By Brian Oliver

Poland had its first winner at the 2024 European Championships when Weronika Zielinska made her final attempt to take the women’s 81kg.It was a first senior victory for 26-year-old Zielinska, one of two former track and field athletes on the podium. She competed in heptathlon as a teenager, while the Belgian snatch bronze medallist Ilke Lagrou was a hammer thrower.

Neither of the two Americans going head to head for a place at Paris 2024 made any progress in the rankings. Mattie Rogers withdrew because of a quad injury and Tokyo silver medallist Kate Vibert missed five straight attempts before retiring.

Vibert, who weighed in at 76.89kg, had never lifted at 81kg before. She has moved up from 71kg, where team-mate Olivia Reeves is sure of qualifying, and will now be at the bottom of the 81kg rankings on zero while Rogers stays ninth on 252kg. Rogers and Vibert will have another chance at the final Olympic qualifier, the IWF World Cup which ends in Thailand on April 11. Zielinska will also be trying to qualify there.

Vibert was aiming for Reeves’ national record of 144kg in clean and jerk but missed twice at 140kg. She had already failed three times in snatch on 110kg.

Europe’s top two 81kg lifters did not compete today. Solfrid Koanda from Norway is already assured of a place in Paris and will go for the 87kg title in Sofia, while Marie Fegue from France weighed in without lifting at 76kg.

Zielinska was unable to prepare properly because of a wrist injury that restricted her snatching. She missed two snatches but still took a sweep of golds on 103-132-235.
“In Thailand we will do better,” said her coach Paulina Szyszka, who is also her tutor. “The aim here was to go for a medal, not to improve the best qualifying total.” Szyszka has written academic papers on the snatch after biomechanical analysis and other research. Zielinska’s PhD at the Warsaw University of Physical Education will also focus on the snatch.

Lagrou bombed out in clean and jerk after holding third place at halfway on 103kg. The Tokyo Olympian Elena Erighina from Moldova was second on 103-131-234 and Dilara Narin from Turkey third on 97-125-222. Armenia had a 1-2 finish in the men’s 96kg, in which third and fourth places both went to individual neutral athletes from Belarus. There was a tense head-to-head contest between Hakob Mkrtchyan and the double champion Davit Hovhannisyan.

When Mkrtchyan made all three clean and jerks for 166-209-375, Hovhannisyan had to make 210kg with his last lift for a third straight European title. He failed, finishing 169-205-374 for second place. Mkrtchyan, 26, was world and European champion at 89kg in 2019 but had not won since then, until tonight. Pavel Khadasevich made only two good lifts for 165-195-360, enough for third place ahead of his team-mate Yulian Kurlovich, who took clean and jerk bronze on 157-196-353. Tudor Bratu from Moldova may have to return to the podium on Monday after a good performance in the 102kg B Group.

Bratu moved into the top 10 of the Olympic rankings when he hit form at the IWF Grand Prix in Doha in December. But for being laid low by a virus after that competition he might have moved further up today. “I could only train properly for four weeks,” he said. There was also Covid in the team.

“Of course the target is 400, and I will be trying my best for it in Thailand,” said Bratu, who failed with his final attempt in making 175-210-385.



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