See Olympic heroes again? Perhaps not in weightlifting

Gold medal winner Rim Jong Sim, of North Korea, laughs after she was unable to complete her final lift in the women's 75kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Lidia Valentin Perez, of Spain, drops the barbell after completing a lift in the women's 75kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

RIO DE JANEIRO — If you enjoyed weightlifting at the 2012 Olympics, you might be confused about where your favorites have gone.

The reigning gold, silver and bronze medalists weren't around Friday for the women's 75-kilogram class because they're all suspended. Spain's Lidia Valentin Perez was fourth in London in 2012, but is now waiting to see whether she'll be upgraded to top spot.

While Valentin Perez said she didn't want to talk about the doping threat to her sport after winning bronze Friday at her second Olympics, she has been vocal on social media.

"For a clean sport with values," reads a message she posted to Instagram shortly before the games, accompanied by the Olympic rings. "Because when an athlete is doping they stop being an athlete, and this stops being a sport."

Indeed, weightlifting has been so ravaged by doping cases that many events are almost unrecognizable from just four years ago. Out of 45 medalists from London, 12 have so far failed retests of their Olympic doping samples, with others banned at events like the world championships.

Thursday's winner Rim Jong Sim comes from the secretive and tightly state-controlled North Korean sports system, which has produced numerous doping cases across many sports and currently has five top lifters serving bans.

Rim was utterly dominant, lifting 121 kilograms in the snatch and 153 in the clean and jerk for a total of 274, way ahead of the 258 managed by Belarusian silver medalist Darya Naumava, or 257 for Valentin Perez.

"When I saw that I secured the first place in the competition, the first thing I thought was that I made beloved Great Leader Kim Jong-Un happy and I just want to see him as soon as possible," she said through an interpreter. "As for my family, I just meet them again once I'm in North Korea, so I have nothing special to say."

In her spare time, Rim said she listens to patriotic music about North Korea's leaders.

North Korea won four gold medals in London four years ago but has started slowly in Rio, with only two silver and two bronze medals before Rim's win.

Rim was gold medalist in the 69kg class four years ago and said a hard training schedule and advanced sports medicine had helped her overcome injury to win again despite moving up a class.

There was also a shadow over the silver for Naumava because the International Weightlifting Federation had tried to ban the entire Belarus team from Rio over repeated doping test failures, but was stymied because the paperwork on those cases was not completed in time by the International Olympic Committee.

Throughout the Olympics, weightlifters finishing behind athletes from countries they consider suspect have suggested they could be upgraded when drug test results come back, or expressed suspicion about rapid improvements by athletes with a checkered past. At the top end of the sport, denunciations of drug cheats are comparatively rare, though Valentin Perez is changing that.

Commenting on yet another round of failed tests earlier this summer, the Spanish lifter let her frustration show on social media. "Say NO doping," she wrote. "STOP DOPING!"

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