Opinion: Ego Cost Rahmat Erwin Abdullah a Gold Medal at the 2024 Olympics 

For the last year or so, Indonesian weightlifter Rahmat Erwin Abdullah has lifted world-record weights like the bar and plates were made of styrofoam rather than steel. The 23-year-old dark-horsed a bronze medal for Indonesia at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Since then, Abdullah has made the 73- and 81-kilogram divisions of weightlifting his personal playground, setting world records in both classes. 

Leading up to the 2024 IWF World Cup — the last-chance qualifying event for any weightlifter with their sights on the 2024 Olympics — the sport’s latest and greatest stuntman was widely expected to signal to the world that the 73-kilogram (160.9-pound) session in Paris would be a battle for silver.

Credit: Weightlifting House

But he didn’t. Abdullah lost his world-number-one slot on weightlifting’s international leaderboards, and probably an Olympic gold medal with his name on it, to his teammate Rizki Juniansyah. And it all happened in about 90 seconds. 

2024 Olympics Qualification for Dummies

BarBend has beaten this drum plenty already, but to understand how Abdullah blew a bigger lead than the Golden State Warriors in 2016, you’ve got to have a grasp on the qualification procedure for Paris: 

The 2024 Olympics will host the fewest weightlifters since 1956, as a consequence of the International Weightlifting Federation’s (IWF) years-long negligence in curtailing performance-enhancing drug abuse

Part of those sanctions entailed a new qualification procedure, including a stipulation that no country may send more than one athlete per weight class to the Games.

Any Paris hopeful must also register a Total (the sum of their best in-competition snatch and clean & jerk) that ranks within the top 10 in the world in their weight class on the IWF’s leaderboards.

If two athletes from the same country in a given weight class have Totals that put them in the top 10, the lifter with the higher Total is given first priority on a Paris invite.

[Opinion: Why Weightlifting Sucks To Watch in 2024]

That’s the game. It’s about as cutthroat as a qualification procedure comes for a sport like weightlifting. Beating Abdullah’s best Total by at least one kilogram is all that mattered for his younger teammate. If Juniansyah wanted to see his first Olympic stage, he had to snipe the top slot from his countryman. 

How It Happened

The Men’s 73-kilogram division is a hotbed of talent, but all eyes fell upon the duo from Indonesia — plus China’s howler Shi Zhiyong, who ultimately placed third — at the World Cup. 

According to Weightlifting House founder Seb Ostrowicz, a friend of Abdullah’s, the conclusion of the 73-kilogram session at the Cup was “the most intense and emotional minutes of weightlifting” he’d ever seen. As the event wound down, Abdullah and Juniansyah stood as the last two athletes with attempts left on the board. 

Juniansyah appeared first, declaring a brazen 201-kilogram clean & jerk, six above anything he’d ever attempted. He made the lift, passing Abdullah on the IWF’s leaderboard in what Ostrowicz called, “the best single performance of any living 73-kilogram weightlifter.”

Credit: International Weightlifting Federation

Abdullah had two clean & jerk attempts remaining. To reclaim the top slot from Juniansyah, he needed to lift 206 kilograms, or 454.1 pounds. After narrowly missing it on his first try, the clock started ticking: Abdullah had two minutes to recuperate before taking his last shot at a ticket to the Olympics. 

Weightlifters typically retreat from the stage between attempts to take a seat, fan themselves off, or sip some water. Abdullah plopped down on the stairs in full view of the audience and sunk his head between his shoulders while the attendants tightened his barbell just behind him.

Juniansyah spent most of 2023 watching Abdullah own the room at major weightlifting competitions while he slowly worked his way back from an appendectomy. At the 2024 World Cup, Juniansyah set his best Total since May 2022.

Barely half a minute into his allotted rest time, Abdullah hopped to his feet and marched back toward the bar. His coach (and father, a retired weightlifter himself) beckoned him back. His pleas dissolved into the noise of the stadium. Abdullah grabbed the bar, rocketed himself into the clean, and somehow stood up with it.

For more than 10 seconds, Abdullah stood with over 450 pounds on his neck. He wobbled back and forth. He tried to catch his breath and brace his body. He dipped his legs and pushed the bar off his shoulders, desperately, toward arm’s length. He missed the lift.

“Whether the pressure from the crowd was too much [for Abdullah] or he felt that his spot at the Olympics was divinely inspired, I don’t know,” Ostrowicz says. “But resting another minute could have been the difference between winning the 2024 Olympics and watching it on TV.”

Days before the 73-kilogram event, Abdullah and Juniansyah each took a crack at a 200-kilogram (440.9-pound) clean & jerk in the venue’s training hall. Abdullah managed it with relative ease, but Juniansyah floundered. 

Pride Comes Before the Fall 

Speaking to reporters in 2023, the President of Indonesia’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) said, “We don’t need Rahmat to be famous, we need Rahmat to win.” The monkey’s paw curls. Abdullah spent two straight years winning international weightlifting competitions with relative ease, raising his profile — and likely inflating his ego some — in the process. 

Many would still consider Abdullah a better weightlifter than Juniansyah, if measured strictly by their strength ceilings. Juniansyah can’t hang with Abdullah in the clean & jerk, at least not with the same nonchalance.

Credit: Weightlifting House

[Related: The Best Barbells for Olympic Lifting]

But weightlifting, like any sport, is about more than the material. Mindset matters, and good athletes are separated from great ones by their behavior when the pressure is on. At the World Cup, spectators watched one of weightlifting’s next great middleweight athletes have a crisis of faith in real time. Abdullah had 206 kilograms, a weight he’d already conquered as a light 81-kilogram lifter, excavating his clavicles. With his ticket to Paris on the line, that bar probably felt a whole lot heavier.

Resting another minute could have been the difference between winning the 2024 Olympics and watching it on TV.

If Abdullah had taken the full two minutes of rest he was entitled to, odds are he’d have made the 206. Clinical research pretty consistently shows that rest periods of at least three minutes promote higher peak power production in athletes. (1)

But Abdullah’s pride seemingly got the better of him. Juniansyah saw his shot and took it, dashing his teammate’s Olympic dreams in the process. Hard to fault him for it. 

If Juniansyah can keep a cool head (and fend off a resurgent Zhiyong, whom China may elect to battle in the 73s), he’ll leave Paris with Abdullah’s gold medal around his neck. Tough break for one of the sport’s best and brightest, but it’s a long four years until the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. All good athletes make mistakes — great ones learn from them and are better for it. 

Both Abdullah and Juniansyah have met all qualification standards for the Paris Olympics and both men technically rank in the 73-kilogram top-10. Indonesia’s NOC is permitted to select Abdullah instead of Juniansyah if they choose, despite him outperforming his teammate at the Cup.

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de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77. doi: 10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000. PMID: 19691365.

Featured Image: Weightlifting House / YouTube

Editor’s Note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of BarBend or Pillar4 Media. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

The post Opinion: Ego Cost Rahmat Erwin Abdullah a Gold Medal at the 2024 Olympics  appeared first on BarBend.


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