US weightlifter Casey Burgener ruled out of games

Aug. 08, 2008, 8:01 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) U.S. weightlifter Casey Burgener has a team uniform and a bed at the Olympic village.

He's not using them.

The 25-year-old strongman from Bonsall, California, just learned he's not an Olympian after all. His name wasn't on the final start list issued Thursday for the men's super heavyweight competition, a slot the U.S. weightlifting federation claims was wrongly taken from the team.

"America is hurting right now," USA Weightlifting interim executive director Dennis Snethen said Friday. "We need our big strong guy in the main event, and it hurts that he's not there."

Why he's not there depends on who you ask. The U.S. team cites vague and complex qualification rules and even an anti-American bias in the International Weightlifting Federation, a suggestion that an IWF official rejected as "crazy."

What is clear is that a monthlong, roller-coaster ride over the number of U.S. slots has crushed Burgener's Olympic dream and left him thinking about leaving the sport he loves.

"At this point in time, he's saying that he's done," said Natalie Woolfolk, Burgener's fiancee and one of four women on the U.S. team. "He wishes that all of his hard work was to be paid off at this point, to be called an Olympian, to be here with all the other athletes."

Burgener, who holds U.S. junior records in both the snatch and clean-and-jerk events, didn't want to speak about his situation to reporters Friday, weightlifting team spokesman Cecil Bleiker said.

U.S. officials had hoped for Burgener to get the green light from the IWF at the last minute. They even issued him a uniform and saved a spare bed in the Olympic village.

Instead, the 125-kilogram (276-pound) lifter is staying at the U.S. training center at Beijing Normal University and considering volunteering to work for the basketball team as a security guard.

Burgener long thought he was on the team because the U.S. appeared to have secured three Olympic slots in men's competition after strong results in the World Championships last September.

However, that was reduced to zero when the IWF reshuffled world team rankings due to a string of positive doping tests. And here's what really bothers American officials: its team fell in the rankings - even though it hasn't had a positive doping case in international weightlifting in 15 years.

"We're lifting weights clean, the way we should," Snethen said. "We play the game fairly and we're being penalized. It just seems the U.S. could not get a break. I don't know what it is."

The U.S. regained two Olympic slots in the Pan American Weightlifting Championships in March and was fighting to have its third slot - for Burgener - reinstated.

Finally, the good news came. USA Weightlifting announced ahead of the Olympic trials in May that the IWF would grant it three slots in Beijing. Snethen said the word came from USOC international liaison Dragomir Cioroslan, who is also an IWF vice president.

But the celebration was short-lived. Just weeks later, the U.S. team learned that its allocation was cut back to two.

IWF competition director Attila Adamfi told The Associated Press that it was all a misunderstanding - Cioroslan had no authority to give out the extra slot and there had been no official decision to that effect.

Cioroslan didn't immediately return calls on Friday.

Adamfi said the bottom line is that the U.S. only qualified for two slots when the rankings were changed last year. Despite its clean doping record, the U.S. dropped simply because some other countries benefited more as the points were recalculated in different weight classes, he said.

"We expressed our deepest sympathy to the U.S. team, but those are the rules and mathematics and we can't change that," Adamfi said.

Asked to comment on Snethen's suggestion that the U.S. was being punished unfairly, he said: "I cannot comment on that because I think it's crazy. If they can prove that they have been intentionally punished, then OK prove it, go to the court."

Snethen said a court option had been considered but with IWF rules so vaguely worded, it was difficult to build a solid case.

Meanwhile, Burgener is watching his teammates, including Woolfolk, train at Beijing Normal University. Team officials will make sure he gets tickets to see them compete.

"He's going to be here to support me, and I'll be here to support him through this rough time," Woolfolk said.