At 37 years old, decorated Chinese weightlifter Lü Xiaojun won his second Olympic gold medal while competing in the 81-kilogram middleweight division at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games on July 31, 2021.
The event in Tokyo, where Xiaojun lifted a total of 374 kilograms (824.5 pounds), was widely presumed to be the grizzled veteran’s swan song in professional weightlifting. However, shortly after his victory, Xiaojun quelled rumors of his departure from the sport:
“This is not my last competition,” he told ESPN Sports. “If you see me next year, you will see me in Paris.”
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The competition Xiaojun refers to in 2022 is likely the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Weightlifting Championships (WWC), held in his home country of China next October.
An Honorable Career
Xiaojun’s podium finish in Tokyo makes him the oldest man to win an Olympic Games weightlifting event, and that’s just one of his most impressive accolades. Since his first WWC win over a decade ago (2009), Xiaojun has been China’s primary bannerman on the international circuit.
Xiaojun has won five World Championships throughout the 2010s in both the 77- and 81-kilogram categories (weight classes were reorganized in 2018) and three medals (one silver, two golds) at the regional Asian Championships.
He’s also capitalized on his international fame by establishing his own brand of gym equipment, including custom barbells, plates, belts, and other training accessories. Xiaojun maintains an active role in the operations of Lu Xiaojun Barbell alongside his competition schedule.
[Related: Watch Weightlifter Lu Xiaojun’s First International Interview]
Four of Xiaojun’s international wins, counting his Tokyo gold, came around or after his 35th birthday. At 35, Xiaojun became eligible to compete in the Master’s weightlifting division, which retains its own age-bracketed records and standards. He has opted to continue as a Senior competitor despite facing off against much younger lifters.
Lü Xiaojun International Wins
- Asian Games — 1 (2014)
- Asian Championships — 2 (2011, 2020)
- World Championships — 5 (2009, 2011, 2013, 2018, 2019)
- Olympic Games — 2 (2012, 2020)
In the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Xiaojun narrowly lost what would’ve been his second gold medal in the 77-kilogram category to Kazakhstan’s Nijat Rahimov.
Rahimov had come back from behind to make an astonishing 214-kilogram (471.7-pound) clean & jerk, matching Xiaojun’s total. At the time, if two athletes finished with the same result, the lifter who weighed less was awarded a higher standing. Rahimov had come in just .64 kilograms (1.4 pounds) lighter.
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However, early in 2021, the International Testing Agency (ITA) reported that Rahimov had been provisionally suspended for potential interference with drug testing protocols. Rahimov, who has already served a ban in 2013, is expected to forfeit his gold medal to Xiaojun if he is convicted of a second violation.
Another Gold in Paris?
If the outcome of the ITA’s investigation does ultimately result in Kazakhstan relinquishing their medal to China, Xiaojun will be retroactively crowned a three-time Olympic Champion, advancing his position among a very select echelon of weightlifters to have won the Games multiple times.
Weightlifters With Multiple Olympic Victories
- Pyrros Dimas — 1992, 1996, 2000
- Naim Suleymanoglu — 1988, 1992, 1996
- Kakhi Kakhiashvili — 1996, 2000
- Halil Mutlu — 1996, 2000, 2004
However, two factors impede Xiaojun’s path to another Olympic victory. Firstly, the Paris 2024 Olympics commence on July 26, 2024 — and Xiaojun will celebrate his 40th birthday a day after the opening ceremony.
While it is not unheard of for weightlifters to maintain successful careers for multiple decades, injuries and other age-related issues can take a toll. (Xiaojun notoriously battled through lower back issues in 2019 before racking up his fifth WWC win.)
The second-oldest male winners from the Tokyo Games, 61-kilogram Li Fabin and 67-kilogram Chen Lijun, both from Team China, are 28. Akbar Djuraev, the youngest male to win a weightlifting event in Tokyo, is a mere 21 years old.
Secondly, while weightlifting has been confirmed as an Olympic event in 2024, the athlete quota has again been reduced to 120 athletes (from 196 in 2020) across all divisions. This comes as the IWF makes an effort to reform its image in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding accusations of rampant drug abuse in the sport.
[Related: USA Weightlifting CEO on What’s Needed for International Reform]
For Xiaojun, this means even steeper competition if he opts to campaign for a highly-contested slot on Team China’s roster. The Chinese regularly claim more medals than any other country at international events, with a reputation for selecting reliable winners above all else. In the face of a growing number of unknowns in Paris, Xiaojun’s resume backs him as one of the safest bets in the sport as he looks to carve his name even deeper into the wall of weightlifting history.
Featured Image: Stephen Galvan for IWF