Unless you’ve had your head under a rock for the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the recent drug suspensions in Olympic weightlifting.
The urine samples taken from the athletes at the 2012 London Olympic Games were reanalyzed over the past few months, and a long list of pretty important weightlifters got popped. Several medalists and champions have been caught with their hands in the stanozolol jar, so now they’ve been suspended from competition (adios, Rio). These are some of the biggest superstars in the sport, including… well, probably THE biggest superstar in the sport, Ilya Ilin of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan really took it in the shorts, by the way. Svetlana Podobedova, Maiya Maneza, and Zulfiya Chinshanlo also got busted. I keep getting a mental image of the KAZ coaches and medical staff people standing in a chorus line singing the Borat song that goes, “In my country, we have problem.”
In case you’re confused, here’s the basic explanation of this whole mess.
- These lifters all passed their drug tests when they competed at the 2012 Olympics.
- The International Olympic Committee decided to go back after four years and re-test the 2012 urine samples because of advances in doping detection since then.
- These more effective testing procedures worked, some juicers have been exposed, and now they’re getting suspended.
So the International Weightlifting Federation has to hang its head in shame and give the boot to several of the most high-profile athletes in the sport, like a little kid who pouts and mutters cuss words as his parents make him drag the garbage can out to the curb.
This news is a gargantuan bombshell in Olympic weightlifting, probably one of the biggest ones I’ve seen in my 25+ years in the sport.
This news is a gargantuan bombshell in Olympic weightlifting, probably one of the biggest ones I’ve seen in my 25+ years in the sport. And because we now live in the era of social media, everybody and their crippled grandmother has been talking about it on the internet.
Here are just a few of my many thoughts about this, in no particular order:
- This whole thing is about as surprising to me as another Kim Kardashian nude selfie. Most of the top weightlifting countries in the world have firmly established drug programs for their athletes. In the uber-top countries of the sport, these drug programs are usually funded and protected by the government. This has been going on for decades. Everybody knows about it. If you disagree with me about this, you don’t know anything about international weightlifting. If I just hit you with a Santa-Claus-doesn’t-exist moment, my condolences.
- The only reason we don’t see massive lists of drug positives at every international weightlifting meet is the skill and precision of the doping systems in these powerhouse countries. They put a lot of time and work into making sure their athletes don’t get popped, and they’ve got it down to a science. Again… I’m sorry if I’m dampening your outlook on the top lifters in the world. You’ll just have to figure out your own way to mentally settle up with it, like we’ve all had to do.
- This explosive announcement might not be the end of it. Trust me, we’ll see a lot more drug positives if this re-testing is as effective as they’re saying it is.
- Several people are wondering why China hasn’t been nailed yet. I don’t know the whole answer to that. But I do know about an old conversation where one of the top officials in the International Weightlifting Federation told my coach that drug testing is completely ineffective in China because the Chinese use some… highly extravagant tactics to make sure their lifters don’t test positive. Let’s just say the Great Wall isn’t the only extensive blockade in that country.
There are different types of opinions about this. Here are a few of them:
- Weightlifting fans who don’t care about drug use are heartbroken right now. Their favorite lifters are getting tossed, so they’re not going to get to watch the stars break records in Rio. It’s like a bunch of downtrodden little kids walking around with their favorite NFL player’s jersey on… after that player gets suspended for getting caught with hookers and blow.
- Clean US lifters (and their coaches) are giggling their asses off. When you’re a drug-free lifter who competes at a high level against juicers, you love it when they get popped because the armchair quarterbacks have to eat a nice big Turdburger. Announcements like this really jam up those knuckleheads who think the Europeans are better than the US because they have tougher work ethic, greater technique, stronger coaching, and superior souls. It’s a rare moment of encouragement for those of us in US weightlifting who know they’re mainly better than us because they have superior pharmaceuticals (along with some other things we don’t have… like financial opportunity).
- The general public scrunches up their noses and talks about how the Olympics should kick those filthy drugged-up weightlifters out of the Games, so everybody can enjoy the pure pursuits that are free from corruption… like cycling, track and field, and the Mexican Drug War.
In case you didn’t read between the lines of the IWF announcement, it stated that these athletes have been “provisionally suspended.” You see the word “provisionally,” right? Do you want to know what that word means? It means there’s still a chance somebody could pull some kind of shenanigan that sweeps this whole thing under the carpet and puts all those popped lifters on the platform in Rio. I don’t think it will happen like this, but it’s possible. Back in 1996, the best lifter in the world (Alexei Petrov from Russia) tested positive shortly before the Atlanta Games. Russia was able to get his suspension erased because Petrov’s girlfriend testified in a Russian superior court that she had spiked one of Alexei’s protein drinks with steroids after a lover’s quarrel, which resulted in his positive test. I think the legal team that handled the case was the same one from the OJ Simpson trial. The court bought it, the IWF lifted his ban, and Petrov won the gold medal.
In a nutshell, old war horses like me get pretty jaded when people start talking about a true clean-up of the sport. As Don King would say, we get “skeptical up the receptacle.” I would love it if weightlifting really became a drug-free sport. You know why? Because America would start winning medals. I think we’re still a long way from a drug-free sport, however. And when I say “a long way,” I’m thinking about the length of the solar system.
Some of you want clean sport. Some of you want 210 kg snatches and you don’t give a damn if athletes take drugs. I don’t know which way this sport is going to go, but I do know the last year has shown a bigger drug crackdown than I’ve seen in a long time in weightlifting, maybe ever. We’ll all just wait and see what the next step is.