Shi Zhiyong waved to the crowd when introduced, but did not lift ©ITG

China withdrew two of its top athletes from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships at the last minute in a strategic move.

Shi Zhiyong, who won Olympic gold at Rio 2016 and in Tokyo last year, pulled out after being called out to lift in the men's 81 kilograms, and the same thing happened in the 89kg when Tin Tao's withdrawal was announced during the competition.

Because they weighed in and were introduced to the crowd, both men are deemed to have "participated" in the competition, which is the first qualifying event for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Shi said on social media that he had withdrawn "because of my injuries" and Tian Tao said he had intended to compete but was suffering from altitude sickness.

Asked for an explanation for Shi's withdrawal in the warm-up room, a Team China official asked the coach, who said: "We cannot say why. Maybe next year."

Tian later explained on social media that it was "a simple strategy - to catch one of the five events when I am on best form".

Athletes must participate in five events between December 5 this year and April 28, 2024, two of which are compulsory - the 2023 IWF World Championships in Saudi Arabia and the 2024 IWF World Cup in Thailand in April 2024.

Pattaya 2019 world champion Tin Tao also withdrew ©Getty Images
Pattaya 2019 world champion Tin Tao also withdrew ©Getty Images

The others can be chosen from the ongoing IWF World Championships in Colombia, continental championships next year and in the first two months of 2024, and two IWF Grands Prix in Cuba and Qatar next June and December.

Only the best performance from those events counts for the Paris 2024 rankings, from which the top 10 are eligible.

Shi, whose Olympic victories came at 69kg and 73kg, was entered at 81kg, a non-Olympic weight category, in Colombia and weighed in far lighter at 74.9kg.

During his 10-year international career, Shi, 29, has won all 12 competitions in which he appeared, starting with the Asian Championships back in 2012.

Li Dayin, the snatch world record holder at 81kg, lifted on his own for China and won. 

China’s other 89kg lifter, Liu Huanhua, finished third.

China has had mixed results at the World Championships, where some athletes have underperformed but others have been in top form including winners Li Fabin in the men's 61kg, Jiang Huihua in the women's 49kg and the phenomenal teenager Pei Xinyi in the women’s 64kg.