Weighty choices

Why China sent its lightweights to the World Championships

Weighty choices

Liu: star strongwoman came fifth

Over the course of the year there has been much talk about the need for China to “pull its weight” – from doing more to prevent climate change to buying more at home to compensate for slowing growth elsewhere.

However, when it comes down to the sporting specifics of ‘lifting weights’, China has decided it can contribute most by clean-and-jerking less.

That’s the revelation from the president of the country’s weightlifting association. China is a dominant force in the world of barbells, but Ma Wenguang admitted that he had left many of his ‘heavyweights’ off the team for the recent World Championships.

Ma said the team China took to South Korea was “not our strongest one” and added that it was a deliberate act of self-sacrifice.

“We just wanted to create a harmonious atmosphere at the World Championships. We wanted more countries to share the joy of winning,” he told

A touch patronising? But others say China appears to be realising that its dominance in some sports risks dulling interest in them. For example, its almighty table tennis team leaves competitor nations quaking in their plimsolls. Hence Beijing sent inexperienced mixed doubles pairs to the Yokohama World Championships in May – to give other countries a paddling chance.

Ma – who is also the general secretary of the International Weightlifting Association – says China is being a good sport. “It’s natural that other countries may feel uncomfortable if China dominates the platform all the time.”

China still topped the medal table in South Korea – but it was evident Ma had given orders to go easy. The women’s team, for instance, came second (to Kazakhstan) and declined to break any world records. One of the few ‘star’ weightlifters to show, Liu Chunhong, finished fifth and lifted 41kg less than she is capable of.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the event was when Wang Mingjuan forfeited gold. She had won her clean and jerk event only to be told 15 minutes later she had to lift again – because the weight of the barbells had been wrongly calculated. In a mark of how casually China took its participation, she refused; saying there wasn’t enough time for her to warm up again and she didn’t want to risk an injury. Far from being livid at the cock-up (and the loss of the medal), Ma went over to “comfort the judges”.

In the friendly spirit of the moment, Ma has also said that there is a strong possibility that some foreign teams might be allowed to train with the Chinese squad this winter.

However, the generosity has its limits. Come the 2012 Olympics in London and Ma confirms he’ll be fielding his ‘heavyweights’ with orders to beat all comers: “the Olympic gold will always remain our first task. Nothing can be compared to it.”

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