RIO DE JANEIRO: A furious Iran slammed Georgian lifter Lasha Talakhadze’s Olympic gold medal as a “conspiracy” on Tuesday, with riot police called to the Rio Games weightlifting venue as tensions boiled over.
Iranian super heavyweight and favourite Behdad Salimikordasiabi crashed out of the men’s +105kg class after judges ruled he had failed to register a total in the clean and jerk.
Defending champion Salimikordasiabi, known as “Salimi”, and his coach angrily remonstrated with officials for several minutes in the arena before the contest was finished as boisterous Iranian fans booed incessantly.
“There’s a conspiracy. Our enemies were on the jury,” irate Iranian coach Sajjad Anoushiravani told reporters, appearing to be referring to a judge from Iraq.
“It’s obvious they took the medal from Salimi. The jury was selected for this to happen.
“He is a gold medallist from London. He broke the world record here. They may as well throw the whole thing in the trash,” added Anoushiravani.
Salimi, also referred to as the “Iranian Hercules”, set a new world record of 216kg in the snatch to lead Talakhadze by 1kg going into the clean and jerk.
Judges ruled that the 26-year-old super heavyweight’s first jerk was a no lift. The jury then dramatically over-ruled the judges’ decision that his second lift had been legitimate.
Salimi thought he had successfully raised 245kg above his head, but the panel of referees on the jury ruled that his left arm had not been straight.
He failed again on his third attempt and he and Anoushiravani left the podium gesticulating wildly at the judges.
With the competition still going on, the pair re-entered the arena to remonstrate with them.
Salimi wagged his finger and shouted at jury members while the coach was even seen arguing with International Weightlifting Federation President Tamas Ajan.
Angry Iranian fans then booed every lift thereafter, including those of Talakhadze and Irakli Turmanidze, also of Georgia, who eventually claimed bronze.
“Why should they take this from us so easily?” 26-stone (170kg) Salimi blubbed to reporters.
“There’s a malfunction in the system, people saw what happened,” he sobbed.
Talakhadze held his nerve as pandemonium went on around him to haul a combined total of 473kg — a world record — to beat silver medallist Gor Minasyan of Armenia by a massive 22kg.
“There was anger in the hall. But it had nothing to do with me. I just did what I was supposed to do,” said Talakhadze, who has previously served a two-year ban for doping.
“The Iranian was an Olympic champion. But he made mistakes and he failed with his attempts. All my career I’ve been trying to become Olympic champion and now I am.
“The crowd were booing when I was competing. They were wailing. Maybe this gave me more power and strength to become the champion,” he added.
Armenian silver medallist Gor Minasyan condemned the behaviour of the Iranian fans, who stayed on to boo and jeer after the competition had finished, sparking the riot police into action.
“It was bad sporting behaviour from the spectators,” said Minasyan, who has also previously served a two-year band for testing positive for illegal substances.
Around a dozen heavily-armed riot police entered the arena as tensions threatened to escalate but calmness was restored.
“It was just for a precautionary measure and they weren’t used,” the venue’s media manager told AFP.
Sam Coffa, chairman of the IWF’s technical committee, said afterwards that the Iranian team could be disciplined for their behaviour as he defended the judges’ decisions against Salimi.
Talakhadze’s medal was the 15th and final weightlifting gold of Rio 2016. China topped the standings with a total of seven medals, including five golds.