By Brian Oliver

Kamila Konotop from Ukraine won her third senior continental title in a dramatic women’s 59kg contest at the European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. The drama did not involve Konotop, who finished 15kg clear, but featured a cast of seven lifters aiming to make ground in the Olympic rankings

This was a crucial day for those hoping to go to Paris 2024. While Konotop is assured of finishing near the top of the rankings, there is a desperately close contest further down.

Athletes who started the day in 10th, 11th, 12th , 13th and 15th place all failed to make any gains. The three placed 10th to 12th all bombed out – Taylor Wilkins from the United States, Nina Sterckx from Belgium and Lucrezia Magistris from Italy. It was a fourth bombout in six qualifying appearances by Magistris.

Silver medallist Dora Tchakounte from France missed two clean and jerks so she remained 13th. Alina Shchapanova, the independent neutral athlete from Belarus, was 12kg down on her best total in qualifying after making only two good lifts.

Two lifters did have a good day, though. Saara Retulainen from Finland moved up from 27th place to 16th with a 12kg improvement, and last year’s 55kg champion Andreea Cotruta from Romania went from 28th to 19th in her first competition at this weight.

Retulainen, a 30-year-old marketing and social media entrepreneur who has to balance training with her career, was due a change of luck at the European Championships. She was delighted with her 95-119-214 for silver in clean and jerk and bronze on total.

At the 2022 Championships Retulainen suffered a bad ankle injury in her first snatch. She was on crutches, and later tore her patella. Last year she suffered another injury a week before the competition in Yerevan.

“I’ve had some tough luck,” she said. “This time I’ve been in great shape in training so I came here hoping to improve my best qualifying total and fight for medals. That last clean and jerk made it a really good day.”

Cotruta, 10 years younger than Retulainen, had struggled with the weight change. “At the start of the process it was difficult, but now it’s fine,” she said after making 94-118-214, up 11kg on her best qualifying total made at 55kg. She will probably need another 10kg in the final qualifier in Thailand, which ends on April 11, to get into the top 10. “I’ll certainly give it a try,” she said.

Konotop declined her final attempt after making 105-125-230. Tchakounte took snatch bronze and silver on total with 98-117-215. Sterckx was second in snatch on 101kg before failing in clean and jerk.

Jess Gordon Brown from Britain made 90-110-200 to top the B Group, the first time she has totalled 200kg in international competition. Her team-mate Zoe Smith retired after failing with her fist snatch in the A session.

Wilkins snatched a career-best 99kg before becoming the fifth athlete to bomb out. Team USA is competing in Bulgaria rather than at the Pan American Championships in Venezuela, on government advice. The Americans cannot win medals but have been cleared by the IWF to lift as guests and their totals will count in the Olympic rankings.

For the second time in successive days an Armenian junior world champion won gold. On Tuesday it was Aleksandra Grigoryan, today it was Gor Sahakyan in the men’s 67kg.

Sahakyan, who won at this weight last year with a total of 320kg, could not match it this time after missing two snatches. He took the lead on total with his first clean and jerk, missed the next one and declined his final attempt on 140-171-311.

Turkey had silver and bronze on total. Kaan Kahriman, third last year, won snatch gold on the way to 142-168-310 while Ferdi Hardal made 136-169-304.

Sergio Massidda from Italy, who is bound for Paris at 61kg, failed with his last two attempts and dropped from second in snatch to fourth overall on 141-162-303.



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