In our first two Olympic posts, we covered gymnastics and synchronized diving. We’ve gone from tumbles to springboards. What next? Just add weights! Weightlifting and shot put are two separate events, but both these sports share many similarities. They both are contests of strength and date back to the first modern-day Olympiad in 1896. And, they seem to have pretty straightforward goals: one is to lift the heaviest, while the other is to throw the farthest.
China is a weightlifting powerhouse. At the 2020 Summer Games, it won eight medals, seven of which were gold. The United States, while not as dominant, was the only other country to bring a full team to Tokyo and claimed two medals--one silver and one bronze. In shot put, the U.S. had the upper hand on the men’s side with returning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and World Champion Joe Kovacs. China did, however, beat the U.S. on the women’s side with three-time Olympic medalist Gong Lijiao.
Among the Chinese weightlifters to bring home gold is world-record holder Lyu Xiaojun, the oldest Olympic weightlifting champion at 37. Although failing to replicate his world record in Tokyo, he still set three Olympic records. Lyu comes from a humble background, being raised by a family of farmers in a small village in China’s Hubei province. Since academics were not his strong suit, Lyu decided to pursue an athletic career at 13. For him, weightlifting is more than just a sport. As a young adult, it provided him the opportunity for a new life; and now as a veteran, it’s allowed him to give back by being a father figure to younger weightlifters.
Making history for Team USA is Kate Nye in the women’s 76kg event. With a total lift of 249kg, Nye broke her personal record including three American records and became the first American to win silver since 2000. The 22-year old has only been training for six years, taking up the sport after she quit Level 9 gymnastics. She is the youngest American female weightlifter to win a world championship title in 2019, the fifth U.S. female to win a world championship in weightlifting, and the second-youngest female weightlifter representing Team USA at the Olympics.
Another young phenom weightlifter is Li Wenwen from Anshan, China, who at 21, won gold while breaking three Olympic records in the women’s +87kg at the Tokyo Games. Prior to these Summer Games, her first Olympics, Li won the World Championship title in 2019, as well as the 2019 and 2020 Asian Championships. At 19, she claimed the junior world record in her event. She began lifting at age 10 and training seriously two years later. Her gold medal in Tokyo has been the highlight of her career thus far and has confirmed her status as a “super-heavyweight powerhouse.”
It took Ryan Crouser of the U.S. three Olympic record-breaking throws and his final throw to earn the gold in Tokyo. For him, it’s pretty simple: “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” a saying he preaches. Prior to becoming a professional athlete, Crouser competed for the University of Texas, during which he won the national championship title every year, including nine All-American titles. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Crouser began throwing in fifth grade while also playing football and basketball. He was surrounded by successful athletes, including his father, an alternate discus thrower at the 1984 Olympics, and his two-time Olympian uncle who threw javelin. His next pursuit is to become a three-time Olympic champion at the 2024 Olympics.
With a “mammoth throw” personal best of 20.58m, Gong Lijiao of China won the women’s shot put event in her fourth Olympic Games. Prior to Tokyo, she won bronze at Beijing 2008, silver at London 2012, and fourth in Rio 2016. Her Tokyo gold meant everything to her. “This gold medal is not only for myself, it’s for all of my country, for the people who support me,” she said. As a proud Chinese citizen, Gong dedicated her gold to China’s Communist Party as this past month marked its centennial celebration. Gong started throwing shot put in elementary school in Shijiazhuang and has been competing for 21 years. Now at 32, her next goal is to break the 21m mark.
Team USA’s Joe Kovacs broke the Olympic record to win a silver medal behind his teammate. In his series of throws, he made his all-time best. Four years Crouser’s senior, Kovacs has competed in many championships. In addition to winning gold at the 2019 World Championships, which was considered the greatest shot put competition of all time, he claimed silver at the 2017 World Championships and won the 2015 USATF outdoor, world outdoor, and Diamond league titles for his event. Kovacs grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and went to Penn State University for college. Like Crouser, Kovacs also came from a family of throwers. His mother, a twelve-time district champion in high school in all throwing events, coached Kovacs all throughout high school. Kovacs’ wife, Ashley Kovacs, is his new coach.
Since these athletes are not the only Chinese and American athletes who made it to the podium in these two sports, go check out the final results of the men and women’s weightlifting, men’s shot put, and women’s shot put. And as our three-part series comes to a close, so do the Olympics. While the closing ceremony took place on Sunday, August 8, the Olympics are not leaving our blog just yet. Next, we will be featuring highlights--the best of the best--of the Tokyo Olympic Games to make sure you haven’t missed any outstanding performances! Stay tuned.