China will seek to impose their world weightlifting dominance on the Asian Games when the event kicks off on Saturday with 15 gold medals on offer over seven days of competition. The country's track record at the Games is impressive and was sealed on a global standing when it topped September's world weightlifting championships in the Turkish city of Antalya.
An overall medal haul in Turkey of 11 (four gold, five silver, two bronze) saw China top the standings ahead of Russia and Kazakhstan, the latter also taking part here. That total goes up to 32 (14-12-6) when individual snatch and clean-and-jerk results are taken into consideration. Overall golds went to Wu Jingbiao (-56kg) and Olympic and world double champion Liao Hui (-69kg) in the men's draw, and Chen Xiaoting (-53kg) and Deng Wei (-58kg) in the women's.
China won 10 of the 15 gold medals on offer at the 2006 Asiad in Doha, and will realistically target an even more successful haul this time around even though Hui and Olympic gold medalist Long Qingquan have been omitted to give younger team-mates a chance to sample the international stage. Rivals are far and few between, and this year there will be no Hossein Rezazadeh, the 'Iranian Hercules' who so enthralled lifting fans with his exuberant shows of bravado and showmanship.
The super-heavyweight former world and Olympic champion, who crushed the field four years ago to win Asian gold in Doha, retired before the Beijing Games and has since become manager of the national team. Thai hopes lie with Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon (-53kg), a gold medallist in Beijing, in the absence of Pawina Thongsuk. Pawina pulled a world record out of the bag to deny the Chinese female lifters a cleansweep in Doha. Kazakh's recently crowned world champion Svetlana Podobedova will be up against China's reigning Olympic champion Cao Lei in the 75kg class with South Korea's Olympic gold medallist Jang Mi-Ran going for her first Asian title in the +75kg competition.
Indian lifters return to the Games after missing out on Doha four years ago following a 12-month ban imposed on the national federation after four athletes tested positive to drugs within a year. This time, the country is sending a 13-member squad that includes two recently-crowned Commonwealth Games gold medallists, K. Ravi Kumar (men's -77kg) and Y. Renubala Chanu (women's -58kg).
However, national coach Harnam Singh said expectations were low. "We are not expecting too much from the Asian Games... they're much tougher than the Commonwealth Games and keeping the current performance in mind we are expecting only two medals in the men's section and one in the women's section," Singh said, pinpointing Kumar and Sarabjit Singh (105kg). The sport will also come under the doping spotlight after four competitors were kicked out of Doha for flouting drugs rules.
The cases prompted the usual calls for the discipline to be banned from major multi-sports events, but to no avail with authorities insisting they are winning the drugs war. But on the eve of September's weightlifting world championships, there were worrying signs that not everyone is getting the message.
The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) revealed that 19 of the 81 countries taking part had not complied with the "athletes' whereabouts" rule, the code aimed at tracking athletes for testing on specific days.