Tarnished weightlifting fights for Olympic survival at Asian Games

The sport needs to prove it can comply with world anti-doping standards to lift the threat of Olympic expulsion.

Doping-ravaged weightlifting begins its Asian Games competition on Monday without a banned traditional powerhouse. (Representational Image)   -  Getty Images

Doping-ravaged weightlifting begins its Asian Games competition on Monday without a banned traditional powerhouse and with the sport's boss warning it would “slowly disappear” if it were to lose its Olympic status.

No fewer than 12 world records were broken at an explosive 2014 Asiad in Incheon, but now, the sport needs to prove it can comply with world anti-doping standards to lift the threat of Olympic expulsion.

China dominated four years ago with seven golds, five silvers and two bronzes, but none of its lifters will be in Jakarta. It is among nine nations, currently, serving a 12-month International Weightlifting Federation ban after its reanalysed drugs tests from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics returned at least three positives.

Kazakhstan, which was prominent with a gold and three silvers in 2014, is another of the nine banned, while Malaysia has pulled its team because of its own poor doping record.

North Korea has seen three of its four gold-medal winners from Incheon 2014 subsequently banned for failed drugs tests, but remains favourite to top the medal count in China's absence.

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'Don't use anything'

Weightlifting is assured of its place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but the drugs-tarnished sport is attempting a cultural change to prevent it being dropped from the programme for Paris 2024.

IWF president Tamas Ajan issued a stern warning last month that the sport would fall off the map if it were to lose its Olympic status.

The IWF delivered a report in June detailing how it had met anti-doping requirements demanded by the International Olympic Committee.

However, the IOC decided to leave to sport on probation until after the Asian Games and November's World Championships.

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“I have a question: what will happen with weightlifting if it is not on the (Olympic) programme? I don't give the answer because you know it: weightlifting will slowly disappear,” the Romanian-born Hungarian Ajan asked delegates at the IWF Congress in Tashkent last month.

Ajan appealed to delegates to ensure their nations remained squeaky clean, with the IOC due to discuss the matter again at its executive meeting in Tokyo from November 30 to December 2.

“Please cut out everything that leads them to bring their anabolic steroids, their growth hormones or any other things. Don't use anything,” implored Ajan, according to website insidethegames.com.

Meanwhile, North Korea will try to shake off its own poor doping record to dominate the Jakarta weightlifting medals. The competition sees eight men's and seven women's weight divisions with the combined weight for the two lifting disciplines — snatch and clean and jerk — deciding the placings.

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Pocket rocket

North Korea is sending six men and six women led by pocket rocket Om Yun Chol. The 2012 Olympic champions Om is just 1.51 metres (4ft 11in) tall and broke his own men's 56kg world record to win gold in Incheon four years ago, sparking exuberant celebrations.

But, the secretive nation's other three gold medallists from Incheon are in disgrace. Women's 75kg winner Kim Un Ju was banned for two years for steroids, just three months after her Incheon triumph.

Her 58kg compatriot and fellow gold medallist Jong Hwa Ri tested positive for anti-asthma drug clenbuterol. Kim Un Guk, the men's 62kg winner, failed a test for letrozole in 2015 and is banned until December next year. Silver medallists Kim Kwan-Song (men 77kg), Ryo Un-Hui (women 69kg) are also serving four-year doping bans.

Iran is likely to sweep the men's heavier classes with world-record holders Kianoush Rostami (85kg) and Sohrab Moradi (94kg), and former superheavyweight (+105kg) world record holder Behdad Salimkordasiabi all entered.