- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

ATHENS — Weightlifting’s governing body isn’t about to give up its aggressive pursuit of drug cheaters, even if it jeopardizes the sport’s future in the Olympics, the group’s top official said yesterday after six more positive drug tests.

Five weightlifters were suspended for flunking drug tests taken before the Olympics, including two disqualified as they were about to walk to the lifting stand. All were caught using steroids.

Another, an unidentified woman from India, became the second to be caught by International Olympic Committee testing.

The International Weightlifting Federation apparently chose to announce the suspensions at the Olympics, rather than afterward, in an effort to convince the IOC it is adequately policing a sport with a reputation as the Games’ dirtiest. Twenty-one world-class weightlifters have been caught or suspended this year alone, or the equivalent of one out of every 13 Olympic qualifiers.

“I am sure you are asking, ‘Why are you doing these controls? You are digging your own grave,’” IWF president Tamas Ajan said. “Yes, this is true. But I tell you we are doing everything against the drugs, and we are going to continue the fight against the drugs because we are for fair play.”

The IWF said the suspended lifters were Wafa Ammouri of Morocco, Zoltan Kecskes of Hungary, Viktor Chislean of Moldova, Pratima Kumari Na of India and Sule Sahbaz of Turkey.

Ammouri and Kecskes were scheduled to lift Wednesday but were suspended just before their competitions. Kecskes was on the start list distributed to the media less than an hour before the competition.

Sahbaz is the most accomplished of the latest group, winning a European championship in 2002 and finishing third in the world championships at 170 pounds (77kg) in 2003. She was second in the European championships in April. Kecskes had an eighth-place finish at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Normally, suspensions are for two years unless the athlete is a repeat offender. Earlier this year, 2000 Olympic champion Galabin Boevski was banned for eight years after he failed a second drug test.

Ajan, who said one-third of the IWF’s annual budget goes to drug testing, also openly criticized India for employing foreign coaches — in this case, from Bulgaria, Russia and Belarus. He previously warned Indian weightlifting officials that too many athletes were testing positive.

“I told them, ‘You have to stop this,’” he said.

The news was welcomed by IOC president Jacques Rogge.

“The IOC praises the work and determination of the weightlifting federation in its fight against doping by testing its athletes on a systematic basis according to its rules,” he said in a statement.

The cases are the latest setback for a sport plagued by cheating athletes during the last two Olympics.

“Weightlifting has to survive the present situation,” Ajan said. “We are doing everything to make it a clean sport. For the future of the sport, it is necessary to have a clean, competitive sport.”

Ajan said weightlifting is the only Olympic sport to require all competitors to undergo drug testing in the week before the Games.

“Maybe I made a mistake to make special controls here, but I will continue,” Ajan said. “My federation was the first that started the very strong control. Weightlifting is the first sport that made out-of-competition tests in 1985, and we will continue this.”

On Monday, Myanmar’s Nan Aye Khine was stripped of her fourth-place finish Saturday at 1051/2 pounds (48kg) after she tested positive for steroids in IOC testing.

Embarrassed by four failed tests at the 2000 Games — including three that cost Bulgarians medals — the IWF cracked down earlier this year by banning three Bulgarians well before the games began. Two of Boevski’s Bulgarian teammates, former world champions Zlatan Vanev and Georgi Markov, drew 18-month suspensions that barred them from competing in Athens.

The three tampered with their doping tests nine months ago at the 2003 world championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, by submitting urine samples that came from the same person, the IWF said.

Eleven other weightlifters from 10 nations failed drug tests in Vancouver, according to the IWF ? including Shang Shichun, who set three world records while winning the women’s 165 pounds (75kg) for China. Banned substances were found in the tests of nine men and two women.

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