Saeed Alihosseini won silver in Anaheim after a lengthy spell away due to a doping ban ©IWF

Justin Gatlin, the sprinter who served two doping bans and was booed by the crowd on his way to victory over Usain Bolt at the World Athletics Championships in London in August, served as an inspiration to an Iranian weightlifter who made a remarkable return to his sport after serving an eight-year ban.

Saeed Alihosseini was 21 when he was banned for life in 2009 for a second doping offence.

After two successful appeals his ban was cut to eight years, and at the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships here in Anaheim he finished second to Lasha Talakhadze, the Georgian super-heavyweight who set another two world records.

At 29 Alihosseini, from Ardabil near Iran's border with Azerbaijan, is still young enough to aim for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"A hundred per cent yes, Tokyo is for me," he told insidethegames in an exclusive interview.

"Justin Gatlin did it after two suspensions, he is a legend. 

"I have been following him. 

"But he was a small guy, I am much bigger - so for comebacks, I am the number one.

"I am ready to go to a different level."

If it is anywhere near the level he was at as a junior, Alihosseini will be a contender for a place on the Olympic podium.

Nine years ago this Friday (December 8), Alihosseini set junior world records that still stand to this day in the super-heavyweights - 206 kilograms for the snatch, 245kg for the clean and jerk and 451kg total.

Saeed Alihosseini said he was inspired by Justin Gatlin who himself returned to the top level after two drugs bans ©Getty Images
Saeed Alihosseini said he was inspired by Justin Gatlin who himself returned to the top level after two drugs bans ©Getty Images

He was seen as a successor to the great Iranian hero Hossein Rezazadeh, who still holds the one record that Talakhadze has not matched, a clean and jerk of 263kg set in 2004.

Within a year of those junior records his career seemed over and Alihosseini was in despair with two positives and a lifetime ban.

But the Iranian Weightlifting Federation (IRIWF) thought it was worth fighting for his future, even if it would be many years before he could lift again.

In 2011 an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was successful, on the grounds that a subsequently banned coach doped lifters, without their knowledge, with clenbuterol.

Alihosseini's ban was cut to 12 years and last year the IWIRF announced that after another successful appeal it had been cut to eight.

"I prefer not to talk about the past but it's correct that there was outside influence," said Alihosseini.

Ali Moradi, the IRIWF President, said: "His father owns a gym in Ardabil, and he kept training and training, he kept his body in shape for all that time when he did not know if he would ever come back to the sport.

"We support the IWF against doping, they must be strong.

"In our view this boy was not guilty. 

"He doesn't know what happened, maybe it was a coach who made the mistake.

"His mentality dropped, he was not good. 

"But now when I talk to him he is happy - if I mention the past he says 'no, Mr President I don't like thinking about the past, I want to think about the future'.

"To win a medal like this, it's remarkable."

Alihosseini has studied sports medicine in his years away and, he says, is close to completing a PhD.

He was "involved a little bit" in weightlifting early in his studies, but admitted that "the first four years were so hard for me".

After the first CAS case he started to train more, to believe in himself, "and I thought I could do it".

Saeed Alihosseini stands on the podium in Anaheim ©IWF
Saeed Alihosseini stands on the podium in Anaheim ©IWF

His ban ended in the last week of October, and after all those years away from the sport it seemed he might be thwarted by an injury.

He had a knee problem that affected his preparations for Anaheim and that and the lack of competition showed when he started his comeback.

His first attempt in the snatch was an embarrassment: he dropped the bar before it had reached waist height.

He failed with his second attempt too, though this one was closer, and on his third try at 203kg he had the large Iranian contingent in the crowd on their feet, making the lift that would be beaten, in a top-quality session, only by his Iranian team-mate Behdad Salimi and the record-breaking Talakhadze.

When it came to the clean and jerk he started low at 236kg.

"My coach's advice was 'go little by little, don't push it, if it's working we can go for the last one,'" said Alihosseini.

That is what he did, up from 236kg to 243kg, then to 251kg for a successful final attempt that would outdo Salimi, who had two lifts overruled by the jury for press-outs.

Alihosseini could be Iran's number one contender soon. 

Besides next year's World Championships in neighbouring Turkmenistan, there is the Asian Games in September and perhaps, in March, the Fajr Cup in Ahvaz in front of his own fans. 

"People around me know I'm a religious guy," said Alihosseini.

"I believe that everything happened for a reason. 

"I thank God for the court's decision, I am here now."