RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rim Jong Sim won North Korea’s first Olympic gold in Rio by a large margin in the women’s 75kg weightlifting on Friday, one weight category higher than her triumph at London 2012. Darya Naumava of Belarus took silver, her nation’s first medal of the Games, only five years after giving up shot put to become a weightlifter.
“The first thing I thought when I knew I had won was that I had made our beloved leader (Kim Jong Un) happy,” Rim, 23, told reporters after taking gold by 16kg.
The bronze medalist was Lidia Valentin of Spain, who finally got a chance to stand on the Olympic podium at her third Games. Valentin, 31, was the 2012 champion by default but was not on the podium in London as she finished fourth. The three who finished ahead of her recently tested positive for doping in reanalysis of samples. “It may be a bronze medal but it feels like gold,” said Valentin. “I’m really, really excited that I could stand on the podium after so many years. I am going out tonight to celebrate.” Rim was cheered not just by a large group of North Korean athletes wearing national team tracksuits, but a number of Brazilians who mingled with the North Koreans to sing, dance and wave a borrowed flag. Weightlifting is by far the strongest Olympic sport for North Korea and the team was expected to have at least one gold before Rim’s victory. Instead they suffered a string of defeats.
“I was very sad that my comrades did not win a gold medal,” said Rim, who won the women’s 69kg title at the 2012 Games. Om Yun Chol, defending champion at 56kg, was beaten by a world record total from China’s Long Qingquan. In the women’s 63kg, North Korea again finished second to China, Choe Hyo Sim beaten by Deng Wei. Of the other three in the men’s team, one failed to register a total, one finished 14th and another eighth. Rim was asked if those failures put her under pressure.
“No, I did not feel any pressure, I just focused on each lift,” said Rim. “Training was very hard and sometimes I was crying when I finished. But I knew that whenever that happened I was a step closer to the gold medal.” Rim suffered a bad hip injury at the IWF World Weightlifting Championship in Houston, Texas last November. She continued to lift against doctors’ advice, finished second and had to be lifted on to the podium. “I could train again after about two months,” she said. “We have very good medical and rehabilitation facilities in our country.”
There was disappointment for Brazil’s Jaqueline Ferreira, who failed with all three snatch attempts. Another lifter with noisy support was Colombia’s Ubaldina Valoyes, a multiple PanAmerican medalist who was competing at her fourth Olympics. Valoyes, 34, had her best result in finishing fourth. Shehad never bettered sixth in her previous attempts.
Reporting by Brian Oliver; Editing by Andrew Hay