It happened in the 49-kilogram division, the first of the 14 female and male weight categories to go in Tokyo, when Delacruz could not convert any of her three lifts in the second of the two disciplines, the clean and jerk. All three lifts came at 108 kilograms (238.1 pounds), less than the American record 111 kilograms she had lifted in April at the Pan American Championships in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
“I’m not really sure” what happened, she said in a quiet interview room more than an hour later, well after extraordinary gold medalist Zhihui Hou of China, giddy silver medalist Chanu Saikhom Mirabai of India and merry bronze medalist Windy Cantika Aisah of Indonesia had passed through.
“It felt a little bit heavier,” Delacruz said. “But warmup was really good, so sometimes it just doesn’t pull out on the platform.”
She said she will place it in the “live and learn” file, just as once did Mirabai, who beamed Saturday with her silver medal five years after she missed on all three clean-and-jerk attempts at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“That helped the experience here to do well,” Mirabai said through an interpreter, “not to be afraid of that kind of situation.”
And, of course, fear got nowhere close to Hou, seeming to exit the premises whenever she went to lift.
In succeeding during all six lifts in the two disciplines, with 94 kilograms in the snatch and 116 in the clean and jerk, Hou made a hard Olympic art look like some sort of heavy errand, her total of 210 an Olympic record for a 24-year-old woman who collects world records as some people do refrigerator magnets.
Always the clear gold-medalist-to-be even to the wildly untrained eye, Hou led after the snatch, at 94 kilograms to 87 for Mirabai and 86 for Delacruz. Delacruz looked strong even after a dour ruling that foiled her third attempt in the snatch, at 89 kilograms. She had managed that lift with some understandable inconvenience along the way, her coach and camp exulting in the corner, before the jury ruled a “press out,” that common and fussy weightlifting infraction involving any bending of arms while holding the bar overhead before trying to straighten.
In further proof that video review has swept the world in a way it had not when weightlifting debuted at the 1896 Olympics in Athens, the jury reviewed and then upheld the ruling.
“Mentally, I was okay,” Delacruz said. “It didn’t really bother me clean-and-jerking. I was still really proud of myself for kind of making it, I guess, so it didn’t bother me much.”
It looked as if Delacruz might well christen the bid for a weightlifting renaissance here for the United States, a country that has known its share of medal-free Olympiads since bonanzas such as the six-medal splurge of 1960 headed by Charles Vinci’s gold in the bantamweight. American women have won three medals since the Olympics began, including female weightlifters starting at Sydney in 2000, but went 16 years between Tara Nott’s gold and Cheryl Haworth’s bronze at Sydney and Sarah Robles’s bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Then Delacruz couldn’t quite muster the 108 to start off, and then she tried it a second time after bronze medalist Aisah successfully lifted that same amount. The second time, Delacruz dropped it behind her. That whittled her chances to a harsh one, and she had to come right back out.
“I mean, there’s a lot of pressure,” she said, “but at the same time, it’s the clean and jerk. It’s a lift that you’ve done a hundred times, so you can only just go out there and do what you know how to do.”
She got the bar briefly halfway up before discontinuing, kneeling and smiling briefly, toward an auditorium with empty lower sections and limited onlookers all told, mostly media members and volunteers. In her fine story line, the native of Wylie, Tex., near Dallas, who trains near Atlanta, had made it all the way from competitive cheerleading in high school (no athletic picnic there) through a veer into weightlifting and all the way to the Olympics.
She had marveled on her Instagram account this past week at her first sight of the stage where she and the other Olympians would perform. Then the Olympics had come and gone in a hurry, as they do, and as to whether that word itself — “Olympics” — had heaped on any pressure, she said: “Not really. I was kind of surprised with how calm I felt onstage. I think this just kind of felt like another competition for me.”