Weightlifting’s last hurrah?

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

Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo gave a monstrous performance at the International Weightlifting Federation’s World Championships in Bogota, Colombia. In the altitude that saps the strength of regular humans, the Olympic gold medalist topped women’s 55-kilogram category on Thursday (Manila time). Diaz-Naranjo recorded 93kg in the snatch and 114kg for the clean and jerk for a total lift of 207kg. She had previously won bronzes in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 editions of the competition. The feat is remarkable, and rounds out her resumé as one of the greatest weightlifters of all time.

However, the sport itself is in dire straits. The Paris Olympics in 2024 have further slashed the number of participating athletes in the sport, drastically consolidating the weight classes further and further apart. This is in response to unresolved issues regarding steroid use which has plagued the sport up to the highest level for decades. For the Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee had slashed the number of weightlifting entries from 260 in Rio in 2016 to 194. Thus, Hidilyn’s 53-kilogram division was merged with the 58-kilogram class at 55 kilograms, which was more comfortable for her.  Now, the decimation continues, with reports that the number of entrants will be further reduced to a mere 120.

Prior to Tokyo, the IWF held a convention in the hope of rallying its members into accepting reforms. But the usual suspect countries refused to go along with the steroid-free changes, and a majority remained elusive. Only 10 medal events will be held in Paris from Aug. 7 to 11, 2024: five for men and five for women. For women, there will only be the 49kg, 59kg, 71kg, 81kg and above 81kg categories.

What does this mean?  Unless a dramatic reversal happens, Diaz-Naranjo’s weight class will disappear and be absorbed into either the new 49kg or the 59kg class. This will put another Olympic medal out of reach. One estimate is that she would need to lift an additional 27 kilos to at least medal in the 59kg division. Bear in mind that her gold medal-winning lift in Tokyo was already a personal best at the time.

Though the Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas (SWP) is confident that it has several worthy successors to Diaz-Naranjo, many of them still have to prove themselves in those higher and much lower weight classes. Remember how long it took for Hidilyn to win that long-sought after Olympic gold. In May of this year, the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic organizers updated its schedule, adding three new sports: skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing. Sadly, weightlifting (and boxing) have still not been included.

The IWF and its member countries need to show a united front and clean their house, or else the sport will end its long run in Olympic competition, and in turn, end the Philippines’ successful record at weightlifting’s highest level. That would be a tragedy.


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