By Brian Oliver

The Bulgarian Bozhidar Andreev had a large home crowd on their feet as he broke the continental clean and jerk record on his way to victory in an exciting men’s 73kg at the European Championships in Sofia.

Andreev earned a huge cheer when he broke the record on 193kg with his final attempt, and the crowd roared again when he performed his trademark celebratory somersault. After missing his first snatch, Andreev made five good lifts for a sweep of golds on 155-193-348.

That left him 12kg clear of Furkan Ozbek from Turkey, with last year’s winner Ritvars Suharevs from Latvia third. Both of them failed with two clean and jerks in a session that featured more no-lifts than good lifts.

Andreev, 27, moved from seventh place to third in the Olympic rankings.

“This was my first competition in Bulgaria, and what an experience,” he said. “The crowd was perfect for me, the support really helped.”

Ozbek missed his first two clean and jerks after snatching 150kg for the first time in his career. He made 150-186-336, a 2kg improvement in the rankings that will take him to eighth place.

Suharevs, who drops to fifth, was 10kg down on his best qualifying total, making 154-177-331.

Mirko Zanni from Italy failed three times to make 183kg in clean and jerk, and will surely need to improve his 335kg best qualifying total to make it to Paris. He is 10th now, and vulnerable to improvers.

There was a turnaround in the rankings for three nations – Germany, Albania and the United States, lifting here as guests – when the man in pole position was overtaken by a team-mate.

Roberto Gutu from Germany went ahead of Max Lang when he won the B Group on 151-178-329. Lang needed his final lift and made it, only to lose it on jury review for bending and extending his elbow. That lift would have given Lang a six-from-six total of 333kg.

Briken Calja had not made a single clean and jerk in qualifying before today, bombing out four times. He finally did it and moved from 63rd place, on zero, to 16th with two good lifts for 148-180-328. He is now ahead of team-mate Erkand Qerimaj.
For the US, Ryan Grimsland was overtaken by Caden Cahoy, who made 144-185-329.

Of all four athletes who bombed out, Britain’s Chris Murray was by far the happiest. The 73kg newcomer set a national snatch record before failing with his jerks in the B Group. He cleaned all three before failing twice at 179kg and then at 183kg. He had made any of them he would have beaten his best total at 81kg, at which weight he lifted for five years.

“It was dizziness because of losing so much weight in a 12-week drop after the World Championships,” he said. “I had to do it to stay in Olympic qualifying and I needed the pressure to do it. I’ve come to realise that I was complacent about everything as an 81.

“We’re always complaining in the west that other nations are better than us because they’re doping but now I’m thinking, ‘Maybe it’s actually because they do things properly.’

“Now I’m doing it properly too. I’ve found a nutritionist, I have a new sleep routine, regular massages, better physio and recovery. It’s costing me a lot so I won’t be putting down a deposit on a house any time soon.

“But if I’m going to be a weightlifter I’m going to do it properly. I spent too long looking at what the best Brits have done. Now I’m looking at the best out there, as well as looking inwards for change.

“I’m learning a lot through this qualification process. I need to look at what happened here, maybe change my technique to make the cleans quicker, talk again to my nutritionist. Coming down, I still don’t know what my training volume is.

“But I’m up there now as a 73. I’m confident that over the next four years I can do numbers that will challenge for medals. I’ve done everything as well as I can to this point, I’m feeling great and I’m really excited about going to Thailand (for the final Olympic qualifier six weeks from now).”

Britain has sent its biggest ever team of 39 to these Championships, including athletes, coaches, support personnel and technical officials.

Ukraine had a 1-2 finish in the women’s 64kg when Hanna Davydova made 100-120-220 to edge ahead of team-mate Svitlana Samuliak on 101-118-219. Both lifters had their final attempts overturned by the jury for bending and extending.

Wiktoria Wolk from Poland missed her first two snatches then made four good lifts to take clean and jerk gold and third place overall on 94-121-215, ahead of snatch bronze medallist Aysel Ozkan from Turkey.

Samuliak was a European silver medallist at 55kg last year, as well as junior champion at 59kg. She weighed in lightest today at 61.46kg but will have to pile on some weight in the next few weeks if she is to try for a place at Paris 2024. Kamila Konotop’s presence at 59kg means the only weight category open to her is 71kg, where she would need to improve by about 25kg on today’s total.

Double Olympian Sabine Kusterer from Germany left her shoes on the platform after making all three clean and jerks to bring to an end an international career that began 17 years ago.

“My first international youth competition was in 2007 and my first senior was 2010,” said Kusterer, 33, wearing a ‘Time to say goodbye’ t-shirt. She will also leave the military, where she has been in the army sport group, to study economics and turn to coaching.

Time to say goodbye for Sabine Kusterer, who retired from international competition today.

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