Peshalov returns to top form

ATHENS, Greece -- Zhang Guozheng's first was expected.
Nikolai Peshalov's fourth certainly was not.

Zhang won China's third Olympic weightlifting gold medal in as
many events, leading the men's 152-pound (69kg) field from the
start Wednesday. But it was Peshalov's record-tying fourth Olympic
medal -- a bronze -- that surprised and excited a large crowd.

Lee Bae Young of South Korea had a chance to overtake Zhang, but
missed a clean-and-jerk attempt of 430 pounds (195kg) that would
have given him the gold by virtue of lower body weight.

Peshalov's four medals equal those of the United States' Norbert
Schemansky (1948, 1952, 1960 and 1964) for the most by an Olympic
weightlifter. Peshalov got medals in four weight classes and for
two countries, winning his first two for Bulgaria and his last two
for Croatia.

After winning the gold at 136½ pounds (62kg) in Sydney, Peshalov
didn't place in the 2001 world championships. Then, after battling
several injuries and a weight gain over two competition-free years,
he was only sixth in last year's world championships.

But Peshalov was at his best again in the world showcase that is
the Olympics. He now has one gold, one silver (at 132 pounds in
1992), and two bronzes (the other at 130 pounds in 1996).

"I am (nearly) 35 years old. This is the fourth medal I have
won in the Olympics," Peshalov said. "Of course, I am very

Zhang, 29, the two-time defending world champion, was a big
favorite and didn't disappoint despite back pain and a huge weight
drop of 16 pounds that was needed just to make weight. He took the
lead with his first lift of 336 pounds (152.5kg) in the snatch and
never gave it up.

"Physically and psychologically, it gave me more confidence,"
he said. "I may be older, but the experienced athlete has
determination and endurance."

Peshalov, cheered on by a contingent of Croatian athletes from
other sports, got off to a rough start by missing his first snatch
attempt at 330½ pounds (150kg), a weight he never reached in the
2003 worlds. But he made his second attempt, one he punctuated with
a fist pump.

He followed the same pattern in the clean and jerk, missing his
first lift -- this time at 402 pounds (187.5kg). Again, he
regrouped, raised the bar to 413 pounds (187.5kg) and made it,
securing his medal with a total lift of 744 pounds (337.5kg), 11
pounds (5kg) behind Lee and 22 pounds (10kg) behind Zhang.

Zhang's gold continued a strong run by China since twin
disappointments Saturday and Sunday at women's 106 pounds and men's
123 pounds.

Peshalov's two successful lifts in six attempts were good enough
for a medal, just as he took the gold in Sydney despite missing
three of six lifts.

Peshalov is one of weightlifting's most interesting figures. He
left his homeland to compete for Croatia in 1998 when it offered
him more money. But he still does almost all of his training in
Bulgaria, some amid such secrecy this year that some Croatian
reporters had trouble finding out how well he was doing.

Earlier, Ukraine's Natalia Skakun overcame a big deficit to win
the gold medal in 139-pound (63kg) weightlifting Wednesday, forcing
Belarus' Hanna Batsiushka to settle for silver. Tatsiana Stukalava
of Belarus took the bronze.

Skakun, the reigning world champion and world record-holder in
the clean and jerk, trailed Batiushka by 16 pounds after she raised
a world-record 253½ pounds (115kg) in the snatch. Batsiushka missed
her first attempt of 264½ pounds (120kg) in the clean and jerk, but
made her second before raising 281 pounds (127½ kg).

But Skakun, who had raised 275½ pounds (125kg) on her first try
in the clean and jerk, went up by 22 pounds on her second attempt
to give her and Batsiushka identical totals of 535½ pounds

Skakun's lower body weight automatically gave her the gold, and
she didn't even bother trying to tie or break her world record of
304 pounds (138kg) with the third attempt she had remaining.

"I don't really know why we made that decision," said Skakun,
whose total was the same as 2000 Olympic champion Chen Xiaomin of
China. "We came here with one purpose in mind, to win an Olympic
gold medal, not to set world records. ... But if I had needed to
make a world record to win the gold medal, I would have tried to
get a world record."