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Doping weighs heavily on lifters

By Steve Keating
August 30, 2004 14:58 IST
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Staged in a grand theatre in the land of mythical strongmen Hercules and Atlas, the Athens Olympics were supposed to herald a rebirth for the sport of weightlifting.

But buried under an avalanche of failed doping tests, the Games became a funeral procession of nabbed drug cheats, leaving shattered weightlifting chief Tamas Ajan saying he felt like he was digging his own grave with each announcement.

"It's true," said Ajan, president of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). "People have said, why are we doing these controls? You are digging your own grave."

After the Bulgarian team was stripped of three gold medals and sent home in disgrace following a spate of positive drug tests at the 2000 Games, Olympic officials flashed the IWF a yellow card warning them to clean up their sport.

Despite vigorous testing and unprecedented controls, drugs continued to cast a sleazy shadow over the weightlifting in Athens, once again sparking questions about the sport's place on the Olympic programme.

As the failed tests continued to mount, the International Olympic Committee offered the IWF a vote of confidence while a defiant Ajan threatened longer bans and tougher controls.

Yet as the competition closed with the announcement another positive test the sport's future remained a subject of debate.

Even before the first kilo had been raised at the purpose built Nakaia weightlifting hall, out of competition testing had netted drug cheats from Morocco, Moldova, Hungary, India and Turkey among others -- further evidence of widespread abuse.

The hosts also did not escape unscathed. Leonidas Sampanis sent Greece into wild celebration by winning the country's first medal of the Games, but two days later had to return his bronze medal after tests revealed high levels of testosterone.

Greece was also stung by two other disappointments when local heroes Pyrros Dimas and Akakios Kakiasvili failed to earn a place in Olympic history by becoming the first to lift fourth gold medals.

After successfully lifting for the bronze, Dimas left his weightlifting boots on the stage in a symbolic act of retirement, walking off barefoot to thunderous applause.

That, however, would be the lone highlight for Greek lifters who had been expected to produce up to a third of Greece's projected total of 15-20 medals but finished with just Dimas's bronze.

It was left for two lifters from the opposite ends of the weight scale to take the spotlight.

Turkey's 'Little Dynamo' Halil Mutlu won his third gold in the 56 kg division while the "Iranian Hercules" Hossein Rezazadeh successfully defended his super-heavyweight Olympic title extending his reign as the world's strongest man.

China dominated the women's competition winning three gold and a silver.

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Steve Keating
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