Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Weightlifting struggles in doping quagmire

AFP , ATHENS

Gold medalist Hossein Reza Zadeh of Iran, center, raises his arms to the crowd with silver medalist Viktors Scerbatihs of Latvia, left, and bronze medalist Velicko Cholakov of Bulgaria after the men's Over-105kg event.

PHOTO: AP

Even the world's strongest man Hossein Rezazadeh could not pull weightlifting out of the drugs mire which is threatening its Olympic future.

The Iranian icon summoned up all of his awesome power to set a new world record in the superheavyweight class by lifting the equivalent of two fridge freezers above his head but his amazing feat of strength did not silence the critics.

Rezazadeh, the sport's one true superstar, was confronted with the drugs issue -- which has seen 10 weightlifters kicked out of the Olympics -- at his victory press conference on Wednesday.

"Our [Musli] religion forbids doping," he said. "It is up to athletes to compete properly and fairly. If doping cases continue there may have to be some action [by the International Olympic Committee]."

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) fear that the IOC may take another long, hard look at the sport's place in the Olympics and have promised even more Draconian measures against the drug cheats.

"After these Games we will find means to be even tougher as we fight to rid the sport of this scourge," said Tamas Ajan, the president of the IWF.

As a first step, the IWF will ban all weightlifters unmasked as drug cheats in Athens from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"This is our rule -- anyone who has tested positive will be suspended from competition for two years and also banned from taking part in the next Olympics," said IWF vice-president Sam Coffa.

The Herculean efforts of two-time world champion Rezazadeh on his way to winning a second straight Olympic gold were a blessing to the under-fire IWF.

There were gasps of amazement from the crowd as the 26-year-old colossus beat his own world mark in the clean and jerk with a stunning lift of 263.5kg.

He defeated his nearest rival by an astonishing 17.5kg to underline his seeming invinciblity.

"It was unrealistic to think about gold given what Rezazadeh has achieved. Essentially he is unbeatable. Things can change but in the forseeable future nobody has a chance to overtake him," said runner-up Viktors Scerbatihs of Latvia.

The drugs scandal which enveloped weightlifting helped write the final chapter in a Greek tragedy for competitors from the host country.

Gold-laden Greek weightlifters were the poster boys of the Olympics with their images on billboards, phone cards and soft drink cans but they won a solitary bronze and were engulfed in doping controversy.

Leonidas Sampanis was reduced to tears after being stripped of his 62kg bronze and triple Olympic champions Pyrros Dimas and Akakios Kakiasvilis failed in their bids for record fourth golds.

His body wracked by injuries, Dimas left his shoes on the stage to announce his retirement but the 35-year-old Kakiasvilis vowed to repay the country for their support by competing at the Beijing Olympics.

China topped the medal table with 12 medals, including three golds from the women's "Dream Team" and two from the powerful men's squad.

Teenager Liu Chunhong, the 2003 women's World Lifter of the Year, was the star performer for China, beating three world records on her way to the 69kg title.

Tiny Turk Halil Mutlu, one of the sport's great showmen, won his third successive Olympic gold and the "Little Dynamo" teased his Chinese rivals by challenging them to try and stop him winning a record fourth in Beijing.

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