Exclusive: Russian weightlifting is changing after admitting mistakes of the past, promises Agapitov

October 20th, 2017

"He who is without sin, l"We have done so much to make Russian weightlifting clean now, as much as we possibly can," he says, adding that he has swept away much of the old regime, and old attitudes, in his sport in the past year.

"The biggest pain of my heart is for the athletes.

"What happened is not the fault of the Russian Federation of today, of the athletes of today. 

"I know how the athletes feel - every competition means so much to them.

"We are building a new future, but I accept we have to take responsibility for so many positives in the past. 

"It is in the past but it so happens that we must answer for it."

Among those athletes who are paying the price of past misdeeds by others are 36 young men and women, many of them teenagers, who at the European Junior and Under-23 Championships, which finished here today. 

This was the last Championships in which Russia can compete for a year because yesterday they - along with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine,- begin a 12-month suspension, imposed by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) for having three or more positives in the retesting of samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games in Beijing and London respectively. 

Russia had 10, equally highest with Kazakhstan, and also had the most high-profile disqualification from the 2015 IWF World Championships when record-breaking super-heavyweight Aleksei Lovchev was one of four team positives.

Maxim Agapitov says that lie detectors will be used where necessary to root out doping ©RWF

Coaches have been suspended in Agapitov’s new strategy and any who promote doping in future will be in big trouble, a point that was emphasised this week when criminal proceedings began in Russia against a member of an athlete’s entourage.

"If a coach is responsible for doping, they can be sent to jail now," says Agapitov.

"Our Government has made it a crime to use or push the use of doping to an athlete.

"We have taken a lot of actions, we have changed a lot of things at the Russian Federation and I explained this in Bucharest (where the decision to ban the nine nations was taken by the IWF).

"I fought for Russia – we must not forget that Russia was already punished by being suspended from the Olympics in Rio.

"We looked at all the results from the retests, and we suspended all the coaches who might have been responsible.

"We understand that it might be the coach who is involved, or it might be the athlete who made the decision (to take a banned substance). 

"And of course all the athletes were disqualified.

"We have created a new website which has just started operating, and will be 100 per cent next year, with personal registration for every athlete who wants to compete at national level and internationally."

At the European Weightlifting Federation (EWF) Congress here earlier this month, Norway was held up as an example of a nation using online registration and anti-doping education, and the EWF outlined its plans to make such a system compulsory throughout the continent.

Russian weightlifters must now register and complete an online education programme about anti-doping ©RWF

"We are already doing it in Russia," says Agapitov, who has about 600 athletes in the system.

"All of them must register, must go through an online education process about anti-doping and must pass an exam. 

"If they do not pass, they cannot compete.

"It means that athletes will no longer have the chance to say ‘I didn’t know’ if they test positive. 

"It makes them responsible.

"Every one of them must sign a declaration of personal responsibility, a statement that ‘I will not use prohibited substances'.

"And in the national team, every athlete must sign a paper to say that, if anything happens, if there is an adverse finding, they agree to an interview in which we will use a lie detector.

"I believe the society of weightlifting in Russia will take this responsibility.  

"We apply all measures in our country to protect clean athletes. 

"We have to change, we have to build a future.

"People trust me, today the Federation takes a stand for absolute intolerance to doping, and they can see clearly and openly what we are doing.

"There are no more double standards in Russian weightlifting."

Maxim Agapitov, second right in front, claims it is unfair to believe that Russia is the only country with a doping programme or that weightlifting is sport's worst culprit ©RWF

Agapitov pointed out that doping was not just a weightlifting problem, nor a new one, having started when the Americans first used steroids more than 60 years ago.

"It has affected all sports, and it started in 1952 not from Russia," he says.

et him cast the first stone,” he said, quoting Jesus. 

But it doesn’t matter about the other nations and how many positives they had.

"We had a lot of positives and we do take responsibility," declares Agapitov.

There is due to be meeting of the suspended nations in Kazakhstan on November 13.

"I would like to organise a summit with the IWF at which we will report what we have done individually, what we can learn from each other," says  Agapitov

"We must build up a system of education, based on scientific research."

Another change highlighted by Agapitov - who himself tested positive in the early 1990s but came back clean to win a 1997 World Championship gold medal when two who finished ahead of him were disqualified for doping - was the use of independent testers.

"In 2016 and 2017 all our samples were taken by UKADA (the UK Anti-Doping Agency) and checked outside Russia," he says. 

"RUSADA (the Russian Anti-Doping Agency) now sends its samples abroad to be tested."

Looking to the future, Russia will begin to compete, after the suspension, in under-15 events.

"We have never done that before, we always started at 17," says Agapitov.

UK Anti-Doping is helping the Russian Anti-Doping Agency rebuild its drugs testing programme ©Getty Images

Agapitov, who is on the Executive Board of the IWF, took charge of the Russian Federation about a year ago.

The man he replaced, Sergey Syrtsov, holds a seat on the EWF Executive Board, despite having no role in the sport in his own nation.

Syrtsov would have lost his position had he not turned up in Durres, having missed two earlier meetings, but he flew to Albania to retain his seat and flew straight home again.

The Executive Board of the Russian Federation unanimously expressed their distrust of Syrtsov and sent a request to the EWF to remove him but they cannot, as he was elected as an individual and has broken no rules.

A similar situation arose when Great Britain was "represented" by Steve Cannon when he held no domestic role in the sport.

Agapitov is capable of dealing with the politics but is an athlete at heart.

His father was a weightlifter at home in Uchaly, north of Kazakhstan, and Maxim started young.

"Weightlifting is my life - I started training aged 10, and I had a hand-made bar at home which I used a long time before that," he says.

"It is one of the most beautiful sports, one of the most healthy. 

"It is good for your spirit, not just your body.

"I still train today, to feel strong, to feel happy, to feel like a man in my body and my spirit. 

"I don’t want to lose the spirit.

"In 1997 I won a gold medal in the World Championships in Thailand, in Chiang Mai, when I finished third and the two ahead of me tested positive. 

"It was an honest win, and it was the last time there was a 91 kilogram category.

"For my father’s 80th birthday recently we had a family party. 

"My elder brother Andry, who was also a weightlifter, brought me a special gift - the shoes I wore in Chiang Mai. 

"I had given them to him when I came home.

"Those were special shoes, a symbol for me of a fair victory in an unfair competition. 

"I put them on again and I felt like I had a force against gravity.  

"Mine was a triumph of justice. 

"Who else but me knows its price and value?"




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