Transgender weightlifter Sarawut Isara won a men's title in Thailand ©TAWA

A transgender weightlifter who wore make-up, earrings and a bra was a beaming winner of a men's title in Thailand, where "live" competition proved a huge success despite restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thailand may be barred from the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – and all other international competition until March 2022 ­– because of multiple doping offences but weightlifting is thriving regardless.

Over the course of nine days two competitions staged in Nakhon Sawan attracted 500 entries, 287 in the EGAT King's Cup and 213 in the EGAT Princess' Cup for youths.

Both events retained the backing of EGAT, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, and other sponsors.

The main audience was online for live streamed coverage, but some spectators were admitted, and athletes abided by social distancing and other rules.

Sarawut Isara, an up-and-coming young lifter who has yet to make it into the national squad, spoke proudly after winning the senior men's 89 kilograms contest with a total of 309kg.

"I want to encourage everyone," said Sarawut, who was said by the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association (TAWA) to be the first LBGT athlete to win any title in Thai weightlifting.

"We should try our best – that's all, don't just focus on gender.

"I was proud to be the first and compete with male lifters.

"I want to encourage everyone – don't let yourself down."

Weightlifting continues in Thailand despite the country's international ban ©TAWA
Weightlifting continues in Thailand despite the country's international ban ©TAWA

Transgender weightlifting would be "creative, maybe better than male and female" said Sarawut, before adding that just doing your best was enough.

Prachaya Keeratinant, President of TAWA, told insidethegames that weightlifting was a very important sport in Thailand, one that can help athletes to support themselves and their families.

"It's not only the medals, weightlifting can help many poor children, give them opportunities to change their life," said Keeratinant, who became President of TAWA in March after Intarat Yodbangtoey – the first vice-president of the International Weightlifting Federation – stood down.

"I was glad to organise the successful championships, and thank you to all our sponsors.

"The world has struggled with the pandemic but we need to move on, and TAWA is preparing for the coming competitions.

"We will hold our Junior Championships in November, after succeeding with the seniors and youths.

"Because of the pandemic, we will continue to organise in line with strict rules of the Government."

In Bulgaria, the National Championships for youths, juniors and seniors in Haskovo attracted 440 entries.

The former Austrian international David Fischer, who has taken Bulgarian nationality, needed only two lifts to win the 109kg title with 160-200-360, and is already looking forward to the 2021 European Championships. 

Many followers of Bulgarian weightlifting are worried about the nation's prospects of competing at Tokyo 2020 after the latest doping violation, the 19th since Beijing 2008.

Todor Yordanov, who has not yet represented Bulgaria internationally but was in the testing pool, was positive for steroids and has been provisionally suspended.

Yordanov is from Sliven and is coached by Plamen Bratoychev, who also coaches Bulgaria's top lifter Bozhidar Andreev, European champion and world bronze medallist at 73kg.

Coach Kristiana Koleva, a former international athlete, with one of her young champions at the Bulgarian Championships ©Kristiana Koleva
Coach Kristiana Koleva, a former international athlete, with one of her young champions at the Bulgarian Championships ©Kristiana Koleva

Andreev and Yordanov both competed for the same team, Durlach, in the last German Bundesliga season.

Besides Andreev, Bulgaria has several other men well placed in qualifying – Angel Rusev at 55kg, Stilyan Grozdev at 67kg, Yunder Beytula at 81kg and Hristo Hristov at 109kg.

Currently Bulgaria can send two men and two women to Tokyo but if one more positive emerges that will drop to one and one.

Bulgaria was sent home from Sydney 2000, and also missed the Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games because of doping.

Another hugely impressive entry came in the United States, where the American Open 3 competition was staged virtually.

With 334 competitors aged from 12 to 67 – and two platforms – it was the largest online weightlifting competition in history.