Chinese weightlifters will be among the favourites to poach medals at the Olympics in a sport that has repeatedly been dragged down by drug cheats. But the Games will be missing the sport's only true superstar, Iran's super-heavyweight title holder Hossein Rezazadeh, who pulled out on Wednesday citing lack of fitness.
Even before the tournament has started, weightlifting has been yanked through the mud once again with 11 Greeks slapped with two-year bans after testing positive in out-of-competition doping tests in April.
The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) also slashed the country’s quota from five men and three women to three and one respectively. Several of the 11 were scheduled to participate in the Olympics but instead face two-year prison terms in addition to the bans.
The sport has long struggled to stay clean with 11 lifters thrown out of the last Olympics in Athens for doping violations, overshadowing some world record breaking performances.
The 32 countries competing for 15 gold are keeping their cards close to their chest.
"It is possible that some new faces will compete at Beijing," China’s coach Chen Wenbin said.
Zhang Guozeng, the clean and jerk record holder and world champion, will certainly challenge for a second straight Olympic gold in the lightweight class as one of three Chinese men who sit on top of the world rankings. The men's bantamweight class should be a three-way affair with Eko Irawan, Indonesia's pocket Hercules, having passed Chinese Li Zheng and North Korean Cha Kum-Chol in the latest annual IWF rankings.
Belarussian light heavyweight Andrey Rybakov is favoured to win gold.
World champion compatriot Andrey Aramnov is the top-rated heavyweight, while Russian middle-heavyweight world champion Roman Konstantinov has been boosted by the withdrawal of rival Milen Dobrev, the Athens 94kg winner.
Another favourite is Viktors Scerbatihs, the Latvian world number one who will be hoping to capitalise on Rezazadeh's absence.
The Iranian, following a car crash last year, was hoping to make a comeback. "Rezazadeh had eight months of heavy training while having stomach problems," Iranian weightlifting federation public relations, Mahmoud Abdollahi said. "His age (30) also was part of the decision."
He still holds all the world and Olympic lifting records in this class.
Ahead of Beijing, China's top-ranked women have publicly vowed to "uphold the Olympic spirit and fight against doping" as they try to "earn fame for our motherland".
Ma Wenguang, director of China's Weighlifting, Wrestling and Judo Administrative Centre, believes that while his women set 13 world records between 2005 and 2007, the gap with other countries has narrowed.
Led by Qiu Hongmei, the 58kg world champion, Chinese women lifters are bidding to surpass their three-gold haul in Athens.
The Thais will attempt a repeat of their two-gold haul by their women in Athens, but the pressure is on the new faces as both their gold medallists, 48-kg Udomporn Polsak and 69kg Pawina Thongsuk, have retired.
"We did very well in the previous Olympics so people expect us to do better this time," said Thai weightlifting boss Bussaba Yodbangtoey.