The Jacked-Up Elephant in the Room: Doping in Weightlifting

There’s a major scandal about to erupt in the elite weightlifting world. In case you missed it, WADA tested around 265 old samples from athletes who competed in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics. The re-testing of samples was not routine (unlike how they caught Lance Armstrong). This was for two reasons.

First, they were intelligence-based tests, meaning WADA and the IOC moved to re-test based on a tip-off from someone. Second, they were focused on athletes who are expected to compete in Rio.  This aggressive re-testing will leave athletes in no doubt that if they cheat they WILL get caught, and WILL be prevented from continuing to cheat.

Tamas Ajan, President of the International Weightlifting Federation and member of the International Olympic Committee, announced that twenty weightlifters’ retested samples have come back positive: ten from London, ten from Beijing. Five are Olympic champions. No names have been released yet, but when they are it’s certain to have a massive impact on the sport. Especially when you consider that these re-tests are focused on athletes who may compete in Rio this summer.

Never give up on your dreams

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Doping is always a hot issue in weightlifting. Because I spend time double-checking medications before I consume anything, I thought I would take time to talk about how I feel about this.

It’s Pretty Simple.

My stance on doping in sport is clear-cut: rules are rules. If you break them, you are a cheat. If you follow them, you are not. This is true whether or not you’re caught. I don’t really care who you are, what else you have won, what country you come Sad-Meme-02.jpgfrom, or what sport you do. Maria Sharapova and Marion Jones are both athletes I admired. But they’re also both cheats.


I would like to think this is a very easy point of view for others to follow. But you’d be surprised. Many people believe doping should just be legal in sport, as it’s happening anyway. Some are even so blasé about it as to compare it to supplements!

The Tainted Sport

I feel like a weightlifter caught doping is no big deal. This may be because in Britain the sport still isn’t as big as it is over in Russia or China. I mean, I was having discussions on the train with random people when the details regarding Maria Sharapova were released, and it was seen as devastating for the tennis community.

Compare that to this past week, when my fellow gym-goers have been gleefully placing bets on who the doped Olympic champions could be. ‘It’s got to be so-and-so because they are from Kazakhstan.’ ‘Oh no, it can’t be anyone from China, they pay the IOC too much money.’ There’s definitely this feeling that while other sports are ‘pure’, weightlifting is tainted from the ground up.

Maybe weightlifters are just more honest about the fact that it happens (unless you are Charis Chan, in which case you will argue you didn’t cheat, but cum-guzzled your way to a USA national record instead). Or maybe people are reluctant to smear the flagship Olympic sports such as athletics or swimming, even though doping may be happening there to the same degree.

Better make sure it’s steroid-free!

How did this scandal happen? Does it come down to the testing methods of individual countries? That’s one of my first thoughts. It seems to me that some national federations are willing to carry out cover-ups and get false negatives in order to hit big at the Olympics.

National sports teams, coaches, and even national sports programs are being caught doping. Russian athletics is facing huge problems with doping, and the Bulgarian weightlifting team have already been banned from the Olympics. Doping isn’t just a weightlifting problem.

Where does this leave us? Some people, as mentioned above, favour legalisation of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Others want a reset of records in order to clear the field while a tightening happens in world anti-doping control. But a reset has already occurred in weightlifting.  Is this the slap in the face the world needs to realise how bad the state of doping is?

Hulk serum from the corrosion lab again, of course. Not my pre-workout.


Where Do We Go?

This whole situation makes me frustrated and sad. The only positive aspect I can see is that athletes who were clean during the last few Olympics stand to be awarded medals once the PED cheats are stripped of theirs. But even that seems sad, as British javelin-thrower Goldie Sayers’s story shows.

Once she ‘lost’ the bronze in Beijing, her career took an entirely different trajectory than it would have if she’d been awarded the medal she deserved. Even though she’s finally getting that medal, she can’t get those eight years back. Neither will any of the weightlifters who find themselves Olympic medallists after the fact if these allegations are upheld and athletes are banned.

I think everyone who cares about this sport has a lot of questions after these latest revelations:

  • Is doping an accepted risk in our sport?
  • Have any of our world records been set by clean athletes since the weight classes were changed?
  • Is the world anti-doping organisation taking bribes?
  • Are samples being analysed properly?
  • What does the future of weightlifting as an Olympic sport look like if so many of its top athletes are verified cheats?

I could write a small book about doping, how I see it, and how it makes me feel. But as it’s kind of a busy week for me, I’m going to list a few things I’ve seen said about the scandal recently in hopes of triggering a discussion among other weightlifters and strength athletes:

  • #pray4lu #pray4ilya #pray4everyone
  • They are the unlucky ones.
  • No one from China will be caught, they have too much money.
  • Does this mean they will be changing the weight categories and records again?
  • Yeah, it’s one of those sports where athletes objectively have so much to gain from doping if they can get away with it.
  • Why do they have to release the names? It’s like double-shaming.

Olga Zubova (75kg) and Vladimir Safonov, jerk 180kg!!!

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I would seriously like to hear people’s opinions of the statements above. I cannot weigh in (pun intended to lighten the mood) as much as I would like, simply because my answers to all of these are rather boring. I hate doping. I will do everything within my power as an athlete not to dope, and to inform other athletes around me not to get pulled into that vortex. I don’t agree it’s fashionable or acceptable. I believe it’s harming the future of our wonderful and graceful sport, which is one of the oldest in the Olympic Games.

The IOC and WADA are improving every year– this is evident as more athletes are being caught based on re-tests of their old samples, like these twenty Olympians. I do think all athletes should be named and the stance of these governing bodies should be clear.

What can you do about it?

I want to finish this post by being helpful. I recently attended a seminar presented by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) to help understand my responsibilities as an athlete. I want to pass on the main piece of information they gav e us:

Avoiding doping is always the athlete’s responsibility.

The athlete is always held accountable. If you participate in sport at a level where drug testing is a requirement, you need to know what you’re putting in your body and whether it falls foul of anti-doping lists. If it’s something you genuinely need (e.g. a salbutamol inhaler for asthma), you need to get a statement of therapeutic use from a doctor.

Finally, do you wonder where you really stand on the side of doping? I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a doping study at the University of Birmingham, looking into opinions of athletes and gym users towards doping. If you want to help with this study, please feel free to fill out this online questionnaire.



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