Sydney: Wgt: Gold may help red faces

July 23, 2004, Friday 6:24 AM Eastern Time

Wgt: Gold may help red faces

By Glenn Cullen

SYDNEY, AAP – Even a gold medal at the Olympics can only be
considered a minor salvage job on the wreckage that is Australian

Sergo Chakhoyan will head to Greece as the world No.1 rated lifter in
the 85kg class and is expected to vie with the host nation’s triple
gold medallist Pyrros Dimas for top honours in Athens.

Ultimately though anything Chakhoyan achieves will be undermined by
the drug scandals and selection debacle that has battered the sport
in the lead-up to the Games.

Weightlifting has long had more than its share of doping problems –
exemplified by the 11 positive tests at the 2003 World Championships
– but Australia had remained relatively clean.

Until 2004.

It started with two peripheral squad members, Seen Lee and Anthony
Martin, receiving two year bans for steroid use.

Much worse was to come as it was revealed Australia’s sole women’s
representative Caroline Pileggi refused to take a drugs test while
training in Fiji.

Pileggi too was given a two year-ban which she unsuccessfully
appealed and was replaced in the team by Deborah Lovely.

Meantime, questions had been raised about Chakhoyan – who’d already
served a two-year ban for steroid use in 2001 – after the Australian
Olympic Committee could not locate the lifter for three and a half
months while he was training in Armenia.

However, a doping test he underwent in Armenia three months before
the games came back negative.

And against the backdrop of the drugs controversy was a poor world
championship campaign and the debacle of the Oceania qualifiers where
Australian weightlifting officials sent an understrength team and
then lost a qualifying spot to the tiny island nation of Nauru.

Chakhoyan can’t turn things round for the sport but he can win gold.

Fifth at the Sydney Olympics, Chakhoyan won gold in the snatch
(non-Olympic) at last year’s world championships in Vancouver, and
bronze in the clean-and-jerk.

Australian officials said he was not 100 per cent fit at the time.

Dimas may still have an edge however, with partisan support and the
lure of an unprecedented fourth Olympic weightlifting gold for the
opening ceremony flagbearer, expected to work in his favour.

For Lovely it was a late call-up after Pileggi had edged out the
Queenslander in the selection trials.

The 21-year-old, a triple silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games
in Manchester, is unlikely to challenge for a medal but is hoping to
improve on her ninth place overall at the 2002 World Championships.

“To finish in the top six or to achieve my personal best is really
what I am aiming for,” she said.