Weightlifting legend Liu Chunhong and two other China Olympic gold medallists caught in doping retests
Fellow 2008 champions Chen Xiexia, who won China’s first gold in Beijing, and Cao Lei also return positives
Double Olympic weightlifting champion Liu Chunhong, enshrined as one of the 100 lifters of the century, is facing shame after a positive retest of her doping samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Two other Chinese Olympic champions, Cao Lei and Chen Xiexia, and eight other medallists have also been named and could be stripped of their titles after failing retests from the same Games.
The International Weightlifting Federation says the 11 tested positive for a range of banned substances in the latest scandal to shake the sport, which is already processing retests which caught numerous medallists from the 2008 and 2012 Games.
Liu, Cao and Chen all tested positive for GHRP-2, which stimulates growth hormone production, while Liu also tested positive for the stimulant sibutramine.
Liu broke three world records in defending her title in the women’s 69kg division in Beijing. She lifted 128kg in the snatch, 158kg in the clean and jerk, and her total of 286kg beat the previous mark by an astounding 10kg.
She then revealed the price she had paid. “What I want the most is to spend some time with my parents,” she said. “From the last Olympics until now I have only spent six days with my parents.”
Liu, who also won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was initially recruited into China’s sports machine in judo but her strength was spotted and she was quickly moulded into a formidable weightlifter.
The International Weightlifting Federation enshrined Liu as one of the governing body’s top 100 lifters of the century after she won two titles at the 2003 world championships, and at the Athens Games the following year.
Cao Lei sets an Olympic record of 128kg in the women’s 75kg weightlifting snatch competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Photo: Reuters
Chen won China its opening gold medal at the Beijing Games and within days it was reported her total prize money from various levels of government, private donors and sponsors soared above 4 million yuan (HK$4.66 million)
Chen was also honoured as one of the nation’s “10 outstanding” young people after her victory.
Her family was given a huge plasma television on the first day of the Olympics as a gift from the village government so residents could watch Chen. Her father, Chen Xiquan, said at the time: “She wins the honour for our family. We are all proud of her.”
Cao was beauty conscious despite having to put on weight to survive in a highly competitive national weightlifting team.
“My belief is that being healthy is being beautiful,” said Cao after winning the 75kg gold medal. “We are very healthy, so we are beautiful women. There is a saying, ‘Health leads the trend in fashion’.”
The other eight medallists named are from Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Belarus, and include world record holder Andrei Rybakou of Belarus, who won silver in 2008.
Four other weightlifters from Beijing 2008 who did not win medals were also named as having failed tests. They include Kazakhstan’s Maiya Maneza and Belarus’ Iryna Kulesha, both of whom won medals in 2012 but not 2008 and are already suspended over retests from 2012.
A further 10 lifters who competed at the 2008 Olympics, including five medallists, had already been suspended in June and July after failing an earlier wave of retests.
One medal, the silver won by Turkey’s Sibel Ozkan in the women’s 48kg class, has already been stripped.
The retests are part of an ongoing process led by the International Olympic Committee.
Weightlifting at this month’s Rio Olympics was also marred by doping, with Kyrgyzstan’s Izzat Artykov losing his bronze medal after testing positive.
Additional reporting by Associated Press