Tian Tao is expected to be a strong competitor for China ©Getty Images

At the end of a year when weightlifting news has been dominated by reforms, election controversies, politics and doping, the athletes return to centre stage tomorrow at the 2022 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships in Bogotá, Colombia.

The Championships - hosted by Colombia for the first time - will feature an array of Olympic and world champions and world record holders over 12 days of competition at the Gran Carpa Américas Corferias convention centre in the capital city of Bogotá.

"The road to Paris starts here, we are moving towards a new future," said the IWF President Mohamed Jalood, who announced that 93 nations had entered teams in a diverse and high-quality Championships.

Of the 14 champions from Tokyo last year only Lu Xiaojun, the triple Olympic gold medallist from China, is not lifting in Colombia, although he intends to return to competition next year as he builds up his strength after a long break.

Three of the weight categories feature two Olympic champions, three gold medallists from Rio 2016 are competing and there are 15 world record holders among the 537 entries.

That number is down significantly from the original entry of 709 - which would have been an all-time record - because of fitness problems, travel and visa difficulties and other reasons.

Although this is the first qualifying event for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, there will be more opportunities next year and nobody is taking risks regarding injuries.

Colombian Lesman Paredes is set to compete for Bahrain ©Getty Images
Colombian Lesman Paredes is set to compete for Bahrain ©Getty Images

Five medallists from Tokyo are listed to compete in B Groups - Windy Aisah and Erwin Abdullah from Indonesia, Mikiko Andoh from Japan, Arturs Plesnieks from Latvia and Aremi Fuentes from Mexico.

China, which has five Olympic gold medallists in Bogotá, is one of the four nations with a maximum team of 20.

The others are Colombia, Mexico and the United States, while countries with large teams include Japan and Korea with 18, Canada with 17, and Ecuador with 16.

"We will witness again the greatest athletes of the IWF grace the platform," said Ursula Garza Papandrea, the IWF's first vice-president from the United States.

"The calibre of lifters may be the most impressive line-up in recent history, with so many world and Olympic champions taking the stage here in Colombia.

"I am looking forward to the show!"

Apart from its Tokyo champions, China's team includes the Rio 2016 silver medallist and 96 kilograms clean and jerk world record holder Tian Tao, plus a number of talented younger athletes.

Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia is a favourite for the men's super-heavyweight title ©Getty Images
Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia is a favourite for the men's super-heavyweight title ©Getty Images

One of those youngsters competes in the women's 59kg category, which is split into five sessions because it has 54 entries - more than any other.

In what could be one of the highlights of the first week, the highest entry total of 240kg is from the 21-year-old Luo Shifang despite the fact that her rivals include two Olympic champions.

Luo’s team-mate Luo Xiaomin is on 230kg, the same as Maude Charron of Canada, who moves down to 59kg after winning gold at 64kg in Tokyo, and the 59kg Olympic champion Kuo Hsing-Chun from Taiwan.

The women's 81kg also features two Tokyo winners, China’s Wang Zhouyu who won at this weight, and Neisi Dajomes who moves up after winning at 76kg.

Dajomes and her sister Angie Palacios, who also lifts in Bogotá, are of Colombian heritage but compete for Ecuador.

Another Colombian competing for another country is Lesman Paredes, the snatch world record holder at 96kg who lifts for Bahrain.

Colombia has plenty of other medal contenders, however, including Francisco Mosquera at 67kg, Brayan Rodallegas in a very strong 89kg, Jhor Moreno at 96kg, Rosalba Morales in the women’s 55kg, two lifters in the women’s 64kg - Julieth Rodriguez and Nathalia Llamosa, Mari Sanchez at 71kg and Hellen Escobar at 76kg.

The third category with two Olympic gold medallists is the men's super-heavyweights.

Lasha Talakhadze, the Georgian who won in both Rio and Tokyo and has set a string of world records, lines up alongside Akbar Djuraev of Uzbekistan, who won at 109kg in Tokyo and moves up.

Djuraev’s team-mate Ruslan Nurudinov, who won in Rio in the old 105kg category, competes at 109kg in Bogotá, in which he has the highest entry total of 400kg

The Iranian Kianoush Rostami, who won at the old 85kg category in Rio, did not qualify for Tokyo but he returns in Bogotá at 89kg.

Wang Zhouyu of China is in contention for the women's 81kg title ©Getty Images
Wang Zhouyu of China is in contention for the women's 81kg title ©Getty Images

Rostami lines up against the man who finished second to him in 2016, Tian Tao, the Bulgarian teenager Karlos Nasar, who holds youth, junior and senior world records and the Tokyo 2020 96kg silver medallist Keydomar Vallenilla of Venezuela.

Antonino Pizzolato of Italy, a bronze medallist in Tokyo and a world record holder, is an absentee because of fitness concerns.

That 89kg category is expected to be one of the highlights of the Championships, as is the 81kg in which China’s Shi Zhiyong moves up from 73kg - the weight at which he won in Tokyo - to go head-to-head against his team-mate Li Dayin, the snatch world record holder.

In the men’s 73kg the 11 lifters in the A Group are separated, on entry totals, by only 7kg, which suggests an ultra-competitive session.

Meso Hassona, the 96kg Olympic champion from Qatar, could be in search of world records when he moves up to 102kg, the only men’s category in which no athlete has ever reached the IWF world standards.

Thailand has the favourite for the first medal event on Monday, the women’s 45kg, in Thanya Sukcharoen.

China will be favourite to win its first gold on Tuesday in the women’s 49kg, in which the Tokyo winner and double world record holder Hou Zhihui competes against her team-mate Jiang Huihua.

Nina Sterckx from Belgium moves down to this weight after setting two junior world records at 55kg.

Weightlifting has 120 quota places in 10 weight categories for Paris 2024, and although it has been dropped from the schedule for Los Angeles 2028, it is hoping to be readmitted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), dependent on the IWF successfully implementing a wide range of reforms.