Weightlifting is buckling under the burden of a drug-taking culture that has made it one of the most notorious Olympic events.
The sport that first appeared at the Olympics in 1896 accounted for 48 of the 104 positive tests detected in new analyses on samples from the 2008 Beijing Games and 2012 in London.
It could get worse as not all the results of the 1,243 samples have been revealed. Top of the sorry list was Kazakhstan’s Ilya Ilyin, a four-time weightlifting champion, who was stripped of his Beijing and London 94kg titles.
The London 94kg podium has been devastated by doping.
Russia’s Alexandr Ivanov has had to hand in his silver medal and Anatoly Ciricu of Moldova his bronze. The doping merry-go-round is now so farcical that Saeid Mohammadpour of Iran, who came fifth, is now in line for gold. The bronze medal could go to Tomasz Zielinksi of Poland who came ninth on the day.
“Weightlifting is clearly a sport at high risk of doping,” said Olivier Niggli, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“This was clearly proved by the number of cases detected by the International Weightlifting Federation with WADA at the 2015 world championships in Houston and by the retesting of analyses by the International Olympic Committee.”
The IWF barred serial performance-enhancing offenders Russia and Bulgaria from competing at the Rio Games. The IWF said that Russia’s test results were “shocking”.
It adopted a resolution in June that said any country which returns three or more positive drugs tests from the reanalysis of samples from the last two Olympics would be suspended for a year.
But the IOC is keeping a close eye on the sport, according to experts close to the Olympic movement.
“Weightlifting’s problems are nothing new,” said Jean-Loup Chappelet, a professor at the IDHEAP Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration at the University of Lausanne.
He said Richard Pound, first president of WADA, had spoken of excluding weightlifting from the Olympics before the agency was created in 1999.
Chappelet, a specialist on the Olympic movement, said it would be possible if the IOC wanted to send a “strong signal” against doping. But it would be difficult as weightlifting is so popular in Eastern Europe.
“There are always people who would like to see weightlifting and some other sports expelled,” IWF director general Attila Adamfi said. “Yes weightlifting is in danger but I believe that weightlifting is in danger just like every other sport.”
But Adamfi said every sport is in danger because the IOC’s Agenda 2020 recommends a bigger rotation of the sports, disciplines or events.
“We know some sports where manipulation and corruption is an issue, so I think there are many issues in many sports federations.”
The IOC is to carry out a review from 2017 of sports that will be included in the 2024 Games. Events at the Rio Games this year, as well as previous Olympics, will be considered.
The IWF anti-doping policies are bound to be studied.
Marc Andrieux, head of the French weightlifting federation, said several national chiefs had been worried about the sport’s Olympic status four years ago when Tamas Ayan was elected IWF president. Andrieux says that the Hungarian Ayan took many of the criticisms on board. “A lot of work has been done over the past four years. At every
world or European championships, busloads of cheaters are kicked out.”