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  • Writer's pictureAaryan

Why You Should Watch the IWF World Cup

The final qualifying event for the Olympics in Weightlifting begun yesterday in Thailand and it could turn out to be a better competition than the Olympics themselves. With Paris qualification on the line and an abundance of talent vying for it, the World Cup promises many levels of drama that is certainly worth keeping an eye on.


Photo from: Olympics.com

There was a significant period just before and after the Tokyo Olympics when Weightlifting's future at the Games was very uncertain. The governing body IWF had been plagued by corruption and doping scandals in recent years. In fact, the IOC dropped the sport from the original programme for Paris, only reinstating it once IWF made the necessary governance reforms. The IWF's period of reform, however, have led to multiple factors, like new weight categories and the qualifying system, that have coalesced to set up a dramatic final qualification tournament.


Olympic Qualification


How do lifters reach the Olympics? The Olympic Qualifying rankings are based on lifters' best single performance in the 18-month qualifying period, they have participated in certain mandatory competitions. The top 10 qualify, but only one per country in a weight category. And a country can send, at most, 3 lifters of each gender to the Olympics. This World Cup is the last competition in the qualifying period, and it is a mandatory competition to partake in to be eligible for Olympic qualification.


Mirabai Chanu


The silver medallist from Tokyo for India, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, will be looking to confirm her spot at the Paris Games. Currently placed 2nd in the qualifying rankings, she effectively just needs to register her participation to secure qualification. It would take 9 new lifters beating her mark of 200kg to knock her out of the top 10, which means >15kg improvement for some. I don't see that happening. She could try to get closer to the Chinese athlete ranked above her, which could mean that China don't include her event in their quota of three. But I'd just like to see her stay injury-free. She is returning to compete for the first time since her injury at the Asian Games last year, which was itself a comeback from an earlier injury, so it will be good to see her back in action in group B of the Women's 49kg category at 12pm IST on the 1st. Bindrayani Devi Sorokhaibam will also be in action for India in the 55kg event on the 2nd. It is a non-Olympic event, but her performance will count towards the 59kg qualifying rankings, where she is 29th.


Mirabai Chanu won Silver at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo from: Olympics.com

How could it be better than the Olympics?


There are several layers of intrigue that make the World Cup particularly exciting. It's a mandatory Olympic qualifying event, meaning everyone hoping to be at the Olympics will be there. It is also the last qualifying event, so the stakes could not be higher. There can also be 2 athletes from the same country, so there are more contenders than at the Olympics, and they all have to be at their best, because only the top 10 in the qualifying rankings go through. Not only do lifters have to make the top 10, though, they also must be the top athlete from their country. On top of that, they must ensure they are in the top 3 from their nation across the 5 weight categories in their gender, which adds a whole new dimension to the competition, especially for Chinese lifters.


Furthermore, the aforementioned troubles of the IWF meant that the number of Olympic weight categories have reduced from 14 in Tokyo to just 10 for Paris (5 per gender). This has created fields for each event that are absolutely stacked with talent, as lifters have moved up and down in weight class to become eligible for the Paris Games. The best competitors from different weight classes are now competing together. The W 59kg category, for instance, has 3 Olympic champions from Tokyo competing together: defending champ Kuo Hsing-Chun (TPE), Hidilyn Diaz (PHI) up from 55kg, and Maude Charron (CAN) down from 64kg. And none of them are even at the top of the rankings, which is a battle between Chinese lifters Luo Shifang and Pei Xinyi. On top of that, there is also Kim Il Gyong (PRK), who holds the Snatch world record, but will not be eligible for the Olympics. That's just one event, and this World Cup gives us an opportunity to see all of them battle it out. For previews of all the events and lifters to look out for, check out this excellent YouTube playlist made by Weightlifting House:




The competition within Chinese lifters is another fascinating story. China is the dominant force in Olympic Weightlifting (by far), winning 7 Golds at the Tokyo Olympics. They top the qualifying rankings in 8 of 10 events right now and all 5 women's events. Indeed, the battle for the top of the rankings in multiple events is one between two Chinese lifters, and it will take world records to decide those battles. So, the duels of Chinese lifters within each category will be incredible to watch. But the limit of 3 Chinese lifters in each gender, means that they will also be competing with lifters in there weight classes, where the standards are so high, that the 3 lifters with the greatest margin over the rest of the competition will be the ones to go to Paris. So, they not only have to claim the no. 1 rank, but they need to do so by a larger margin that their compatriots in other weight classes. To win the Olympics, they'd have to be 1kg better than the next best competitor. To get to the Olympics, however, they need to be 5-10% better than the competition, and ensure they beat their teammates. What this means for competitors from other nations though is that they can be way behind the leading Chinese lifter, but if they get close enough that the margin is smaller than in other events, they may not even have to compete with the top seed in Paris. These qualifying complexities also impact other nations like USA lower down in the rankings. The World Cup also gives us a chance to see the rivalry in women's weightlifting between China and North Korea play out in competition. North Korea will not be eligible to compete at the Olympics as the nation was banned from the 2023 World Championships, but as the only team capable of competing with China, they will come to the World Cup with a point to prove.


These are all the factors that add to the excitement of this World Cup, with so many more competitors and storylines than we would even see in Paris. The level of talent vying for coveted Olympic spots and the complexities of the qualification system mean that we will probably see multiple world records in Thailand (I reckon 4) and it might take more to win the World Cup than to actually win at the Olympics for some events. The permutations and possibilities add tension to the weights the lifters already have to carry, and will make the competition all the more enthralling to watch.


The event is also free to watch on the IWF Facebook page. Although the production quality might not rival the Olympics, the drama certainly will.



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