Will Weightlifting De-emphasize Team Scoring For 2020 Olympic Qualification?

Could Weightlifting Teams be de-emphasized for 2020 Qualification?

The IWF recently posted their Sports Program Commission made recommendations for changes to the 2020 Olympics qualification system. It’s an overview that is not final. Read the statement here.

Here are the suggestions noted in the IWF statement regarding 2020:

  • Shorten the qualification window from 24-18 months.
  • Hold 2 World Championships over that time.
  • Limit each bodyweight category to 14 athletes at the Olympics.
  • Limit each National Olympic Committee (“NOC”) (aka “Team”) to 4 athletes per gender and only 1 per bodyweight category.

What this doesn’t say:

Did I mention this is not a full release of the qualification system? While intended to inform and update, something like this tends to trigger more questions and ignite speculation.

After reading it we don’t know how it will all work or what the new bodyweight classes will be.

“Athletes will be required to regularly participate in Olympic Qualification competitions to ensure that they are regularly subjected to in-competition doping control.” – IWF statement

The mention of a shorter qualification period, that includes 2 World Championships, doesn’t clarify if these will be the only qualification events, if team scoring will be utilized, or if participation at both is mandatory for Olympic eligibility. My guess is no on all counts.

For Olympic eligibility, a lifter will certainly have to compete at one of the World Championships in 2018 or 2019 but mandating both seems untenable. Many nations would have to send the exact same team two years in a row. However if the new format focuses on individuals, and not teams, some nations, like China, could send 2 completely different teams each year.

First lets hit qualification events.

Back in May, 2017 the IWF announced a multi-year deal with Lagardere Sports to produce and market the IWF World Championships and “reimagine” the IWF Grand Prix. While Grand Prix events haven’t been mentioned much in 2017 they could certainly find value as additional Olympic qualification (or eligibility) events inside the proposed 18-month window. It makes sense as Grand Prix competitions were utilized for this very purpose leading into the 2016 Olympics.

Also, the statement makes no mention of the secondary opportunity for nations to earn Olympic quota spots via Continental Championships (Pan-Ams, Europeans etc.). We can assume that backdoor option will close. Same for the 10 slots allocated in the past by a special committee.

Will team’s be de-emphasized?

We know the suggestion calls for a max of 14 participants in each of the yet to be unveiled bodyweight categories.  We also know nations will be limited to 4 men and 4 women who must all compete in different categories. How will those 14 be selected?

The IWF could continue with the current format of combining team points from Worlds over the shortened 18-month period. But this moment in time offers a unique opportunity to shift away from team scoring to focus on athletes who post the top totals at the Olympic qualification events. Specifically Worlds.

So as an example, China would send a full team of 8 women to the 2018 Worlds. Presumably, all 8 would finish in the top 14 in whatever weight categories they enter. If a lifter need only to compete in one of the Worlds plus a Grand Prix or Continental Championships for eligibility, China could then send an entirely different team of lifters in 2019. If all 8 make the top 14 (outright totals over two years) they would form a pool of 16 lifters that could go to Tokyo. From that group they could pick 4. Not every nation would enjoy this scenario but it would certainly make things interesting.

How it gets rolled out is the tricky part. If the top ranked are named outright you’ll probably see a lot of bickering and protests from member federations. If the federations get to pick who they want out of their eligible pool you could have a logistics nightmare.

There are multiple nations that will have more than 4 top-tier lifters. That means slots could open for other lifters who finish lower in the rankings but how would they know?

That makes timing a huge deal. The IWF would need to know by a set date which athletes every NOC picks to represent them. Then they could open invites to the next lifters in line. It’s kind of like sending a second round of wedding invitations after the first batch of regrets come back.

You might recall the USA attempted something like this for Nationals qualification. It got dumped prior to implementation due to complaints and concerns over limiting the field and making it too complex for travel (for the later invitees). In this case, we have to limit the field so this kind of approach helps do it. The second issue is the problem. Lifters outside the bubble have to keep training without knowing if they can go to the Olympics.

Other changes to competition

Whatever they announce, I’m looking forward to seeing the new system and categories. The one thing I’m a little sweaty about is the mention of changing the competition format to make the sport more “exciting.” Consideration of “new disciplines” could mean anything. I’d be surprised if that’s in play for the Olympics though.

In another IWF statement (they’ve been busy) they let us know an Electronic Change of Call System (ECOC) is coming. The system was tested at the V4 Cup (Visegrad 4 Cup) in Prague earlier this November. Coaches used tablets to electronically make changes. Safe to say a digital replacement to athlete’s cards is coming at some point in the next few years. It’s going to be part of the discussion at the IWF Technical Committee meeting in Anaheim.

Lastly, in regard to Worlds let’s stay optimistic it will be a fantastic competition. Despite the notable absences and startlist noise, the competitions will still be battles with plenty of excitement. I’m also thrilled to join Sean Waxman, David Boffa and Jonas Westbrook (The Two Doctors) as part of the commentary team for the event. In preparation for that I’m planning a short break from posting until after the New Year Worlds.  Happy Holidays in advance. If you can think of anything I should know while at Worlds or want to send a message my email is jp@weightliftingmindset.com. Your feedback and insights are always appreciated.