Ivan Dimov was one of two Bulgarians to win golds on the opening weekend of the European Weightlifting Championships ©ITG

Bulgaria went straight to the top of the medals table on the opening weekend of the European Weightlifting Championships in Tirana, Albania with two victories and a third-place finish.

Despite a long-running internal political dispute that kept Bulgaria out of the recent International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Junior World Championships, Bulgaria is now very well placed to finish top of the medals table in Albania.

Arif Majed, the new President of the Bulgarian Weightlifting Federation, pledged earlier this month that Bulgaria would compete in Albania even if he had to pay himself, but he did not have to.

The Bulgarian Sports Ministry would not fund the junior team while the courts are dealing with a claim for leadership of the federation by Nedelcho Kolev, the man who was beaten by Majed in elections last May.

The Ministry paid for the European Championships team to compete in Tirana, however.

"I still try to have as much control as possible but Nedelcho Kolev is still in there pushing, and we are having issues with the courts," Majed told insidethegames after Dimov’s victory.

"But we will see what happens soon - and we are going to have great results at this tournament."

Angel Rusev won the men’s 55kg when he had to go up 6kg to overtake Josue Brachi of Spain, the snatch winner.

Evagjelia Veli won the women's 55kg category at the European Weightlifting Championships, claiming victory by a single kilogram ©ITG
Evagjelia Veli won the women's 55kg category at the European Weightlifting Championships, claiming victory by a single kilogram ©ITG

Rusev did it and despite failing with his final attempt he finished 113-144-257 to beat Brachi by one kilogram, with Dmytro Voronovskyi of Ukraine a distant third.

In the 61kg Simon Brandhuber of Germany built a good lead in the snatch only to be beaten when Ivan Dimov went up five kilograms and made his final attempt.

The Bulgarian then failed with his final two clean and jerks at 156kg, and would have been beaten had Turkey’s Ferdi Hardal made even one of his three attempts at the same weight - but he dropped all three and bombed out.

Dimov made 135-151-286, the same total as second-placed Brandhuber but good enough for gold because he got to that total before the German.

Another Bulgarian, Gabriel Marinov, was third on 122-157-279.

The phenomenal Karlos Nasar, a multiple world record holder, is expected to win again in his first competition at 89kg on Thursday (June 2) to secure another gold for Bulgaria.

Albania had a popular home champion when Evagjelia Veli made six from six to win the women’s 55kg, a high-quality contest in which all three medallists - Kamila Konotop of Ukraine was second and Nina Sterckx of Belgium third - totalled more than 200kg.

Veli improved her 2021 European Championships total by 14kg to finish on 208kg, beating Konotop by one kilogram and Sterckx, who made another personal best despite missing three of her lifts, by three kilograms.

Turkey and Italy also won gold, and Ireland had its best result ever at the European Championships.

Turkey took the first contest of the Championships when Saziye Erdogan won the women’s 45kg ahead of her team-mate Cansu Bektas, totalling 163kg to 153kg.

The European junior champion Radmila Zagorac of Serbia made a career-best 152kg to finish third.

Giulia Imperio won the women’s 49kg for Italy with a total of 171kg, finishing ahead of the Ukrainian Anhelina Lomachynska on 167kg and Spain’s Maria Gimenez on 163kg.

Rebecca Copeland finished fifth on 143kg - the best ever placing by an Irish weightlifter at the senior European Championships.

Copeland, 26, who already has an impressive 10,000 Instagram followers, was a gymnast for 12 years before trying CrossFit and then switching to weightlifting.

This was only her second international competition and she prepared for it despite having to work long shifts, sometimes through the night, as a nurse for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Copeland was delighted with her career-best performance and said: "I certainly wasn’t expecting to place this high.

"I’m really excited to see the rest of the team perform."

Ireland has entered five athletes - four of whom are competing at this level for the first time - led by coach Harry Leech at his 11th senior continental championships.