No weightlifting in 2024 Olympics?

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz may not get a chance to repeat her historic feat in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has repeatedly warned that it would remove weightlifting from its calendar due to poor self-regulation in the sport. Ironically, weightlifting is one of the nine original sports of the modern Olympic Games, dating back to 1896.

“I would be very sad (if that happened),” said Olympian weightlifter Elreen Ando, who placed seventh in Tokyo with a new personal best. “Our thinking is that, as time goes by, weightlifting will be out of the Olympics altogether, just because of the actions of a few other countries.”

Years prior to the Tokyo Games, the IOC had already warned the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to clean up its act. Accusations of bribery, vote-rigging, corruption and – worst of all – doping, have hounded the IWF. The IOC collects two urine samples from Olympic athletes, and medalists are generally tested after they win. In cases of persistent doubt, some Olympic medalists are even retested long after their victories, and those who come up positive for performance-enhancing substances in the retest are stripped of their medals and even suspended for a minimum of two years, or banned from the sport altogether. Weightlifting’s reputation was sullied after more than 50 retests from the 2008 and 2012  Olympics yielded positive results. Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo, who finished with a bronze medal behind Diaz in Tokyo, was one of four Kazakh medalists disqualified for alleged doping at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

In March of 2019, the IOC provisionally withdrew its promise to drop weightlifting. But it required more frequent competitions (with drug testing), and an agreement between the IWF and the IOC-supported International Testing Authority to run an anti-doping program. In weightlifting, athletes can just show up at an event without competing and still get points towards qualifying for the Olympics. But they must be available for anti-drug testing, and must pass these tests six times in three six-month periods prior to Olympic competition. Chinshanlo backed out of the IWF World Cup in Fuzhou, China in 2019,  after flying all the way there, weighing in and even joining the athletes’ introduction.

“You can tell who’s using,” Ando claims. “They look different, and their records are so high. It’s like they’re not human anymore.”

The IOC had already cut the number of participants from 260 in Rio de Janeiro to 196 in Tokyo. This is why Hidilyn competed in a new, consolidated weight class. The plan is to further cut that number down to 120 in Paris. It is still unclear which weight classes will be reduced or eliminated from Paris entirely. (As a side note, an Olympic host city has the prerogative to remove certain sports from its own Games if it feels incapable of properly staging those events, or for other reasons.) Because of its terrible record in doping (reportedly over 30 positives since 2008), Kazakhstan was only allowed one male and one female entry in weightlifting in Tokyo. Chinshanlo was their female representative. Russia and Azerbaijan were likewise limited in their number of entries.

On June 30, the IWF was unable to get enough votes from its members to pass a new constitution with stricter anti-doping rules. Apparently, members from the US, Germany, China and others faced stiff resistance to the changes from representatives of former Soviet Union and some Latin American countries. On July 28, as the Philippines welcomed the triumphant Hidilyn Diaz home, the IOC renewed its threat to remove weightlifting altogether.

These unsolved problems mean that there is a chance the Philippines might lose a shot at another golden moment in the 2024 Olympics.

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