North Korea's pint-sized stars sweep to golden weightlifting double

Daniel HICKS
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North Korean lifter Om Yun Chol, known for his exuberant celebrations, gave a reserved fist pump as he made his winning lift

North Korea's pint-sized weightlifters ruled the roost as the secretive nation bagged their first two gold medals of the Asian Games on Monday.

Ri Song Gum pipped local favourite Sri Wahyuni Agustiani to open their account in the women's 48kg class then pocket rocket Om Yun Chol retained his Asian Games men's 56kg title with ease as he defeated his fierce rival Kim Tuan Thach of Vietnam.

Ri, who is just 4ft 7in (140cm) tall, hoisted a massive 112kg in her first clean and jerk attempt to power past Agustiani who had led after the snatch, raising hopes of a home success in the packed 2,000-capacity JI Expo arena.

Om, who is not much taller at 4ft 11in (151cm), hauled 160kg above his head for a 287kg total, 7kg ahead of Thach, the reigning world champion, who also had to settle for silver behind Om in Incheon four years ago.

London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Om, known for his usually exuberant celebrations, gave a reserved fist pump and departed the stage with just a wave.

He returned for two unsuccessful 172kg attempts that would have beaten his own clean and jerk world record of 171kg and set a new Asian Games record total at 299kg.

"It's pity that I couldn't set the world record," the Rio Olympics silver medallist Om told reporters after winning North Korea's 100th gold medal in summer Asian Games history.

Om stood to attention and saluted throughout the anthem on the podium with his country's flag wrapped around him to the delight of massed ranks of unified Korea supporters in the crowd.

"Their support gave me lots of energy," Om said.

Earlier Olympic silver medallist Agustiani, aged 24 and known affectionately as Yuni, tearfully apologised to her country after failing twice to lift the 112kg she needed to take gold.

Ri, with gold assured, twice attempted an Asian Games record 117kg but departed in agony as her left knee buckled on both attempts and she had to be helped from the platform.

- Tears and cheers -

A few moments later draped in the North Korean flag, the 20-year-old Ri's pain turned to ecstasy as she received the gold medal and belted out the anthem of the secretive nation with tears streaming down her cheeks and dribbling from her chin.

Ri's victory was watched by North Korea sports minister Kim Il Guk who told Korean media: "She did a great job."

"I'm very happy that I won the first gold," said an emotional Ri.

The rising star, who came fourth as a teenager at the 2015 world championships, was cheered to the rafters by the large phalanx of supporters clad in unified Korea T-shirts.

"I felt good because many people supported me," Ri said.

It left an emotional Yuni with yet another silver medal to add to those she won four years ago at the 17th Asiad in Incheon and again at the Rio Olympics.

"I have lifted 116kg in training but today never felt like I could repeat it, no," a still visibly upset Yuni told AFP about her elusive quest to top the podium.

"I apologise to all Indonesians, and I will try again to win gold in another championship."

Thailand's Thunya Sukcharoen took bronze for the women while Indonesia won their second lifting medal of the day as Suramat Bin Suwoto Wijoyo secured bronze with 272kg in the men's event.