Weightlifting coming clean after fall of Olympic champion

FOUR-TIME World weightlifting champion Ilya Ilyin has signalled his intention to retire from the sport following the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Changing of the guard: Controversial weightlifter Ilya Ilyin celebrates Olympic gold in 2012. (Picture: Getty Images)

The Kazakhstan lifter was the star of the show at London 2012, taking a second Olympic gold in the now infamous men’s 94kg class before being stripped stripped of both gold medals in 2016 as a result of his anti-doping samples from both competitions being retested and being found to contain banned anabolic steroids, namely stanozolol and testosterone.

The extent of cheating was so severe in that weight class that Great Britain’s Peter Kirkbride, who finished 16th, is now classified as ninth following subsequent doping disqualifications.

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Kirkbride could even inherit eighth, the sport’s funding target for 2012, after Albania’s Endri Karina returned an adverse analytical finding last year.

Leeds United CEO Angus Kinnear is an independent chair at BWL. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

It is a case of what could have been for the sport’s national governing body, who were based in Headingley in Leeds, as government support for the men’s performance programme was axed soon after.

Ilyin was later stripped of his 2008 Beijing gold, but escaped further sanctions after the test results were delivered the wrong way round.

The two Olympic positives were treated as one case instead of two and he avoided a potential eight-year ban.

Ilyin has since outlined his retirement intentions to a Kazakhstan magazine. The developments are of particular interest in Yorkshire where British Weightlifting are based.

One person paying particular attention is former Yorkshire cricketer Ashley Metcalfe, who is now the chief executive of British Weight Lifting (BWL).

“I wonder if this is a win for clean sport as he accepts Olympic and World success is now beyond him, or just age having the final say?,” Metcalfe wrote on social media. 

“Rumours suggest he may open his own weightlifting club…Time will tell.”

Ilyin has had a strong influence on the sport in the UK, having spectated and competed at competitions run by the BWL, an organisation who have now relocated across Leeds to Kirkstall.  

While studying in London, Ilyin attended the British Universities Championships at Twickenham in 2015 and received a hero’s welcome before his ban.

He received a more mixed reception on his comeback at the British International Open last year in Coventry.

It was the first event in the Angus Kinnear era, following the Leeds United CEO’s appointment as BWL’s independent chair and he was treated to a spectacular showdown.

Ilyin narrowly missed out on gold by a single kilogram in the men’s 96kg class after an intense battle with Kyril Pyrohov, who won with a total of 351kg.

Speaking outside an anti-doping station after the event Ilyin said: “My big goal in life since I was a child was to win four Olympic Games. I competed in two, and didn’t make it to one, so I have to try one more. I will finish after Tokyo; Tokyo 2020 will be my last one.”

However, Ilyin was 87kg down on his lifetime best and is languishing 30th in the Olympic rankings with eighth place required for Tokyo. The revised qualification system makes it more difficult with athletes now qualifying individually.

No longer could lifters hide away and avoid testing while the reserves racked up precious points. Ilyin’s abdication comes amid a wind of change in the sport.

The influence of the Eastern Bloc is diminishing. Now the sport is operating under American leadership with plans to relocate from Budapest, Hungary to Lausanne, Switzerland, and Britain could play a big role on the world stage. 

Leeds Beckett University graduate Emily Campbell racked up numerous World Cup, European and Commonwealth medals before the lockdown and is one to watch on resumption.

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