Mistake burdens officials

Mistake burdens officials

The Age
May 13, 2004

The president of the Australian Weightlifting Federation, Sam Coffa,
has accepted part of the blame for an “outrageous” blunder that
resulted in Australia having just one men’s representative in the
sport for Athens.

The men’s team finished second to the tiny island nation of Nauru
at last week’s Oceania championships in Fiji and will take its
smallest-ever weightlifting team to an Olympic Games.

The Australian women’s team finished first in Suva and qualified
one lifter.

The ignominy of the men losing out to a country of 11,300 people was
compounded by the fact coaches left behind a lifter ranked No. 1 in
the world – because they thought Australia would qualify first anyway.

“The one or two lifters needed to get us over the line were left
behind,” Coffa said yesterday.

“This was following advice from our coaching panel that we had enough
buffer to take us over the line and it didn’t prove to be the case.

“I won’t apportion the blame to anyone in particular but we are all
guilty and that includes me.”

Sergo Chakhoyan, currently training in Armenia and rated world No. 1 in
the 85 kilograms class, was the weightlifter told he was not required.

With his bronze medal in the clean and jerk at last year’s world
championships, he pre-qualified for the Games and he’ll now fill the
sole men’s spot for Australia. Nauru will take two lifters.

The bungle left Chris Rae, who won the 105 kilograms-plus class in
Suva, a shattered man.

The 23-year-old Sydney Olympian was in line to fill the second spot
pending results at the Games selection trials in Melbourne in June.

“It’s a huge error. It’s devastating for me and it has cost me the
chance of making the Olympics,” Rae said.

“The coaching staff said we didn’t need him (Chakhoyan) but the result,
where no athlete performed exceptionally badly and we still lost,
has proved the coaching staff has made a mistake.

“I thought it was odd – even on paper (before the Oceania
championships) it looked like the Australians weren’t going to win.

“For us to lose the position is a massive blow to me and it hurts to
know not picking the best team has probably cost me a chance to go
to a second Olympics.”

Rae is second in the Australian selection criteria for Athens and was
confident of qualifying for the Games, at which he said a top-10 spot
had been on the cards.

Australian coach Luke Borreggine refused to comment about the selection
mistake yesterday.