdong snatched 95kg and lifted 117kg for the clean and jerk, clinching gold with a total of 212kg. Her total score set an Olympic record. Turkey’s Sibel Ozkan took silver and Taiwan’s Chen Wei-Ling the bronze.
To a backdrop of roaring spectators waving Chinese flags, Chen showed she was in a class of her own, seemingly lifting the weights with ease.
Chinese shooter Du Li had been a favorite to grab the first gold of the Olympics in the 10m air rifle contest earlier on Saturday. But she caved in under the expectations of 1.3 billion people, failed to win a medal and left the arena in a flood of tears.
Just over an hour later Chen made amends.
She yelled a slogan to fire herself up before each lift, but did not reveal what it was she had shouted, saying only it was a way to encourage herself.
Asked what it felt like to win the initial gold, she played down the significance of fulfilling China’s first-day hopes.
“The first gold is a gold medal and the other gold medals are also medals, so they mean the same,” she said.
China’s weightlifting team leader, Ma Wenguang, clearly felt this was not an ordinary win. While reporters tried to corner him for a post-competition interview, his mobile phone rang and he answered the call with: “We’ve fulfilled our responsibility.”
Chinese women have dominated this weight class and Chen was the hot favorite to win gold after Turkey’s Nurcan Taylan won it in Athens. In Beijing, a nervous-looking Taylan failed all three attempts in the snatch and was out.
Chen made her international debut only last year, when she took all three gold medals on offer on the opening day of the world championships in Thailand. She recovered from a hamstring injury just in time for the Games.
Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby and Liu Zhen; Editing by Greg Stutchbury