Two big questions surround Olympic weightlifting in 2012: Will London be the stage for another Chinese rout, after they won eight of 15 available golds in Beijing, and no other nation won more than two? And more importantly, can the sport avoid being further tainted by doping scandals? In the lead-up to the 2008 Games, several weightlifters were suspended for drug issues. Two male medalists from Beijing -- 69-kg gold-winner Liao Hui of China and 56-kg silver-winner Hoang Anh Tuan of Vietnam -- are banned from London after failing urine tests at the 2010 world championships. Nurcan Taylan of Turkey, a female gold medalist in London, is also banned for four years for doping.
Will any more big names join them on the tainted-lifter list?
Fifteen golds are available in London, in eight male weight categories (56, 62, 69, 77, 85, 94, 105 and 105+ kg) and seven female (48, 53, 58, 63, 69, 75 and 75+ kg) categories. Results are determined by the combined total of two lifts: the snatch and clean-and-jerk. The Olympic weightlifting venue is ExCel, a complex of five arenas that also plays host to boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis and wrestling.
American weightlifting has fallen on hard times, failing to medal in the past two Olympics. Team USA's highest finish in Beijing was a pair of sixths, by Cheryl Haworth in the heavyweight category and Melanie Roach in the 53 kg. Neither Haworth nor Roach will appear in London. The most realistic medal hopeful from the three-person American team is Sarah Robles, a 23-year-old former track athlete at Arizona State. Robles' 258-kg combined total from March's U.S. trials -- nine kg better than her 2011 worlds result, which was then good for 10th place -- puts her within range of bronze-medal contention, but she'd likely need to exceed her personal best to get on the podium.
The men's 77-kg category should be the setting for a hotly contested South Korea-China showdown. The Chinese hope to dominate the five lightest men's categories (56, 62, 69, 77 and 85 kg), and in Beijing, South Korea's Sa Jae-Hyouk prevented their clean sweep of golds by winning the 77 kg over Li Hongli. Jae-Hyouk is back in London, where he'll likely have to fend off two new, formidable Chinese challengers: Lu Xiaojun, who beat him by 15 kgs in the 2011 worlds; and youngster Lu Haojie, who came out of nowhere at this year's Chinese nationals, winning two golds. Haojie beat Xiaojun in the snatch by setting a new world record of 175 kgs, and won the overall title with a 375-kg total.
A U.S. male weightlifter hasn't medaled since Mario Martinez (silver) and Guy Carlton (bronze) did it in 1984 -- and that was in an Olympics boycotted by the powerhouse Soviet Union. Because the American men earned just one spot in London -- by eking out a fourth-place finish among non-qualifiers in the Pan American Games in May -- Shreveport, La.'s Kendrick Farris represents their only chance. The 25-year-old finished eighth in the 85-kg category in Beijing but slipped to 19th in the 2011 worlds, and is considered an extreme longshot to medal. Far from a household name, even among Olympians, Farris
Any Chinese medals at this Games will be done without the protein power of restaurant beef, meat or lamb. The country's Olympians were forbidden from eating those foods due to risks that consuming the livestock-supplement clenbuterol would trigger failed drug tests.
July 28-Aug. 1 and Aug. 3-Aug. 7. Full schedule