1st woman in Olympic weightlifting still raising the bar

TOKYO (AP) — After 21 years of raising the bar, the first woman ever to compete in weightlifting at the Olympics is still going.

Loa Dika Toua of Papua New Guinea was the first athlete to step on stage when women’s weightlifting made its debut at the 2000 Sydney Games. She was first up on Saturday morning in Tokyo for her fifth Olympics, setting a record for a woman in her sport.

“It’s an amazing feeling. You know, when you think about the Olympic Games, your dream is to go to one and maybe the second one. I’ve never imagined in a million years I’d make it to my fifth,” she said.

The 37-year-old Toua’s Olympic journey has taken her to Australia, Greece, China, Britain and now Japan, with a best result of sixth at the 2004 Athens Games. She only missed out on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, when she stepped aside to give her sister a shot at qualifying in the lightest category. When her sister’s bid was thwarted by financial problems, that spurred Toua to come back and try for Tokyo.

Two of the women competing against Toua in the 49-kilogram category were born in 2002, when Toua was already an Olympian.

Toua competed Saturday after only five hours of sleep after carrying her country’s flag at Friday’s opening ceremony, when her legs got tired during the hours of pageantry. She marked her first successful lift in the snatch by forming a heart with her hands, and celebrated her clean and jerk lift — making her an official finisher — with a shriek and a double fist pump.

Unlike most athletes in the Olympic bubble, she’s got family with her because her coach is her husband. Having no crowd makes little difference, she said.

“When you are up on the stage, you sort of like block yourself and you put yourself in a bubble where it’s just you and the weight on the platform,” she said. “So, yes, of course, you can hear people cheering for you and calling out your name, ‘Come on,’ and ‘You can do it,’ But after all, it’s just myself and the bar there.”

Toua joins a group of record-breaking female Olympians in Tokyo. There’s Georgian shooter Nino Salukvadze, who will be the first woman at nine Olympics in any sport and who made her debut for the Soviet Union in 1988. And age-defying gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, who is still vaulting at 46.

Hiromi Miyake of Japan is another female weightlifter making her fifth Olympic appearance. She started her Olympic career at the 2004 Athens Games.

The one-year delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic means Toua only has to hold on three more years to reach her sixth Olympics.

Toua is already being asked by other weightlifters if she’ll be back for the 2024 Paris Games. She hasn’t ruled it out.

“I’m not getting any younger,” she said, “but I will take it one step at a time.”

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