Ilya Ilyin Discusses His Suspension and a Potential Comeback In a New Interview

Men’s Health is among the most popular men’s magazines on Earth and they’ve got 35 different editions worldwide, including one in Kazakhstan. This week, published in an in-depth interview with embattled Kazakh weightlifter Ilya Ilyin who, after testing positive from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics last June, was suspended from international competition and ordered to return his gold medals.

British translator Alexander Watts translated the article for us, and we pasted some of the most interesting quotes below.

You went to Brazil despite being disqualified. What did you do there?

I still went to the Olympics (but) there were long traffic jams and the city was very congested.(…) As a result I wasn’t even in time for the award ceremony when the medal (which ought to have been mine) was given to Ruslan Nurudinov, who is a good friend of mine. When I got to the hall it was all over.

The fans spotted me and took photos of me. I took a look at the platform on which I should have competed and I even shed a tear. Then I thought it was better that I wasn’t in time to watch the competition – it would have been hard to watch the guys lifting and I might have burst into tears. (laughs)


I was in the US for three and a half months, I gave master classes, taught guys to lift the bar.

To the US Olympic team?

No of course not. I was just coaching amateurs. There are lots of guys who just enjoy weightlifting. Officially I’m a “doper” so professional weightlifting is out of reach for me.

Is it not offensive to you?

Offensive? No. It’s very different now though. Suspended? Yes I’m suspended. But if they allow me back then I will consider it.

(After being asked about the leadup to his disqualification)

Did (the Kazakh Weightlifting Federation) support you? 

Yes. They were great. They covered almost all of the financing. The federation offered the lawyers and paid for the process.

WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) did the analysis and sent the results to the IOC (International Olympic Committee). They [the IOC] took my Olympic medals and sent the case to the IWF, who said, do what you like but you must be punished.

There are a number of options for them: They can take my medals from World Championships, they can disqualify me for 8 years starting from 2008. They could give a two-year suspension from 2016 but it could be a four-year one. We talked about this matter for a long time. The final decision is still pending. It could come any day. In principle I am optimistic (…) I even think that my Olympic medals will be returned to me. I’m not sure why I’ve got that idea. But I know it just as I knew that one day they would disqualify me!

Did you know that they were going to disqualify you?

Yes. After Beijing. Someone told me that there might be a reanalysis after a few years. Then that thought stuck with me. I was ready for it, then after 8 years – bam! Perhaps that’s why I didn’t lose my mind or do anything to myself.

What is more important for you now: to keep the medals of the world championships or get the opportunity to compete in 2019 and 2020?

I cannot say for sure. Those medals are dear to me and I worked for them all my life. Above all, I’m not as confident in my strength for Tokyo as I was before. I was 99% confident, now I’m only 90% (laughs).

What is the probability of being allowed to compete in Tokyo?

The lawyers say 90 percent.

And if you do get the right to compete, you’ll go to Tokyo?

I’ll try. Of course, I’ll try. In the future I don’t want to regret not doing it. I’m 29 years old – the height of my sporting career. If I leave now it would be like a little upset child leaving. (…) If the body is ready, I will try to perform at some championship. If I win, I’ll go further. (…) But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

How can you describe your current psychological state?

Summer was very difficult. I remember when I went to meet with lawyers in Switzerland I had a very heavy head. Basically, even now there is still slight depression. Then, to tell the truth, it went too far – I needed psychiatry. I even had disjointed speech and all the symptoms [of depression]. But now things are working out, I’m starting to get better (laughs).

What made you worse off: your recent divorce or losing a sports career?

Of course it was the divorce. Medals, sport – these are nothing compared to family. In a career everything can be re-done, re-built or earned but the loss of a loved one can’t be remedied. I’ve been hardened by this. I’m still sore inside and will be for a long time.

Do you think about starting a new relationship?

Of course not. My business now is a sports career. It is necessary to dive headfirst into work. In the coming years, I hope, I’ll have a relationship with a twenty-kilogram iron girlfriend. If the sport doesn’t work out then I’ll go away for a while, where I will be thinking about developing “myself” – my own little Ilya who has lots of problems and lots of insecurities.

Featured image via @ilyailyin_4ever on Instagram.