Chakhoyan hard to find; weightlifting hard to understand

August 12, 2004, Thursday 9:52 AM Eastern Time

Chakhoyan hard to find; weightlifting hard to understand

By Glenn Cullen


Sergo Chakhoyan can be a difficult man to find.

The great hope of Australian weightlifting at the Olympics has been
locked away training in Armenia for much of the year in the hope he
can win his adopted country its first gold medal at a Games since
Dean Lukin in 1984.

In the 85kg division he will be challenged by hometown favourite and
triple Olympic gold medallist Pyrros Dimas and a handful of other
competitors for the top prize but must be considered a show given his
No.1 ranking and third place at last year’s world championships.

Chakhoyan’s mobile phone in Armenia is typically answered by his
brother, or Australian coach Luke Borreggine.

The 34-year-old, who arrives in Athens on Saturday for competition on
August 21, is invariably training, eating or sleeping.

Such is the life of a weightlifter.

The Australian Olympic Committee had some trouble getting hold of him

Chakhoyan, who received a two-year suspension for the use of
stanozolol after winning the Goodwill Games with a world
record-breaking lift in 2001, has been in Armenia all year.

AOC president John Coates said there “were some issues concerning the
provision of his whereabouts information” during his three and a half
month absence.

His place on the Australian Olympic team was withheld until results
of a drugs test on July 8 was made known.

He returned a negative result and was nominated as Australia’s sole
men’s weightlifting representative.

But events before his testing also raised questions about
weightlifting in Australia.

Apparently available for May’s Oceania Championships Chakhoyan was
not selected and remained in Armenia.

Without the world No.1 and another top lifter in Alex Karapetyn,
Australia lost the overall title to Nauru – population about 12,000 –
and in the process sacrificed its second men’s spot at the Olympics.

The bungle exasperated many in weightlifting circles but
accountability or definitive reasons for the mistake have yet to be
made public.

Sam Coffa, president of the Australian Weightlifting Federation since
1983 said the issue was “sorted out” internally but said no-one was
sanctioned from the AWF.

“What happened in Fiji wasn’t entirely the fault of the coaches,
managers, whatever,” said Coffa.

“It’s not an individual’s fault, rather our own stupidity with our
selection criteria.”

For former national executive director and Los Angeles Olympics
silver medallist Robert Kabbas it’s a lot more than that.

“It’s the biggest blunder I can recall here and people want to see
someone pay for that blunder,” Kabbas said.

“There’s a lot of frustration and anger within the Australian
weightlifting community for that very reason.”

Despite simmering discontent with his former employer, Kabbas – who
said he left the AWF a year ago because of his “limited influence on
the sport” – said drug taking is not institutionalised in the sport.

“I guess it’s human nature to think that way,” said Kabbas who was
surprised by Chakhoyan’s 2001 positive.

“But I don’t think (drug taking) is institutionalised or a regime or
program that exists within the sport here, if it did you would
probably have less people testing positive.

“I genuinely believe (his non-selection for the Oceania
Championships) was just a stupid mistake.”

For his part, Chakhoyan is no Robinson Crusoe when it comes to
weightlifters and drugs in Australia.

Between 1990 and June 2004 there were 19 positive tests in Australia
and a further four lifters who refused to submit to testing and were
subsequently banned.

The figure ranks it only behind cycling in terms of positive tests
from a sport in Australia during that period.

There have been three positive tests of Australians and two failures
to comply in the last 12 months, including the bizarre incident of
Caroline Pileggi, who was originally nominated as Australia’s sole
women’s representative for Athens.

Pileggi received a two-year ban after running away from testers while
training for the Olympics in Fiji in May.

It was at a gym run by Coffa’s brother Paul.

If the tests from Australians this year were accrued in international
competition and not domestically, the International Weightlifting
Federation – of which Coffa is vice president – would have had the
power to suspend Australia from all competition for a period of up to
two years.

Coffa says, he’s just pleased that people are getting picked up if
they are taking drugs.

“It’s a concern but one positive means one less cheat,” he said.

Ultimately Kabbas just sees a sport he is passionate about, in

“I think the weightlifting scene over the last few years has been
less than ideal,” Kabbas said.

“The late 70s and 80s were seen as the golden period of Australian
weightlifting and while that may be flattering for those of us who
lifted during that period it’s not a comforting thought to know that
the golden age of your sport was some 20 years ago.”

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress