The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) South-American, Ibero-American, and Open Senior Championships in Cali, Colombia, on May 10-14, 2021, was a unique event for Spanish weightlifter and 2012 London Olympic Games gold medalist Lydia Valentin. She entered the silver-level Olympic qualifying event in the 87-kilogram weight class but declined to make a single attempt — and it qualified her for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Valentin is one of the most decorated weightlifters globally. She has spent most of her two-decade-long weightlifting career in the 75-kilogram class, where she is a world champion (2017) and earned three Olympic medals (gold in 2012, silver in 2008, and bronze in 2016). She is also a world champion at 81-kilograms (2018). Her appearance in Cali marked her debut at 87-kilograms. Per Inside the Games, Should the 36-year-old compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games at this new weight class, her first attempt would be the first lift she’s ever made in sanctioned competition at 87-kilograms.
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So how did Valentin’s qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games at 87 kilograms without actually making an attempt? To understand this, one need only look at the current qualification system. Leading up to the Games, there are three six-month-long qualification periods. Within each of those periods are qualifying events leveled at gold, silver, and bronze. Weightlifters must compete in at least six of these events and at least once in each of the three qualification periods. More specifically, their six events must include at least one gold event and one other gold or silver event.
At these events, weightlifters acquire Robi Points — the official IWF calculation method to compare individual athletes. Here are the point multipliers for each event level (based on athletes’ totals):
- Gold — 1.1x multiplier
- Silver — 1.05x multiplier
- Bronze — no multiplier
The top eight ranked athletes in each weight class (via Robi Points) qualifies for the Games. However, the Robi Points are assigned to the athlete, not a specific weight class. This is significant because, in Valentin’s case, she accumulated enough points previously in lower weight classes that she only needed the points given for participating in Cali — which includes showing up for introductions and taking the drug test. By competing at 87-kilograms, even without making an attempt, Valentin can now choose to compete at the Games in that class.
It is more likely that she will compete at 76-kilograms as that is historically where most of her success has been (75-kilograms is no longer a weight class). However, it is not outside of Valentin’s range to move up in weight and compete with the best in the world. If she does compete at 87-kilograms at the Games, she will be vying for a fourth Olympic medal in a third weight class.
Although it is assumed Valentin could lift heavier by moving up a weight class, here are her career competition best lifts for reference:
- Snatch — 124 kilograms (273.4 pounds), 2014 World Championships — 75-kilogram class
- Clean & Jerk — 147 kilograms (324.1 pounds), 2014 European Championships — 75-kilogram class
- Total — 268 kilograms (590.8 pounds), 2014 European Championships — 75-kilogram class
The world record standards at 87-kilograms have yet to be claimed. They are a 132-kilogram (291-pound) snatch, a 164-kilogram (361.6-pound) clean & jerk, and a 294-kilogram (648.2-pound) total.
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Valentin wasn’t the only athlete attempting to earn last-chance Olympic qualification through Robi Points from this event. Iranian weightlifter and 2016 Rio Olympic Games gold medalist in the then-94-kilogram class Sohrab Moradi was also competing in Cali — his last chance to qualify for the 2020 Games. He needed a series of rather strange, yet possible, events to happen to qualify as first mentioned by Seb Ostrowicz (user Weightlifting-House) on Reddit. First, he needed to secure a 388-kilogram (855.4-pound) total in the 96-kilogram class to pass Bekdoolot Rasulbekov of Kyrgyzstan by a single Robi Point. Had Moradi achieved this total, he would be in contention for a continental qualification spot (for athletes outside the top eight).
Second, Iran could have declined Games invitations offered to other higher-ranked Iranian lifters for Moradi to secure a Games spot (they would need to decline other invites as each country is only allotted eight weightlifters — four men and four women — across all weight classes).
Moradi, however, suffered an injury to his left wrist during his second snatch attempt of 170 kilograms (374.8 pounds) and had to withdraw from the competition. He will not be present at the 2020 Games to defend his title, and a new champion of the 96-kilogram class will be crowned.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are being held in 2021 — specifically from July 23 to August 8. Unfortunately for fans, international spectators will not be allowed to attend.
Feature image: @lydiavalentin on Instagram