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Olympic weightlifting class notorious for positive doping tests may get chopped

Kazakhstan’s Ilya Ilyin, seen here in 2012, has twice been stripped of gold medals in the 94-kilogram division because of positive doping tests. (Mike Groll/Associated Press)

Olympic weightlifting looks like it’s about to undergo a makeover. For at least one division, it may be extreme.

“The IOC wants more than anything to get rid of the 94s,” Antonio Urso, president of the European Weightlifting Federation (EWF), said this week (via Inside the Games). He was referring to the notorious men’s 94-kilogram division that has seen more positive doping tests than any other over the years.

More than one-fifth of the sport’s positive tests from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics came from competitors in the 94-kilogram division, resulting in the two-time disqualification of gold medalist Ilya Ilyin of Kazakhstan, who was initially crowned the winner in both Beijing and London.

The 2012 event was especially embarrassing for the sport. Not only was Ilyin disqualified, but so were the original silver and bronze medalists, Aleksandr Ivanov of Russia and Anatoli Ciricu of Moldova, after both men tested positive. To make matters worse, the fourth-, sixth- and seventh-place finishers also failed tests, which resulted in the original fifth-place finisher, Saeid Mohammadpour of Iran, getting the gold, while eighth-place finisher Kim Min-Jae of South Korea won silver and ninth-place competitor Tomasz Zielinski of Poland won bronze. (Incidentally, Zielinski was later banned from competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of doping.)

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Nixing the 94-kilogram division isn’t as simple as it appears. Simply omitting it from the program would leave a gaping hole between weight classes, which means the Olympics might have to adjust all of the classes to make things more even.

“We cannot just remove that category and keep the others, as there would be a 20-kilogram difference between one category and the next [85 and 105], and that is far too much,” Urso said.

Tokyo first announced in June that it would cut one event from the men’s competition, citing gender equity. While men have traditionally competed among eight weight classes, women have only had seven. The number of athletes allowed to enter is also expected to drop by 56 compared to last summer’s Rio Olympics.

“Our duty is to ensure that our sport is Olympic, but it may be the case in the future that not all our events are Olympic, like in many other sports,” International Weightlifting Federation chief Attila Adamfi said (via Inside the Games).

Adamfi is one of five people on the commission that will make a final decision on which events will feature in Tokyo in 2020. The commission next meets in November, but it remains unclear when it might make its final decision.

Weightlifting has long been part of the Olympic program, although it has undergone some changes since it appeared in the first iteration of the modern Olympics in 1896. After a 24-year hiatus, it returned in 1920, while weight classes — just five for men — were introduced in 1932. It would take almost 70 years for the women’s competition to enter the Games in 2000. From that year until today, the competition has remained unchanged, spanning 15 weight classes total between men and women.

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