Exposed yet again

The dope positives of male competitors Edwin Raju and Tejinder Singh take the sheen off the gold medals won by India's women lifters, writes Kirti Patil.

The `false start' made by Shailaja Pujari and B. Premeelavalli before the team left for Melbourne should have put the Indian Weightlifting Federation on guard. Apparently it did not. It was a repeat doping scandal for the Indian weightlifting team as National champions Edwin Raju (56kg) and Tejinder Singh (85kg) brought back memories of Manchester with their positive tests at Melbourne.

An otherwise good performance by the lifters eventually got completely overshadowed by the doping scandal, the long-term implications of which will gradually unfold as the Indian federation comes to grips with the negative publicity our lifters have got. The medals won by the Indian weightlifters in the Melbourne Games — three gold, five silver and one bronze — mercifully remain with them, though the sheen is missing.

At Manchester, Satheesha Rai and K. Madasamy were found positive and they were stripped of their medals.

Four years down the line, Indian weighlifting is again in a spot. The prospect of another ban that could run up to four years looms large. After the Olympics fiasco, the Indian Federation had found a convenient scapegoat in Belarus coach Leonid Taranenko. The suspension should have been a lesson, but the Federation had not learnt anything.

Soon after the suspension period ended in August 2005, discredited coaches Tamil Selvan and Hansa Sharma were back in favour. And to top it all, the Federation brought back Pal Singh Sandhu, sacked post-Olympics along with Taranenko, as an advisor. The excuse given was there was a shortage of good coaches in the country and foreign coaches were unwilling to come.

That both Edwin and Tejinder tested positive for stanozolol, the same substance found in Shailaja Pujari's sample in a WADA test at Patiala in February, should make one wonder whether the steroid made famous by Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson has become popular all over again among Indian lifters. Shailaja faces a two-year suspension, if one were to ignore earlier `infractions' at home, while Premeelavalli's case is yet to be acknowledged by the Indian federation.

As the dope-tainted weightlifting team returned to Delhi, with the men's team `smuggled out' a day earlier without notice, there was only a muted welcome. The medal-winning women looked keen to avoid any awkward question.

The Indian women's team had five lifters and all returned successful, claiming a haul of three gold medals and two silvers. From among seven men, three won silver medals and one settled for the bronze. Rai finished fourth in 85kg, the same weight category in which dope offender Tejinder Singh was entered but was quietly withdrawn, officials citing injury as the reason for his absence. "I have done my best and I am just happy that I won my event," Kunjarani Devi said on arrival from Melbourne. "Don't ask me what I am going to do next, but surely I will continue till my body permits." Kunjarani, the most experienced among the Indian lifters, had to bring out her best for her last lift for a record clean and jerk of 94kg to win the 48kg gold.

Unlike in the past, when there were three gold medals available in one weight category, this time there was just one in each category. India, which had won 11 weightlifting gold medals last time, all in the women's section, therefore had its task cut out.

Kunjarani was an overwhelming favourite to win the women's 48kg category. She did that, no doubt, but the total weight she lifted and her margin of victory were notable. For a lifter who touches 180kg without breaking a sweat, winning the gold with a lift of 166kg, with the silver going for 165kg, looked odd.

Kunjarani attributed this to the problem with calculations after the new format was introduced in January 2005. The new format allows weight to be raised in the multiples of one kg instead of 2.5 kg. That the Commonwealth standards are far below our National standards can be gauged from the fact that Kunjarani's record lift of 94kg pales in comparison to her National record of 107.5kg. In the women's Plus 75kg class, Simple Kaur Bhumrah and Geeta Rani were involved in an interesting battle of breaking Games records 11 times.

Simple claimed the snatch record with a lift of 105kg while Geeta Rani grabbed the clean and jerk (137kg) and total (241kg). The corresponding National records were 112.5kg, 147.5kg and 255kg, all in the name of Simple Kaur.

Nothing much can be made out of the men's medals after two of them grabbed spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Vicky Batta (56kg), Arun Murugesan (62kg) and Mohammed Zakir Asdullah (77kg) won silver medals while C. P. R. Sudhir Kumar (69kg) settled for the bronze.