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Gripping stuff: Watching folk lift heavy things above their heads

THEY came in various sizes, a multitude of hues and decorated with mixed accessories of belts, plasters and bandages.

Frenceay Titus of Malaysia strains to raise her burden in the Women's 53kg at the Armadillo yesterday. Picture: Colin Mearns
Frenceay Titus of Malaysia strains to raise her burden in the Women's 53kg at the Armadillo yesterday. Picture: Colin Mearns

There were two constants: they were all at least 4lb shy of 10st and they w ere all prepared to lift weights of up to 23½st.

The cliche is that weightlifting provides a sort of theatrical glamour but it offers a wonder, too. There can be for the uninitiated no real sense of the strains involved as this battalion of Wee Men lifts but there are clues in their demeanour, their expressions and the way the weights cause the bar to droop on each side like that piece of lettuce found under a doner kebab.

The event that enthralled the Armadillo yesterday morning was Group B of the men's 62kg. It comprised a series of lifts in two disciplines: the snatching and the clean and jerk. The competitors then aggregate the total weight of their successful lift in the two disciplines and - and strength, technique and an iron will - provide the winner.

It is, aptly, immediately gripping. There is no need for preparation on behalf of the spectator. It is just a matter of taking a seat and staring at a stage where a series of wonderful characters fail or succeed in bursts of extraordinary action.

Group B was a typical slice of the Commonwealth with an English and a Welsh lifter coming up against competitors from Australia and the African continent.

They were all individually quirky, all coming equipped with muscle and tics. The most unusual was Jaswant Shergill, the 21-year-old from Birmingham.

Most weightlifters in this category look like the sort of wee men one takes care not not to jostle in a pub. Yet Shergill looked as if he could do with a good plate of soup. This is obviously an exaggeration but he had a lithe aspect rather than that chunky build of his rivals.

Backstage he prepared for his next tussle with a lift, by employing a focus that could be described as a 100-yard stare except that it seemed to fix its lens on a point just beyond Renfrew. He raised 140kg over his head in a series of stages, as if he was slowly unfolding from a night spent crammed into a hat box.

There were dashes of oddity among the tilts at glory. Daniel Darko entered with the aspect of a magician with a cloak, though he was covered in the mantle of his national flag. His assistants peeled this from him as he approached his task at hand. He checked the bar bells with a touch of his hand and made what seemed like an impulsive decision to pull to his chest and over his head. It weighed 142kg.

Rick Confiance of Seychelles laid a similar weight on his chest like a comforting duvet but could not lift it over his head. In contrast, Charles Seekaaya Uganda managed to arrange 142kgs over his gleaming napper but then - unbalanced by strain and the sheer size of his load - he appeared to take it for a walk off the stage as if he had just been contracted to lift the metal to the nearest yard. His neck was adorned with a plaster, probably to avoid the abrasion caused by the bar but also possibly to cover the wound caused by a popped vein.

The Big Daddy of the Wee Men in Group B was Gareth Evans of Wales who was not just not competing but giving a masterclass in the art of performance. He lifted the biggest weight of the morning: 150g in the clean and jerk, with 118kg in the snatch giving him a combined total of 268kg. This aggregate weighs in at just more than 42 stone.

Evans sat before each attempt with his coach rubbing his legs and giving both advice and comfort. He was taking on an inanimate object yet it appeared as if he was preparing for a confrontation with Muhammad Ali. But Ali weighed only 15st in his prime.

Evans came out, stalked the bar, examining it from every angle. He then lifted it above his head. The leading player, exhausted by the effort, then took his applause. Only the most sadistic would have asked for an encore.

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