The ink had hardly dried before it was wiped away. On May 10, 2023, Tian Tao returned to the weightlifting stage for the first time in over three years at the 2023 Asian Weightlifting Championships (AWC). There, during his competitive debut as an 89-kilogram athlete, he set a new World Record in the clean & jerk — 222 kilograms, or 489.4 pounds.
Tao’s enormous lift marked a return to form for the 2019 World Champion, eclipsing the 221-kilogram record set by Bulgaria’s Karlos Nasar just a few short weeks prior at the 2023 European Weightlifting Championships (EWC).
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Despite jerking six kilos more than anyone else at this year’s AWC, Tao did not win the Men’s 89-kilogram A-Group. The overall title went to his countryman and rival Li Dayin, who set two World Records of his own (180 kilograms in the snatch and a 396-kilogram Total — the latter of which Dayin also stole away from Nasar).
Here’s how the podium shook out once the dust had settled:
Men’s 89-Kilogram Podium | 2023 Asian Weightlifting Championships
- Li Dayin (CHN) — 396 WR (180 WR/216)
- Tian Tao (CHN) — 387 (165/222 WR)
- Mir Mostafa Javadi (IRI) — 364 (159/205)
Note: “WR” denotes a new Senior World Record.
Gunning for It
At 29 years of age, veteran competitor Tao is carving out space in a crowded field. The 89-kilogram division is considered the most competitive category of men’s weightlifting ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France.
This is partly due to the nature of the qualification process. The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has simplified things ahead of the 2024 Games: When the qualification period wraps in early 2024, the 10 athletes with the highest competitive Totals in a given class — the 89s are one of five Men’s divisions to be held in Paris — will receive an invitation to the Olympics.
This bodes well for Tao, who has a reputation for taking large, reckless attempts at big competitions to jump into first-place position.
(And it’s worked, for the most part. Tao jumped from a 210-kilogram first attempt to 222 for his World Record and, prior to the AWC, had maintained a six-meet win streak on the international stage. Fans of the sport colloquially refer to him as Tian “Heart Attack” Tao.)
However, breaking into the top 10 in the world is only the first obstacle. China, like other member federations, may only send three male athletes to the Games, and only one per weight category. The 2016 Rio silver medalist has several hurdles to clear in the next year if he wants to guarantee a ticket to his second Olympics:
- Rank in the top 10 competitive Totals on the IWF leaderboard.
- Perform better than fellow 89-kilogram Chinese competitors Dayin and Liu Huanhua.
- Succeed in the 89s by a wider margin than other Chinese weightlifters do in their own classes.
The path to Paris may be steep for Tao, but throwing your hat into the ring with a new World Record is a surefire way to let everyone know you’re back in business.
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Featured Image courtesy of Weightlifting House on YouTube