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Life

Thailand's female weightlifters defy gender expectations

Athletes face stumbling blocks away from the Olympic platform

Pimsiri Sirikaew of Thailand focuses during the Women's 58 kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics in August 2016. She took home the silver medal that year, as well as four years earlier at the London Games.

BANGKOK -- "Suu woi!" ("Fight!") It was a cry that brought a nation to its feet as Udomporn Polsak completed the lift that won her a gold medal for weightlifting at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens -- the first gold ever won by a Thai woman. That night, Thais cheered for a sport that many had never before heard of.

In the wake of Udomporn's success, female weightlifters have become a significant source of Thai Olympic glory, winning 13 of the country's total of 35 medals, including five of its 10 golds. Yet the sport remains a curiosity in Thailand, its participants critiqued for their supposedly unfeminine muscled physiques and its governing body mired in drug-related controversy.

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