Brian Oliver

Halfway through the weightlifting programme at Tokyo 2020 Antonio Urso said, "The Olympic Games is demonstrating that it's possible to have a completely different sport, to rewrite weightlifting."

The Italian was uplifted by his nation’s best performance in decades but his positivity, after many years fighting against corruption before he resigned from the Board of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), was inspired by the efforts of others too.

By Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines, for example, who is now $660,000 (£475,000/€555,000) and two apartments better off than she was before she became her nation's first Olympic gold medallist in any sport, thanks to rewards from the Government and two wealthy businessmen.

And by Maude Charron, who may not be rewarded to that level but who proudly became the first Canadian woman to stand on top of the weightlifting podium.

Emily Campbell was Britain's first female Olympic medallist; Ecuador, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Turkmenistan, Syria and Latvia all had landmark achievements to celebrate.

So, of course, did the unmatched, uncatchable China, who won a record seven golds and one silver from a team of eight.

Elsewhere, hardcore fans of the sport were complaining that the contests were uncompetitive, that the Asians were too dominant, that standards were too low - especially the refereeing - and one even said it was "the worst Olympics ever".

Hidilyn Diaz is the Philippines' first-ever Olympic champion ©Getty Images
Hidilyn Diaz is the Philippines' first-ever Olympic champion ©Getty Images

The presence of athletes from Botswana, Madagascar and Palestine, they said, might chime in with Olympic ideals but it hardly makes this the pinnacle of weightlifting.

Those critics will just have to live with the reality.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) insists on universality so it will always be this way.

And without the money that comes from the IOC, weightlifting would be doomed.

Some of the strongest complaints concerned a qualifying system that allowed athletes to hop around the weight classes, and which was deemed too severe on those who had ill-timed injuries.

There were contrasting, debatable viewpoints from all parts of the world.

If you ignored the latest remarkable victory of Georgian Lasha Talakhadze and judged the rest of weightlifting at Tokyo 2020 purely on numbers you might side with the complainers; if you prioritised its "human interest" stories and protecting clean athletes you might side with Urso.

I am in the Urso camp, and I must admit to bias here. I enjoyed Tokyo 2020 partly because so many Commonwealth lifters did well.

When Australia's Eileen Cikamatana is added to the mix alongside all those who did so well in Tokyo, it makes for an intriguing competition at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games next year, an event that usually passes by barely noticed, at least by those from non-Commonwealth nations.

Personal bias aside, the one point all would agree on is that it will never be like this again if weightlifting remains in the Olympic Games in a post-COVID-19 world.

It will be much smaller by comparison and will look totally different.

There is no point going over the same ground as to why weightlifting might be kicked out by the IOC.

If you are not already aware why the IOC is not a fan of the IWF you can refer back to previous insidethegames articles here and here.

The past will always haunt weightlifting - the doping, the corruption - which is why Urso highlighted a "new era" in Tokyo, the first Olympic Games in decades at which the disgraced Tamás Aján was not a domineering presence.

In this new era, the worst offenders were punished for past, or recent, doping offences.

Four nations were banned outright, six were restricted to two athletes, 10 could send a maximum of four, and Colombia lost five of their quota of eight.

In many contests, the pressure on the athletes selected told.

Collectively, the nations restricted to two athletes had as many bomb-outs (three) as medals - and no golds.

Those rationed to a maximum of four fared better: one gold, from Uzbekistan, four silvers and a bronze, and three bomb-outs.

Lasha Talakhadze ended the Tokyo 2020 weightlifting programme in stunning fashion, breaking all three of his own super-heavyweight world records en route to a gold medal ©Getty Images
Lasha Talakhadze ended the Tokyo 2020 weightlifting programme in stunning fashion, breaking all three of his own super-heavyweight world records en route to a gold medal ©Getty Images

Turkey, Belarus, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) , Bulgaria and Ukraine did not win a medal between them, which partly explains why Europe was totally overshadowed by Asia again.

Another hugely important factor, which definitely benefited Canada, the US, Britain and Italy, was North Korea’s decision to stay at home because of the pandemic.

But that is all history now, and weightlifting must look forward.

Will a new Constitution finally be adopted in three weeks? Will the elections, whenever they are, lead to a new leadership?

Will the rules change? No sport has ever adopted slow-motion video reviews without controversy and weightlifting is no exception.

The sheer number of jury reviews and strict decisions on press-outs in Tokyo would surely have confused a live audience and maybe it is time for a rethink on the press-out.

Another big question: how many athletes will China and everybody else be able to send to Paris 2024 if weightlifting survives?

In Rio and Tokyo the maximum allowed per nation was about four per cent of the total, respectively 10 and eight.

So when the quota is down to 120 (if any) in Paris, having been 260 in Rio, that equates to five.

We are in an era of gender equality so it has to be an even number: four is far more likely than six.

Four athletes per team? Urso is right - weightlifting is heading into a new era.