Clean Russian Weightlifter Oleg Chen Reflects on Rio Ban

The International Weightlifting Federation's (IWF) last-minute decision to ban the entire Russian team from Rio not only removed several Olympic medal contenders, but also banned weightlifters who had never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in or out of competition. Oleg Chen (RUS, M69) is one of those lifters.

'I learned we were disqualified on the news'

Just a few days before the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games, the IWF banned all Russian weightlifters from competing when WADA released a report that detailed widespread, state-supported doping in many Russian sports.


Nov 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Oleg Chen, from Russia competes in the men's 69 kg A division during the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships at George R. Brown Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA

Since the report came out so close to the start of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to make a blanket decision on all Russian sports, and instead passed the responsibility to each individual sport's international governing body.

I learned we were disqualified on the news.

"If the IWF wanted to remove us, they should have done it earlier, and not right before the Olympics," Chen said. The two-time silver medalist at IWF World Championships, two-time European champion, and former podium favorite heading into Rio told FloElite he learned he and the entire Russian team were disqualified while watching the news.

Emotional and Financial Fallout

The scandal came to light in November of 2015 when a WADA-sanctioned, independent commission released a report about doping in Russia's track and field program, which made the Russian weightlifting team's remaining weeks before the 2015 IWF World Championships rather stressful.

"The doping rumors had a very bad effect on our team, and everyone was worried that we would not be able to participate in the competition," Chen said. "But we just kept training for the Olympic Games."

When the news broke that Russia's team would be completely scratched from competition in Rio, Chen, who was poised to compete--and potentially medal--in his first Olympics, went from worried to heartbroken. "I worked so hard for this all my life. My dream was close, and it was denied."


Nov 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Podium winners, gold medalist ,Zhiyong Shi, from China , silver medalist Oleg Chen, from Russia and Daniyar Ismayilov, from Turkey competes on the podium in the overall in the men's 69 kg A division during the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships at George R. Brown Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The fallout isn't just emotional. The Russian weightlifting team is financially supported by the government, but they only get paid if they compete.

Although he hasn't been able to motivate himself to train since the ban, Chen said his career is far from over. "I think some of the (other Russian weightlifters) will finish their careers, but I will still continue to train. I haven't yet fully realized my potential in weightlifting. I don't feel satisfied."

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