Om Yun Chol had to do what only four other weightlifters have ever legally done – lift more than three times his own bodyweight – to win his latest title.
In the first medal event of the 2014 IWF World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan – the men’s 56kg – Om was not at his best until his last lift. He failed with his first attempts in the snatch (124kg) and the clean-and-jerk (162kg).
He was tired after winning at the Asian Games in late September. The fact that those championships had been hosted by South Korea made all the difference.
“I was so stressed for that gold medal,” said a surprisingly talkative Om after his victory. “Our country and South Korea are divided, and hostile. Our Supreme Leader [Kim Jong-un] told us before we left that we were going into battle, and we had to win.”
Om won in Incheon, with a world record clean-and-jerk of 170kg. He was afraid that he would not be strong enough in Almaty and he looked tense. He appeared to enjoy talking to the media more than competing.
Om’s snatch total of 128kg was not enough for a place on the podium in that contest. He then failed with his first attempt in the clean- and-jerk, too. He looked beaten, with two great Chinese rivals ahead of him, and an even tougher opponent in Kim Tuan Thach, from Vietnam.
Thach is 20, in his last year as a junior. He broke two junior world records- snatch and overall – in setting a total of 296kg, which looked good enough. Thach had finished second in Incheon and this was an improvement of 2kg on his total there, an outstanding effort.
Li Fabin, the 2011 junior world champion from China, was in second place after the snatch but failed with his last two clean-and-jerk efforts and fell to fourth place.
Long Qingquan, the 2008 Olympic champion, also failed with his last two clean-and-jerks at 163kg, leaving Thach in first place.
Om weighed four grammes lighter than Thach and needed to match his 296kg total to win. He had to increase his previous lift by 6kg, to 168kg, just over three times his own weight.
He made the lift, winning the clean-and-jerk gold, the overall title, and the deep respect of his rivals. He is the reigning Asian, World and Olympic champion and has made a triple-bodyweight lift in all three contests.
Om said afterwards, “I am going to protect my titles. I will win in the 2016 Olympics.”
Thach was disappointed to lose so narrowly, but delighted with his records and full of praise for the victory. “He is so good at the clean-and-jerk. I admire him so much,” said Thach.
Om said, “I was so afraid of losing because I put so much effort into winning at the Asian Games only a few weeks ago.
“In the 2012 Olympics I beat Mr Wu from China [Wu Jingbiao] and in 2013 I beat Mr Long from China, who is sitting here beside me [bronze medallist Long Qingquan]. China is such a big country, it has so many weightlifters, so many opportunities to win, and we are a much smaller country – but I have beaten them and I will beat them again. I will protect my gold medals.”
When asked what his favorite food was, Om gave a straightforward answer. “I like only the Korean national dishes, especially kimchi [fermented vegetables].” And how good could he become? What are his best lifts in training, in the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.
“I’m not telling you,” he smiled. “That’s secret.”