Road to the Olympics: The guidelines for Weightlifting in 2020


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In this two-part series, we will be taking a look at how the qualification system for Weightlifting at the Olympics has evolved over the last few editions. Part 2 of the article will focus on what our lifters have to do to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games.


As detailed in part 1 of this article, weightlifting had an extremely illogical qualification system till Rio 2016, and one which was highly susceptible to being gamed, as successfully done by UAE before London 2012. Thankfully, the system has undergone a complete overhaul for Tokyo.

However, one drawback of the new system is that it is much more complicated to understand for the layman as compared to the old system. Thus, this article attempts to explain and simplify this new system.

The Golden Rules

The following are some golden rules which cannot be broken under any circumstances.

  1. There will be a total of 7 men’s categories and 7 women’s categories contested at Tokyo. Each category will qualify exactly 14 lifters, with a maximum of 1 lifter per country per category.

  2. Every country can send a maximum of 4 male + 4 female lifters to Tokyo. 

    1. This is an important rule which implies that even if a country has, say, lifters capable of winning GOLD in 5 different female categories, it will be forced to choose and send only 4 of them. This makes weightlifting one of the few sports where the maximum number of athletes a country can send is actually lower than even the number of Golds that will be handed out. This is one major flaw in the weightlifting qualification system which has always existed and, unfortunately, has still not been corrected.

    2. From an Indian perspective, this rule means that there is a small chance that weightlifting powerhouse China, boasting of 2018 World Championship Women’s 49 kg Silver Medallist Hou Zhihui and Bronze Medallist Jiang Huihua, might actually skip the women’s 49 kg altogether thus easing Mirabai Chanu’s path to an Olympic medal.

Additional Doping Restrictions

Sanjita Chanu

In recent times, weightlifting has undoubtedly been the most dope-tainted Olympic sport. The most embarrassing example of this phenomenon was the Men’s 94 kg category at London 2012, which saw 6 of the top 7 lifters, including all 3 original medallists, eventually testing positive and being disqualified. As a result, weightlifting’s place on the Olympic program for Paris 2024 has still not been confirmed by the IOC.

However, the IWF has shown that it recognizes the problem and has taken a number of steps to control it. One of these steps is restricting Olympic participation of countries based on their doping records. As a result, the IWF has introduced the following rules for Tokyo qualification.

  1. Any country with 20+ doping sanctions (handed out by an international authority) from the start of Beijing 2008 to the end of Tokyo 2020 qualification, will be eligible to send a total of only 1 male + 1 female lifter to Tokyo.

    1. This currently includes 5 countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus

  2. Any country with 10-19 doping sanctions (handed out by an international authority) from the start of Beijing 2008 to the end of Tokyo 2020 qualification, will be eligible to send only 2 male + 2 female lifters to Tokyo.

    1. This currently includes 9 countries – Iran, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey, and India.

    2. So India, due to having 11 doping sanctions since Beijing, is eligible to send only 2 male + 2 female lifters to Tokyo instead of the maximum 4 + 4.

  3. Any country with 3+ doping sanctions (handed out by an international authority) during the Tokyo qualification period, may be suspended from competing at Tokyo altogether.

    1. Six of Thailand’s lifters tested positive at the 2018 World Championships and thus, the country faces expulsion from Tokyo. The cases, however, are on-going.

    2. From an Indian perspective, Thailand boasts of 3 extremely strong lifters in Mirabai Chanu’s category – 2018 World Champion Chayuttra Pramongkhol, Rio 2016 Champion Sopita Tanasan and 2017 World Championship Silver Medallist Thunya Sukcharoen. Tanasan and Sukcharoen are among the lifters having tested positive.  

So India, due to having 11 doping sanctions since Beijing, is eligible to send only 2 male + 2 female lifters to Tokyo instead of the maximum 4 + 4.

  It is important to note that the above mentioned doping tallies only refer to sanctions placed by international bodies. Thus, if a country’s federation or anti-doping authority (for India, that would be the National Anti-Doping Agency, or NADA) catches and punishes its athletes before they are caught in international competition, then there is no adverse effect on the country as a whole. Thus, the entire objective of this exercise is to encourage nations to catch their own dope cheats.

Qualification by World Ranking

Mirabai Chanu

After due consideration of the Golden Rules and the additional doping restrictions, qualification for Tokyo 2020 will simply depend on world rankings.

  1. The top 8 ranked lifters in every category will qualify.

    1. It should be noted that because of the various restrictions placed by the Golden Rules and the additional doping restrictions, lifters ranked much lower than 8 may make the cut.

  2. After the top 8, the highest ranked lifter in each of the 5 continents – Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania – will qualify.

    1. However, any single country can qualify a maximum of only 3 male + 3 female lifters across categories using this rule, as opposed to 4 + 4.

  3. The 14th and last place in each category will be allocated either to the hosts Japan or through the tripartite commission (which awards spots to small countries having very few athletes across the entire Olympic Games). However, Japan is still eligible to earn spots by being in the top 8 of the world ranking. Thus, in case this last spot goes vacant in any category, it will be allocated based on world ranking to a country without a single other weightlifter at Tokyo.

How the World Rankings Work

This is where things get complicated. The weightlifting world ranking system is relatively unique and unlike any other system sports fans may have seen, though it has some similarities to the new Athletics World Rankings system which will also be used for Tokyo qualification.

