TOKYO — A near-perfect performance landed Auburn weightlifter Harrison Maurus one spot shy of the medal stand Saturday afternoon in his Olympic debut.
The 21-year-old weightlifter, competing in the 81 kilogram (178.6 pound) weight class, completed his first five lifts before falling short of a massive 205 kg (451.9 pound) clean-and-jerk attempt to earn his way onto the podium. With a combined score of 361 kg (795.9 pounds) between the snatch, where he lifted a career-best 161 kg (354.9 pounds), and the clean-and-jerk, where he tied a career-best with 200 kg (441), Maurus finished fourth of 10 lifters on the world’s biggest stage.
“My coaches put exactly the weight I needed to fight for that medal,” Maurus said after the event. “I’m definitely not angry with fourth. My main goal was to represent the U.S. well, and I believe I did that.”
Maurus completed each of his three snatch lifts cleanly, at 153, 157 and 161 kg, to land in seventh place going into the clean-and-jerk. His final snatch lift was 3 kg more than his previous best of 158 kg and a significant improvement in a sport where winning scores are regularly separated by just 1 kg.
After a 15-minute break at the host venue Tokyo International Forum, the ponytail-wearing Auburn Riverside High School product returned to the platform. Wearing a blue singlet with white “USA” lettering across his chest, Maurus chalked his hands, bellowed out a loud grunt, gripped the bar and cleaned a 195 kg setup before pressing it over his head.
While he waited for his second clean-and-jerk attempt, several opponents ahead of him slowly faltered their way out of competition. Turkmenistan’s Rejepbay Rejepov was in second place after an impressive 164 kg snatch but mistakenly dropped a clean 198 kg lift before the event’s three judges could award it to him. Ritvars Suharevs of Latvia added only 195 kg in the clean-and-jerk to his 163 kg snatch, while Brayan Rodallegas of Colombia managed to put up just 196 kg.
Maurus lifted 200 kg to move into second place, but Italy’s Antonino Pizzolato and Zacarias Bonnat of the Dominican Republic bumped him off the medal stand with lifts of 200 kg and 202 kg. China’s Xiaojun Lyu set an Olympic record with a 170 kg snatch and 204 kg in the clean-and-jerk to become the oldest Olympic champion in weightlifting, at age 37.
After completing each of his first five lifts, Maurus needed 205 kg on his final clean-and-jerk to unseat Pizzolato for bronze. The Auburn native cleaned the bar and built suspense as he held it on his chest for nearly five seconds, trying to gather enough strength to finish the lift.
But the would-be world record just wasn’t in the cards. Maurus lost his balance as he jerked the bar above his head, and it fell to the ground with a thump.
Maurus and Pizzolato each finished the clean-and-jerk with lifts of 200 kg, but Pizzolato’s 165 kg snatch was the difference in earning the 24-year-old Italian the bronze medal.
The Auburn native’s fourth-place finish was the best by an American man in Olympic weightlifting since Mario Martinez placed fourth in the 110 kg event in 1988. Coach Spencer Arnold, who trains full-time with Maurus at Power and Grace Weightlifting in Suwanee, Georgia, said the American’s career performance in Tokyo came after some of his best training over the past six months.
“We came in hoping to make some lifts and put ourselves in a position to potentially take a medal, and we did exactly that,” Arnold said. “The kid’s a warrior, and we couldn’t have asked for much more of him.”