(ATR) The heavy lifting begins in Anaheim, California.
Literally in sight of fabled Disneyland, the International Weightlifting Federation holds the 2017 World Championships over the next eight days in California.
The event has drawn 324 competitors from 64 nations, a smaller field than the 2015 tournament in Houston, Texas. No Olympic berths will be on the line this year, lessening the need for lifters to travel to the U.S. to compete.
Then there’s the impact from doping scandals plaguing the sport. Russia and China are among nine countries banned from the 2017 championships over doping violations. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine complete the list of nations banned by the IWF for one year.
The championships come one week ahead of an IOC decision on whether to suspend weightlifting from the 2024 Olympics in Paris over chronic doping in the sport. At the last world championships in 2015, 25 athletes tested positive, many of them medalists. In retesting of samples from the Beijing and London Olympics, 49 lifters have been cited for doping violations.
A plan of attack is due to be filed with the IOC Dec. 1, formulated by a commission for the federation. Details have not been fully disclosed, but more attention to random testing outside of competition, whereabouts compliance and education are among the elements.
The field of athletes will also not include North Korea, which elected not to send a team to Anaheim. USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews, one of the key organizers, tells Around the Ringsthe absence means the loss of a great opportunity for sport.
"We are bitterly disappointed. They would have been a leading nation here. I think it would have shown a great unity of sport over politics had the DPRK competed here in Anaheim. For me it’s a great shame that they are not competing here."
Andrews says along with the help of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. State Department has been able to grant visas to nearly every participant, including those from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Andrews, along with USA Weightlifting President Ursula Papandrea, heads a team of about 100 that includes 80 volunteers from Visit Anaheimin the staging of the second consecutive weightlifting world championships in the U.S. After original host Malaysia declared last year that it was unable to hold the event, Andrews said the U.S. quickly offered to step in to the breech.
"It is a great opportunity for us. It’s historic, 30 years after the first women’s weightlifting world championships here in the U.S. It’s the first gender equal worlds," he says.
"We’ve been able to do things more efficiently this time around," Andrews tells ATR.
He says the experience of handling the larger championships two years ago in Houston has made this hosting much easier. He also credits Sports Anaheim, the agency that seeks events for the city, for helping to deliver this year’s tournament on one year of notice. He says the support of Sports Anaheim "is absolutely essential" to the staging of the event for an organization with limited resources such as USA Weightlifting.
The Anaheim Convention Center is the venue for the world championships. The sprawling complex, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is across the street from Disneyland. The theme park has spawned a tourist-based industry that includes hotels and other services needed for an international sports event.
Anaheim, 30 miles south of Los Angeles, also figures into the venue plan for the 2028 Olympics. The Honda Center, ordinarily home of the Anaheim Ducks NHL franchise, will host volleyball in 2028.
Written and reported in Anaheim by Ed Hula.
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