Chris Hewett: Carnage at the clean and jerk – and no sign of any elbow room

The critic without a ticket: Clive James is the funniest thing ever produced by Australia, with the exception of its beer

It was Clive James, quite the funniest thing ever produced by Australia with the obvious exception of its beer, who said Arnold Schwarzenegger looked like "a big brown condom filled with walnuts". The memory of that witheringly brilliant one-liner re-emerged from the mists during a weightlifting session at the ExCel: the men's middleweight 77kg competition, to be strictly accurate – an event populated by men constructed on a more modest scale than the Austrian-American bodybuilder, actor, businessman and state governor, but infinitely stronger. How can we best describe them? With due deference to Mr James, how about "small condoms stuffed with coconuts"?

There cannot be a commentator anywhere at the BBC, on television or radio or deep in cyberspace, who has not used the words "fantastic", "amazing", "extraordinary" and "astonishing" at some point during these Games. Frequently, those calling the action have used all of them in the same sentence. This is ridiculous – or, in an age when it is not considered grammatically acceptable to use a single adjective when four are available, "ridiculous", "ludicrous", "preposterous" and "absurd". If everything is fantastic, it must follow that nothing is special. Try telling that to some of the higher achievers of the last few days: the cyclist Bradley Wiggins, say, or the swimmers Ye Shinwen and Yannick Agnel, or the rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.

The Chinese lifter Lu Xiaojun is nothing if not special, as he demonstrated to the complete satisfaction of everyone who happened to watch him dominate his class here, setting Olympic and world records along the way. A 28-year-old former track athlete from Hubei – by all accounts, he was a sprinter well into his teens – Lu lists reading as his principal leisure activity. Presumably, he prefers Tolstoy's War and Peace to Mao's "Little Red Book", on the grounds that it improves the biceps as well as the mind.

Compelling as the gold medal-winning performance was, the real interest lay in the carnage elsewhere. The runner-up was a second Chinese contender, Lu Haojie, who took silver despite an ill-timed outbreak of orthodopaedic trauma that pretty much cost him the use of one arm – a not inconsiderable disadvantage, you will agree. This second Lu was in so much pain he could not drag himself to his feet for the final lift of the "snatch" section, but as he still needed to record a score of some description in the "clean and jerk" to secure a medal, his coaches shoved him back into the auditorium and ordered him to get on with it. When these people balance national duty against duty of care, there is only one winner.

This was not the half of it, though. The reigning champion, Sa Jae-hyouk of South Korea, dislocated his right elbow while trying to propel some hideously Bunteresque weight towards the London night sky. "Let's hope he's not so badly hurt he can't continue," remarked the summariser Non Evans, a woman of many parts, all of them scary, having represented Wales at rugby, judo and freestyle wrestling, as well as weightlifting. It seemed she had missed the fact that the poor sod's humerus was pointing at an angle previously unknown to geometry.

Officials attempted to shield the prostrate Sa from the prying eyes of the public by placing an Olympic banner across the front of the lifting platform, just as Aintree flunkies conceal dying horses under something the size of a wedding marquee as the annual stampede of the Grand National continues around them. But the officials were just a little too late and their banner was far too small for its task: the fine detail was all there for all to see, and all of it was gruesome.

So what are we to make of weightlifting as an Olympic discipline? Does its inherent theatricality absolve it of its dope-riddled history? Now, there's a question. Three times in the last couple of decades, those who run the sport at international level have attempted to give it a clean slate by changing weight categories and erasing records, but anyone who spends half an hour at the local gym surrounded by strong men in leotards making themselves even stronger by consuming a seemingly endless variety of powders and potions cannot help but wonder who among the world's elite might be taking what.

And yet. There was something captivating about that 77kg contest, especially for those viewers able to follow the cameras into the inner sanctum backstage, where the lifters pretended to ignore each other while secretly engaging in an advanced form of psychological poker. Ivan Cambar Rodriguez of Cuba, the eventual bronze medallist and a performer of considerable panache, was the undisputed master of these mind games, illuminatingly explained by Colin Bryce, whose voice grew so gravelly at moments of excitement that he made the track and field commentator Paul Dickenson sound like Kiri Te Kanewa.

Sadly from Bryce's perspective, these Olympics do not present the challenge they might have done, owing to the fact that Thailand's gold medallist in the women's featherweight competition at the Beijing Games four years ago is not in London to defend her title. Her name? Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon. Try saying that after a pint. Even an Australian pint.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes