North Korea s Kang Hyong Yong reacts in the women s 55kg weightlifting competition during the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, in China s eastern Zhejiang province on September 30, 2023. AFP
Ri Song Gum broke two world records in the women's 49kg, the first weightlifting event of the Hangzhou Games, having not competed outside North Korea since 2019 because of the pandemic.
Then Kang Hyong Yong, a 24-year-old with no international pedigree, set a hat-trick of world records in snatch, clean and jerk, and combined on her way to gold in the women's 55kg class.
Ri, a 140cm tall (4ft 7in) pocket-rocket, secured gold on her second attempt in the clean and jerk at 122kg.
She drew gasps from the crowd as she raised the bar to 124kg, four kilos greater than had ever been lifted in that discipline before this competition.
She hoisted it aloft to set a new world record total of 216kg, then leapt for joy, before bursting into tears as she was hugged by her coaches.
It was the 25-year-old's second consecutive Asian Games gold, having taken the now-defunct 48kg category five years ago with a much smaller 199kg total.
China's world champion Jiang Huihua, who held the previous world record at 215kg, was relegated to silver and said she was "surprised" at Ri's success after such a long absence.
When North Koreans were scheduled to appear at a competition in Cuba in June -- what would have been their return to action -- rival lifters strongly objected, saying they had not been dope-tested since 2019.
In the end, the North Koreans failed to show.
"Ri is very impressive," Jiang said after taking silver. "Back in 2019 I could see she was already making a lot of improvements.
"But the result today, yes, I am surprised."
There were tears on the podium as Ri and Kang saluted the North Korean flag -- in contravention of a World Anti-Doping Agency edict.
"I feel very happy about breaking the world record and when I see my national flag flying I feel very excited to bring this good news to my people," said Ri.
North Korean weightlifters have not taken part in international competition since 2019 because the country's borders were sealed because of the pandemic.
Ri said that domestic competitions had kept her sharp. But two lifters appearing at a major games, winning gold and smashing world records, is bound to raise eyebrows.
Kang's gold in the evening session saw an unprecedented series of lifts.
First she raised the bar to 103kg in the snatch to break the old mark. Then her second attempt in the clean and jerk at 125kg gave her a new combined world record at 228kg.
Not content with that, she put 130kg on the bar for her final, successful attempt, to wipe out the old clean and jerk mark of 129kg and take the combined record to a scarcely believable 233kg.
WADA declared North Korea's national anti-doping body "non-compliant" in 2021 and slapped it with sanctions that remain even now.
They include, in theory, not flying the North Korean flag at any regional, continental or world sports event, excluding the Olympics and Paralympics.
North Korea did not take part in the Tokyo Olympics of 2021, citing the pandemic, and were then barred from the 2022 Beijing Winter Games for skipping Tokyo.
The men will be under the weightlifting spotlight on Sunday for the first time at these Games, with China expected to dominate.
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