North Korea's Ant Man to star as Asian Games weightlifting takes off

Daniel HICKS
North Korea's Om Yun-Chol celebrates after breaking the world record in the men's 56kg weightlifting event during the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon

North Korea are looking to get the Asian Games weightlifting competition off to a glorious golden start on Monday led by their very own Ant Man -- Om Yun Chol.

The 56kg class clean and jerk world record holder stands just 4ft 11in (1.51 metres) tall but possesses almost superhuman strength -- he is one of only six men in the history of weightlifting to raise more than three times his own bodyweight.

His clean and jerk of 170kg to win Asian Games gold in Incheon four years ago broke his own world record in that discipline and a year later he upped it to 171kg as he won a third consecutive World Championships.

He first burst on to the scene with gold at London 2012, becoming a fan favourite with his exuberant celebrations, and Om seemed unbeatable until Rio 2016.

There he was crestfallen after losing his Olympic crown to China's Long Qingquan who smashed the combined (snatch plus clean and jerk) world record with 307kg.

But Long, like all his county's lifters, is currently serving a year-long International Weightlifting Federation ban after China failed multiple doping tests on reanalysed samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, leaving the path clear for Om to retain his Asiad crown.

Weightlifting is North Korea's strongest Olympic sport and they will look to top the event's medals table in Jakarta after their four golds left them second, behind China's seven, in Incheon 2014.

The reclusive communist state takes pride in excelling in sports of strength.

- 'Break a rock with an egg' -

Flamboyant on the weightlifting stage, away from the limelight Om gives little away about his private life or secretive training methods, preferring to heap praise on his country's leaders as an inspiration each time he strikes gold.

"The reason for my improvement and how I won the gold medal is down to the warm love of the Great Leader Kim Jong Il and the Great Comrade Kim Jong Un," he said after his London triumph.

He was even more effusive after his Asian Games success in Incheon and finally revealed a surprising key to his success.

"Armed with strong spirit and ideology as our comrade Kim Jong Un taught us, you can break a rock with an egg and set a world record.

"That's my secret."

But after being beaten in Rio, Om felt he had to apologise to the North Korea leader for coming home with only a silver medal.

"He will be my inspiration forever and I'm sorry," Om said. "I hope to come back at the next opportunity and compete again and repay my gratitude with gold."

The pint-sized North Korean skipped last year's world championships after his Rio disappointment and his form is shrouded in mystery going into the Asian Games.

But he is still aged only 26 and should be at the peak of his powers having recharged his batteries since Rio.

And with arch-rivals China out of the way, his biggest challenge could come from Vietnam's 2017 world champion Thach Kim Tuan, who took silver behind Om four years ago.

But Thach's combined best 296kg is seven kilogrammes behind the North Korean's personal best total of 303kg.

If Om is anywhere near his best he should again be top of the podium and raising the roof at the Jakarta International Expo venue with his jumping, joyous celebrations.