First of all, there are actually no separate rankings by category. There is a single combined ranking for men across ALL categories, and similarly for women. Thus, in essence, the rankings are pound-for-pound rankings. They are available here. However, every lifter on the rankings is designated as belonging to a certain category. Thus, by filtering the rankings by category, the category-wise rankings are obtained, and it is these rankings which will be used for Olympic qualification.

“Robi” Score System

Every weight total lifted by a lifter at an IWF designated event corresponds to a certain “Robi” score, depending on the amount of weight lifted and the category in which the lifter competed. These “Robi” scores form the basis of the world rankings.

The Robi score system was devised by, and is named after, former IWF Technology Director Robert Nagy. It is the new standard used to compare weightlifters across different categories.

The basic principle is that lifting an amount equal to the “World Standard” of your category results in a Robi score of 1000, whereas lifting 50% of the “World Standard” results in a Robi score of only 100.

“World Standards” are essentially de-facto World Records. At the beginning of the current Olympic cycle, the IWF devised new weight categories. Thus, using the existing World Records in the old categories as a guide, they set the “World Standard” for every new category. In order to claim a new World Record in the new categories, a lifter has to, at minimum, equal the World Standard. It should be noted that while World Records can and probably will change over time, the World Standards have been fixed till Tokyo.

Men

Women

Category

World Standard

Category

World Standard

55 kg*

293 kg

45 kg*

191 kg

61 kg

312 kg

49 kg

203 kg

67 kg

331 kg

55 kg

221 kg

73 kg

348 kg

59 kg

232 kg

81 kg

368 kg

64 kg

245 kg

89 kg*

387 kg

71 kg*

261 kg

96 kg

401 kg

76 kg

272 kg

102 kg*

412 kg

81 kg*

283 kg

109 kg

424 kg

87 kg

294 kg

+109 kg

453 kg

+87 kg

320 kg

* denotes non-Olympic Categories

So, for example, a lifter lifting a total (i.e., snatch + clean & jerk) of 203 kg in the women’s 49 kg category, will get a Robi score of 1000 whereas a lifter lifting half of 203 kg, i.e., 101.5 kg will get a Robi score of only 100.

Converting Robi Scores to World Ranking Points

For purposes of Olympic qualification, IWF has designated 3 different levels of ranking events – Gold Level (World and Continental Championships, senior as well as junior), Silver Level and Bronze Level.

A lifter earns more world ranking points for achieving the same lift total in a higher level event.

  1. Gold Level Event:  Ranking Points = 1.10 x Robi Score

  2. Silver Level Event:  Ranking Points = 1.05 x Robi Score

  3. Bronze Level Event:  Ranking Points = 1.00 x Robi Score

A full schedule of all the ranking events of 2019 can be obtained here. The ranking points obtained from any single performance of a lifter can be calculated using the calculator put up on IWF’s website.

Further, the entire Olympic Qualification period has been sub-divided into 3 different time periods.

  1. Period 1:  01 Nov 2018 – 30 Apr 2019

  2. Period 2:  01 May 2019 – 31 Oct 2019

  3. Period 3:  01 Nov 2019 – 30 Apr 2020

A lifter’s final World Ranking points will be an addition of his or her 4 best results, with at least 1 result coming from each of the 3 time periods.

It should be noted that these best 4 results of a lifter need not all come in the same weight category. In fact, they may even come, partly or wholly, from non-Olympic categories, which also contribute to Olympic qualification. The only requirement is that a lifter must have participated in at least 2 ranking events in the same Olympic category, and will be eligible to qualify in that category. Thus, for example, a lifter may attain her best results in the non-Olympic women’s 45 kg category, but attain qualification in the 49 kg category by simply participating twice in that category. Further, in case a lifter has 2+ participations in 2 different Olympic categories, she will qualify in the category where she attains the higher world ranking.

In addition, in order to be eligible to qualify for Tokyo, a lifter must have competed in at least 6 ranking events throughout the 18-month Olympic qualification period, including at least 1 Gold Level and 1 Silver Level event (or 2 Gold Level events). Also, a lifter needs to ensure participation in at least 1 ranking event in each of the 3 qualification time periods.

For the mathematically inclined…

For the mathematically inclined readers out there, the Robi Score for any lift total can be calculated as follows.

Robi Score = A x (Total Weight Lifted)^b

Where b = 3.321928095 – known as the Constant of Progressivity (= log 10/log 2)

             A – Constant of Bodyweight Category

Men

Women

Category

A

Category

A

55 kg*

0.000006386209266

45 kg*

0.000026458862657

61 kg

0.000005183197783

49 kg

0.000021610463555

67 kg

0.000004259048574

55 kg

0.000016296616311

73 kg

0.000003606255594

59 kg

0.000013868165151

81 kg

0.000002995284257

64 kg

0.000011570764674

89 kg*

0.000002534021200

71 kg*

0.000009377649650

96 kg

0.000002251860969

76 kg

0.000008175929892

102 kg*

0.000002058256392

81 kg*

0.000007167071831

109 kg

0.000001871024806

87 kg

0.000006314335523

+109 kg

0.000001501871444

+87 kg

0.000004765098749

* denotes non-Olympic Categories