Weightlifting is one of the original nine sports to debut in the first modern Summer Olympics in 1896, starting as a men’s sport in the Field event which included two contests, the one-hand lift and two-hand lift. Today, the sport involves the snatch—grabbing the barbell with a wide grip and lifting it overhead in one motion, and the clean and jerk—lifting the barbell to shoulder level before raising it overhead with a second, upward thrust. There are 15 different weight classes, eight for men and seven for women.
Doping has long been an issue in weightlifting, and that won’t change at the Rio Games, as the entire Russian Weightlifting Federation has been banned all eight qualified Russian weightlifters have been banned from competing. According to the Washington Post, weightlifting accounts for 16% of all doping violations, tied with cycling, and wrestling has the highest percentage of athletes who test positive for doping—1.9%.
The Chinese team, who took home five gold medals in 2012 and eight gold medals in ’08, will once again be a favorite heading into Rio and have qualified a maximum 10 competitors (six men, four women) for the ninth consecutive year. Lu Xiaojun, who won gold in the 77-kg class in 2012 will return along with Long Qingquan, who won gold in the 56-kg class in 2008. A pair of Chinese world record-holders, Chen Lijun (62 kg) and Deng Wei (63 kg), will make their Olympic debuts this year.
Kazakhstan, which placed second overall in 2012 with four gold medals, also has 10 competitors who qualify. However, the International Weightlifting Federation stripped Kazakhstan of a male and female spot due to multiple positive cases of doping during the qualification period, so five men and three women will compete in Rio.
The U.S. ranks third overall in gold medals won with 16. However, America hasn’t medaled since 2000, when Tara Nott won gold in the 48-kg women’s class and Cheryl Haworth earned bronze in the 75-kg category. The drought for U.S. men is much longer—1984 to be exact—when Mario Martinez won silver and Guy Carlton won bronze. Four American athletes will compete this year, three women and one man. Sarah Robles, who is considered the strongest woman in the United State and will compete in the 75+ kg category, is perhaps America’s best chance at earning a medal. Morghan King (-48 kg) and Jenny Arthur (-75 kg) are the other two female competitors. Kendrick Farris (-94 kg) is the lone male competitor.
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Athletes to watch
Kendrick Farris, USA
After placing eighth in 2008 and 10th in ’12, Farris will compete in his third Olympics at the age of 30. Farris made the cut after lifting 802 lbs total at the 2016 Pan-American Championships, which was good enough for gold. It was Farris’s second Pan-Am win after earning gold in the 85-kg division in 2010. Farris also won gold last summer at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.
Lu Xiaojun, China
After earning gold in the 77-kg class at the 2012 Olympics, Xiaojun is looking to repeat this year. Xiaojun has been one of the best in the world in his category, earning gold at the 2009, ’11 and ’13 World Championships, and at the ’14 Asian Games. He’s the Olympic record holder for both the snatch and the total in his category.
Ilya Ilyin, Kazakhstan
The 28-year-old will return to the Olympics for the third time in his career to defend his crown. Ilyin earned gold in the 94-kg category at the 2008 and ’12 Olympics, and though he did not compete in the 2015 World Championship, it would be foolish to count him out this year. He holds the world record in the 105 kg clean and jerk with 542 lbs, and in total with 963 lbs. According to NBCOlympics.com, his likeness has been printed on a Kazakhstani stamp.
Sarah Robles, United States
Considered the strongest woman in America, Robles will look to improve on her seventh-place finish in the 2012 Olympics. This year’s contest will be part of her comeback tour as Robles was banned from weightlifting from 2013-15 after testing positive for steroids. She lifted 279 kg at the 2015 World Championships, her personal best and sixth overall.
Rim Jong-Sim, North Korea
Jong-Sim earned gold at the 2012 Olympics in the 69-kg category and will return this year to try for gold in the 75 kg division. Last year, she earned silver at the 2015 World Championships in the -75 kg division despite suffering a hip injury during the competition. Her performance, which happened after doctors recommended she give up, was described as an amazing display of courage and determination by her fellow competitors.
Men’s 56-kg—Aug. 7
Men’s 62-kg—Aug. 8
Men’s 69-kg—Aug. 9
Men’s 77-kg—Aug. 10
Men’s 85-kg—Aug. 12
Men’s 94-kg—Aug. 13
Men’s 105-kg—Aug. 15.
Men’s 105+ kg—Aug. 16
Women’s 48-kg—Aug. 6
Women’s 53-kg—Aug. 7
Women’s 58-kg—Aug. 8
Women’s 63-kg—Aug. 9
Women’s 69-kg—Aug. 10
Women’s 75-kg—Aug. 12
Women’s 75+ kg—Aug. 14