Peshalov returns to top form

Updated: August 20, 2004, 8:15 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Zhang Guozheng's first was expected. Nikolai Peshalov's fourth certainly was not.

Zhang won China's third Olympic weightlifting gold medal in as many events, leading the men's 152-pound (69kg) field from the start Wednesday. But it was Peshalov's record-tying fourth Olympic medal -- a bronze -- that surprised and excited a large crowd.

Lee Bae Young of South Korea had a chance to overtake Zhang, but missed a clean-and-jerk attempt of 430 pounds (195kg) that would have given him the gold by virtue of lower body weight.

Peshalov's four medals equal those of the United States' Norbert Schemansky (1948, 1952, 1960 and 1964) for the most by an Olympic weightlifter. Peshalov got medals in four weight classes and for two countries, winning his first two for Bulgaria and his last two for Croatia.

After winning the gold at 136½ pounds (62kg) in Sydney, Peshalov didn't place in the 2001 world championships. Then, after battling several injuries and a weight gain over two competition-free years, he was only sixth in last year's world championships.

But Peshalov was at his best again in the world showcase that is the Olympics. He now has one gold, one silver (at 132 pounds in 1992), and two bronzes (the other at 130 pounds in 1996).

"I am (nearly) 35 years old. This is the fourth medal I have won in the Olympics," Peshalov said. "Of course, I am very happy."

Zhang, 29, the two-time defending world champion, was a big favorite and didn't disappoint despite back pain and a huge weight drop of 16 pounds that was needed just to make weight. He took the lead with his first lift of 336 pounds (152.5kg) in the snatch and never gave it up.

"Physically and psychologically, it gave me more confidence," he said. "I may be older, but the experienced athlete has determination and endurance."

Peshalov, cheered on by a contingent of Croatian athletes from other sports, got off to a rough start by missing his first snatch attempt at 330½ pounds (150kg), a weight he never reached in the 2003 worlds. But he made his second attempt, one he punctuated with a fist pump.

He followed the same pattern in the clean and jerk, missing his first lift -- this time at 402 pounds (187.5kg). Again, he regrouped, raised the bar to 413 pounds (187.5kg) and made it, securing his medal with a total lift of 744 pounds (337.5kg), 11 pounds (5kg) behind Lee and 22 pounds (10kg) behind Zhang.

Zhang's gold continued a strong run by China since twin disappointments Saturday and Sunday at women's 106 pounds and men's 123 pounds.

Peshalov's two successful lifts in six attempts were good enough for a medal, just as he took the gold in Sydney despite missing three of six lifts.

Peshalov is one of weightlifting's most interesting figures. He left his homeland to compete for Croatia in 1998 when it offered him more money. But he still does almost all of his training in Bulgaria, some amid such secrecy this year that some Croatian reporters had trouble finding out how well he was doing.

Earlier, Ukraine's Natalia Skakun overcame a big deficit to win the gold medal in 139-pound (63kg) weightlifting Wednesday, forcing Belarus' Hanna Batsiushka to settle for silver. Tatsiana Stukalava of Belarus took the bronze.

Skakun, the reigning world champion and world record-holder in the clean and jerk, trailed Batiushka by 16 pounds after she raised a world-record 253½ pounds (115kg) in the snatch. Batsiushka missed her first attempt of 264½ pounds (120kg) in the clean and jerk, but made her second before raising 281 pounds (127½ kg).

But Skakun, who had raised 275½ pounds (125kg) on her first try in the clean and jerk, went up by 22 pounds on her second attempt to give her and Batsiushka identical totals of 535½ pounds (242.5kg).

Skakun's lower body weight automatically gave her the gold, and she didn't even bother trying to tie or break her world record of 304 pounds (138kg) with the third attempt she had remaining.

"I don't really know why we made that decision," said Skakun, whose total was the same as 2000 Olympic champion Chen Xiaomin of China. "We came here with one purpose in mind, to win an Olympic gold medal, not to set world records. ... But if I had needed to make a world record to win the gold medal, I would have tried to get a world record."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press