By Brian Oliver
FORDE, Norway (Reuters) - Bulgarian-born Boyanka Kostova won a gold medal for Azerbaijan at the European championships in Norway on Tuesday and is set to reap the financial rewards offered by her adopted nation.
Kostova, 22, won her third European gold when she retained her women’s 58kg title, after comfortably beating her nearest rival, Irina Lepsa, of Romania. Poland’s Joanna Lochowska was third.
"My training and preparation for this championships went well and I was pleased today,” said Kostova, who was named female athlete of the year by the International Weightlifting Federation after the world championships in November.
“If all goes well, and I am in my best form at the Olympics, maybe I will try for another world record.”
Kostova said she did not know how big her state-funded reward would be, but Azerbaijan often pays huge sums to medalists at major competitions. Two wrestlers who won gold at London 2012 were paid $510,000 each.
Azerbaijan offers fast-track nationalization to athletes in a range of sports, among them Russian gymnasts, American and Canadian ice skaters and the Bulgarian weightlifters.
After Kostova won gold at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games for her native Bulgaria, at the age of 17, she was offered the chance to switch allegiance to Azerbaijan, along with another top teenager, Valentin Hristov.
The Azerbaijanis paid $550,000 to the Bulgarian federation.
Hristov became Azerbaijan’s first Olympic medalist in the sport when he won a bronze at London 2012, at the age of 18, but he has since twice failed dope tests and faces a lifetime ban.
Kostova will go to Brazil as favorite. At the world championships in Houston, she broke the world record in the snatch (112kg) and total (252kg), but she lifted well within her capabilities in Forde.
Her first snatch attempt at 95kg, which she made look ridiculously easy, was 2kg better than any of her nine rivals but 14kg lower than her opening effort in Houston.
Another Olympic hopeful, the improving Daniyar Ismayilov, made it three golds in three days for Turkey when he won the men’s 69kg.
Ismayilov was well clear of silver medalist Sergei Petrov, of Russia. Because of so many failed lifts by medal contenders, the bronze went to a B Group lifter, David Sanchez Lopez, of Spain.
Hungary's Noel Nagy set a record when he made his international debut in the Men’s 77kg C Group. At 46, he is the oldest competitor in the history of the championships.
(Editing by Toby Davis)