Brian Oliver

Imagine the scene at the Tokyo International Forum on Saturday, July 31.

The final moments of the men's 81 kilograms category at Tokyo 2020, and up steps Lu Xiaojun of China, one of the world's most popular weightlifters, to make his final attempt before retiring from the sport four days after his 37th birthday.

To this point, as the television commentators keep pointing out, every single weightlifting medal ceremony has featured an athlete or a National Federation tainted by doping, or the winner "only won because the best lifter was banned for doping".

Lu makes the lift with that trademark squat jerk, screams with joy, and is cheered off the platform as the world watches on television.

Commentators forget doping for this session and laud his achievement.

Lu is a headline story not just in China but worldwide, because he has just become the first weightlifter from Asia to win three Olympic gold medals, and the oldest from anywhere, and the first from anywhere to win three in the 21st century.

He is a sporting hero who has just given an immeasurable, invaluable boost to a sport that is absolutely, utterly, totally, irredeemably desperate for good news.

Could it happen? Of course.

Will it happen? Absolutely no chance - because the people who have taken weightlifting to the lowest of lows are still in charge and they would never, ever prioritise "good news" or the global standing of the sport above their own interests.

Lu Xiaojun has only one Olympic gold medal to his name, you might say, so how can it happen anyway?

Make no mistake, it can - but only if the self-serving members of the International Weightlifting Federation's (IWF) Executive Board, and especially the member from Kazakhstan, do something they have never even dreamed of doing and put the sport's interests first.

According to the IWF website the Board currently comprises three members whose National Federations are banned from Tokyo 2020 for serious doping offences, two more who could be excluded for the same reason, five who have restricted athlete quotas (yes, doping again) and another who is nearing the end of a five-year suspension imposed by a national sport court. 

At London 2012, Lu was a long way clear of his rivals in the old 77kg category.

He went to Rio 2016 as one of the strongest favourites for another gold and had a pair of golden shoes made for the occasion.

But those who know the sport watched in disbelief as Nijat Rahimov of Kazakhstan smashed Lu's clean and jerk world record by four kilograms to win on the old body weight rule.

Rahimov, who went up 12kg between one lift and the next, had served a two-year doping suspension from 2013 to 2015, when he competed for Azerbaijan.

Lu Xiaojun of China is one of the world's most popular weightlifters ©Getty Images
Lu Xiaojun of China is one of the world's most popular weightlifters ©Getty Images

During his absence Rahimov somehow managed to improve his personal best by so much that he came back to win a world title, break the world record and "win" that Olympic gold medal.

Since Rio 2016 his best effort has been 35kg lower than his Olympic Games career best of 379kg.

His performance in Rio was for many just not believable, and the Egyptian bronze medallist Mohamed Ehab said at the press conference: "I hope this was a 100 per cent clean competition."

Lu might have complained too but he was gracious in defeat, saying: "I met a stronger competitor."

The doubters were right to doubt.

On January 18 this year, the International Testing Agency (ITA) asserted anti-doping rule violations against two athletes for suspected sample swapping.

Dumitri Captari of Romania was one, and Rahimov was the other.

The decision was based on evidence from an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

When the ITA hit weightlifting with yet another doping scandal yesterday, by charging three high-profile figures with corrupt anti-doping practices, it revealed more information about the case of Rahimov.

He is accused of using somebody else's urine to provide a sample for testers on March 15, 2016, and again on June 10, 2016, and again on July 16, 2016.

Rahimov "won" his gold medal on August 10, 2016.

When he tested positive for Azerbaijan in 2013 you would never have known it, as it was one of the cases reportedly covered up by corruption at the IWF, details of which were in the ITA report published yesterday.

Rahimov was then allegedly involved in sample swapping three times in the build-up to Rio 2016, not long after his extraordinarily productive two-year doping ban.

He is a known "cheat" who has competed for two serially cheating countries.

When his case is closed he could be disqualified from Rio 2016 and the gold medal will pass to Lu.

It's all about timing from here.

Processing a doping violation can take weeks, months, sometimes more than a year, but if all the evidence is there, as it is, the case can be prioritised and closed swiftly.

It is not impossible to speed things up and suspend Rahimov.

Then the International Olympic Committee could swiftly arrange for an amended result to be endorsed, and Lu could go to Tokyo as a double Olympic champion. 

Nijat Rahimov of Kazakhstan celebrates at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
Nijat Rahimov of Kazakhstan celebrates at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

How much better would that be than the seemingly endless process that other athletes endured in the reallocation of medals from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games years after the event?

Kazakhstan could just say "hands up, no appeal" and it would all happen in good time.

No chance of that, because Zhanat Tussupbekov, President of the Kazkhstan Weightlifting Federation, sits on the Executive Board of the IWF, which has arguably done more damage to the sport it is supposed to govern than any other entity in weightlifting's history.

Kazakhstan, like Russia, has clearly cleaned up its act.

Its former dopers have been hopeless since they had to train and compete clean - but in the meantime it has brought through some outstanding young lifters including one of the best in the world for his age, Rakhat Bekbolat.

If it could only focus just on the future, rather than the past, it could do weightlifting an enormous favour.

It could let the authorities deal with Rahimov without any further delays, and it could give weightlifting a priceless "good news day" in Tokyo.

No chance. The Executive Board strikes again, and weightlifting suffers again.