Iran’s Olympic champion weightlifter Kianoush Rostami made a career high total at the Qatar Cup ©Getty Images

Iran’s Olympic champion weightlifter Kianoush Rostami made a career high total in one of the best head-to-head contests of 2019 at the Qatar Cup in Doha, the final Olympic qualifying competition of the year – but he still needs a miracle if he is to go for gold again at Tokyo 2020.

Rostami, who has won two world titles and Olympic gold and silver since 2011, made five of his six lifts to pass the 400 kilogram mark for the first time earlier this week.

Fares Elbakh, the 21-year-old Qatari, then made his final lift to post his own personal best of 404kg and win by 1kg.

The 96kg showdown was by far the best contest of the five-day Qatar Cup and also the biggest field with 19 men taking part, some of them beaten by well over 100kg.

In fifth place was Ilya Ilyin, the Kazakh who was twice stripped of Olympic gold for doping and who remains 40kg or more below his career highs.

"It was good," said Rostami, who believes he can do better and "make a weight that nobody else can go near".

Even that, though, would probably not be enough to earn him a place in Tokyo.

The big problem for Rostami - a popular figure in the sport worldwide but a controversial one in Iran, where he trains alone at home - is his lack of points from the second phase of qualifying that ended on October 31.

Registering a total in all three of the six-month qualifying phases is essential for all lifters to have a realistic chance of qualifying.

Rostami had a controversial bomb-out in the snatch at the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships in Pattaya, Thailand in September - where Elbakh was second - which led to him protesting on the stage.

Fares Elbakh of Qatar won the 96kg competition at his home event ©Getty Images
Fares Elbakh of Qatar won the 96kg competition at his home event ©Getty Images

There was a mix-up over which weight he should take, a problem with the scoreboard, and Rostami had to wait "four or five minutes" on the stage, during which time his body cooled down and his mind was "too busy".

"Everything was bad for me, and it was the World Championships’ problem, not mine,” he said.

Rostami then travelled to Switzerland to compete in the final phase-two qualifier in Tramelan in the last week of October, only to discover that his entry had not been received in time.

For that, he blamed the Iran Weightlifting Federation, who sent in his entry "two or three days late", he said.

Iran can send only one 96kg lifter to Tokyo and Rostami believes his federation favours Sohrab Moradi, the Olympic champion and world record holder in the old 94kg class.

This is despite the fact that Moradi has suffered serious spine and shoulder injuries, is way short of competition fitness, and is even lower down the rankings than Rostami.

Moradi was, however, entered in that Swiss competition and although he lifted less than the 55kg women because of his lack of fitness, he did register a total, and crucial qualifying points in phase two.

Rostami is not the only Olympic medallist facing exclusion from Tokyo because of bomb-outs.

Daniyar Ismayilov, who won 69kg silver for Turkey in Rio, had two bomb-outs in the first phase of qualifying, and finished it with zero points.

At the Qatar Cup Ismayilov easily won the 73kg with 344kg, his second best performance since Rio.

Daniyar Ismayilov of Turkey produced a superb performance to win the 73kg event in Qatar ©Getty Images
Daniyar Ismayilov of Turkey produced a superb performance to win the 73kg event in Qatar ©Getty Images

Bomb-outs are commonplace but the absence of top lifters is bad for the sport, said Rostami, who feels particularly hard done by because of the circumstances of his failures.

"They (the IWF) should care more about this,” he said.

"If the best athletes are not there, if it is not as good a competition as it could be, it is bad for weightlifting and for the people watching.”

Ursula Garza Papandrea, the IWF vice-president who spoke to both Rostami and Ismayilov in Qatar, said, "It seems there are side-effects of the qualifying system that will potentially eliminate some of our best lifters.

"Obviously bomb-outs are part of the sport and people can dwell on that point, but this qualifying process was never intended to leave out the best lifters due to one bad meet.

"In a sport with low media attention, high-profile Olympic champions are a huge help overall by attracting more fans and viewers."

Like Rostami and Ismayilov, Kostova Boyanka, the Bulgaria-born 59kg lifter who tested positive at London 2012, had an earlier bomb out and is struggling to take the one female place available to Azerbaijan, for whom she has competed since 2011.

Boyanka won the 59kg in Doha with a total of 219kg, her best since returning from a two-year ban for that London positive but a long way short of her 2015 best.

Other women’s winners included Saikhom Mirabai of India in the 49kg, Choe Sim of North Korea at 64kg, and Iryna Dekha of Ukraine at 76kg.

Another Ukrainian, Kamila Konotop, had a career best of 202kg in the 55kg but was edged out by Uzbekistan’s Nuabbar Nabieva.

There was another career best for Italy's Mirko Zanni, who lifted 320kg in the men’s 67kg, while the 81kg winner Nico Mueller of Germany equalled his best with 355kg.