By Brian Oliver
FORDE, Norway (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Armenians watched on television as two of their country’s Olympic medal hopefuls went head-to-head in the men’s 77kg at the European weightlifting championships on Wednesday.
The younger of the two, 20-year-old Andranik Karapetyan, easily beat his older rival Tigran Martirosyan, who is one of Armenia's most popular sportsmen.
The impressive Karapetyan, the junior world champion, finished 15kg clear of silver medallist Martirosyan, with Romania’s Dumitru Captari taking the bronze.
Varvara Hayrapetyan, an official from the Armenia National Olympic Committee who is with the team in Forde, Norway, estimated that half a million Armenians -- around one sixth of the population -- would have been watching live on state television back home.
In the women’s 63kg event, Russia had a one-two finish and claimed their first gold medal of the week.
Natalia Khlestkina, who like Karapetyan served a two-year doping ban early in her career, won from Diana Akhmetova.
Italy’s Giorgia Bordignon made her final clean & jerk attempt to take bronze, pushing Britain’s Zoe Smith into fourth place.
Martirosyan, 27, became Armenia’s youngest Olympic medalist when he won a bronze at Beijing in 2008. He was also his nation’s first world champion in weightlifting, in 2010, and has won three European titles.
He could not raise a serious challenge to Karapetyan. He was a distant second in the snatch, and 5kg behind in the clean & jerk. Karapetyan, who tested positive aged 17 and returned to action just over a year ago, is likely to be a strong medal contender in Rio.
(Editing by Toby Davis)