Weightlifting bronze medalist Mikiko Ando arrived at her news conference in a wheelchair, got up and slowly walked onto the podium using a crutch to protect her injured right knee.
Her bronze-medal Tuesday in the women’s 59-kg class, already an impressive feat, suddenly took on the look of a monumental achievement.
Ando had severely hurt her knee when she dropped a 120-kg barbell just three weeks before the Tokyo Olympics.
The 28-year-old revealed that she could not resume her training until last week.
“When I got the injury, I thought it was all over,” Ando said Wednesday. “I was barely able to walk but could not bend my knees. So I felt hopeless.
“But fortunately, I didn’t have any issues with the bones and thought maybe I could manage (competing at the Olympics).”
Ando focused on rehabbing her knee first. It paid off that she was finally able to get back to lifting weights just days before the Games.
“I felt relieved when I returned to my training but I was still able to lift 70 to 80% of the weights that I’d been able to lift. I couldn’t get rid of my worries about my knee and I wasn’t sure if I could make it in time for the competition,” she said.
The Shirai, Chiba Prefecture, native confessed that it was difficult to figure out how far she could push herself in practice ahead of the competition.
Ando lifted 120 kg in her final jerk attempt to clinch the medal (she lifted 94 kg in the snatch). She said it is a weight she normally should have no problems with, but due to the injury, she hadn’t been able to lift that weight in practices before the competition.
“But I ended up exceeding my limit and that’s how I got this (crutch),” said Ando, who finished fifth in the 58-kg division at the Rio Olympics. “I’m glad I managed to come up with the medal.”
Ando, who gave Japan a weightlifting medal at a third-straight Olympics (Hiromi Miyake won bronze at the previous two Games), hopes that her feat will help raise the sport’s profile going forward.
“It’s not quite like track and field or swimming, in which you can tell your development by the numbers,” she said. “But you can definitely develop further when you devote yourself and make an effort. And it’s simple for anyone to understand that you lift things above your head.”
Ando added: “I want everybody to start this sport.”
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