Sofia 2024 Day 8. Tsikhantsou and Koanda with impressive wins © Getty Images

As expected, the fight for gold in the men's 102 kg was breathtaking. Two of the three weightlifters competing for gold will be among the medal contenders at Paris 2024 in one of the toughest weight classes.

Yauheni Tsikhantsou (AIN), Samvel Gasparyan and Garik Karapetyan (both of Armenia) are the European superstars in a weight class that also includes reigning world champion Li Huanhua (China), Olympic champions Fares El-Bakh (Qatar) and Akbar Djuraev (Uzbekistan), former world champion Lesman Paredes (Bahrein) and two strong Koreans - Yeon-Hak Jang and Yun-Seong Jin.

The youngest of the trio and returning European champion Karapetyan was the best in the snatch. He waited for Tsikhantsou and Gasparyan to finish their three attempts and then secured the gold medal with his second attempt at 182 kg, 1 kg ahead of Tsikhantsou and 2 kg ahead of Gasparyan. Karapetyan then tried to create a gap with his third attempt at 187 kg and was close, but did not manage to hold enough to fix the bar.

All three started the clean & jerk with 211 and all three fixed the bar above their heads, but after the judges' review Karapetyan's attempt was changed to "no lift". It was a huge blow to the young Armenian's ambitions. Karapetyan then came up and lifted 212, but lost an attempt. Then it was Gasparyan's turn and he approached 216 kg, a weight he has lifted several times. However, Gasparyan failed to clean the bar and had to use his third attempt. He cleared the bar easily on his second attempt and finished with a total of 396 kg. Tsikhantsou had to lift 217 kg to beat two Armenians. At the 2023 World Championships the Belarusian failed twice with this weight, but in Sofia he did it with ease. Karapetyan had attempted 217 kg, but failed to improve on his personal best and remained third with a total of 395 kg. He is now behind Gasparyan in the Olympic rankings and unless he improves his total at the 2024 World Championships, it will most likely be Gasparyan who will represent Armenia in this category at Paris 2024.

Tsikhantsou, already champion with a total of 398 kg, tried to lift 225 kg to clinch the first spot in Olympic rankings, but failed this time. Irakli Chkheidze of Georgia took bronze in the clean and jerk.

Solfrid Koanda from Norway had no problems in the women's 87 kg category. Her total of 280 kg (120+160) was 50 kg better than that of Anastasia Manievska (Ukraine), who finished second. Koanda is now in the top ten of the +81 kg Olympic rankings, but there is no doubt that she will be competing in the -81 kg category at Paris 2024, where she will be one of the contenders.

Solfrid Koanda © Getty Images
Solfrid Koanda © Getty Images

Manievska was also second in the clean and jerk. Denmark's Anne Jensen was second in the snatch. The bronze medals went to Armenian athletes. Hripsime Khurshudyan was third in the snatch, Tatev Hakobyan third in the clean and jerk, and both had a total of 227 kg, but it was Khurshudyan who went home with the bronze. She left her shoes on the platform after her final attempt, marking her retirement from weightlifting. The 36-year-old Khurshudyan, European champion in 2007, has competed twice at the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012. She finished third in the +87kg category at London 2012, but was disqualified four years later for doping after reanalysis of samples from 2008 and 2012. She was stripped of all her post-2008 medals, including the Olympic bronze. Khurshudyan returned after the disqualification to win back-to-back European bronze medals in 2023 and 2024 to officially announce her retirement.

The gold medals in the non-Olympic category -109kg were taken by Dadash Dadashbaily of Azerbaijan, who won his country's first medal in Sofia with a score of 176-212-388. Hristo Hristov of Bulgaria was second in the snatch and total, Matthäus Hoffmann of Germany won three bronze medals and Onur Demirci of Turkey was second in the clean and jerk.

On the final day of the competition, the athletes in the men's and women's super-heavyweight categories will compete.