The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, and while they may be nearly 20 months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.
LAS VEGAS -- Thousands of Americans are training and competing at a world-class level every day with one goal in mind: the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. And countless more Americans are following along to see who will make the Olympic team.
Well, one of the biggest steps on the journey to that dream – and following along as athletes strive for their dream – is understanding how to achieve that dream.
Weightlifting is one sport that changed its qualification system from the previous Olympic Games. So, how do weightlifters make it to Tokyo? It’s a simple yet intricate process. Let’s jump in.
Jenny Arthur competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
What Are The Weight Classes And How Many Weightlifters Will Compete?
In a move toward gender equality, the number of Olympic weight categories changed from eight men’s and seven women’s in 2016 to seven and seven for 2020; however, all the categories have also changed from Rio to Tokyo.
The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) introduced new weight categories in July 2018 to reset the world records as it works toward an era of a doping-free sport.
The Olympic weight categories are:
Men: 61 kg., 67 kg., 73 kg., 81 kg., 96 kg., 109 kg., +109 kg.
Women: 49 kg., 55 kg., 59 kg., 64 kg., 76 kg., 87 kg., +87 kg.
IWF-sanctioned competitions will also include the non-Olympic 55 kg., 89 kg. and 102 kg. for men, and 45 kg., 71 kg. and 81 kg. for women.
This leaves many athletes having to move up or down and fit a category that will work best for their body weight and performance, which also leaves them unsure of how they compare. That includes Mattie Rogers, who medaled at the past two world championships and broke a 12-year U.S. drought. Her medals came at 71 kg., leaving her the options of going down to 64 or up to 76.
She went up to 76 for the first time this past weekend at the Las Vegas International Open, and will contend internationally against many women who were previously in the 75 category.
“I’m trying,” Rogers said of gaining weight, after having to eat a large breakfast and drink a liter of water to make weight in Vegas. “I’m up almost five kilos from this time last year. It doesn’t look like a lot but I’ve definitely put on.
“I definitely feel a lot stronger and I think I’m starting to see some of the weight take effect. I’m definitely excited for this year because I feel like it’s when I’m going to start to see bigger increases.”
At the Tokyo 2020 Games, 98 men and 98 women will compete. That’s 14 per category.
IMPORTANT: A nation can send no more than one athlete per weight category to the Olympics. This means that 14 lifters from 14 different countries will compete in each category.
JUST AS IMPORTANT: Each nation is limited to an eight-athlete team, very specifically a maximum of four men and four women.
How Are Athletes Selected?
Previously, athletes’ collective performances at world or continental championships would earn their country a specific number of quota spots per gender. Each country was then responsible for identifying which athletes would fill those quotas, through its own procedures.
This time around, athletes will primarily qualify to the Olympic team by name.
“I love the new system, honestly,” said Jessica Lucero, a three-time world team member who missed out on a spot on the 2016 Olympic team. “We have to compete more often but in the last training quad we pretty much had to do that anyway as far as USA because there were so many girls trying to qualify, so every competition we were all fighting in the rankings.”
One spot in each of the categories will be filled either by host-country method or tripartite commission invitation (made up of the International Olympic Committee, Association of National Olympic Committees and Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.)
Japan will send three men and three women, and Japan’s weightlifting federation selects those athletes. Four men and four women – selected by name – will come from the tripartite invitation, which is for nations that typically send small teams to the Games and would otherwise be unable to qualify. This goes to the core Olympic principle of universality. Tripartite invitation is unlikely to ever apply to the United States, given its historically large delegation size at the Games.
Long story short: Thirteen spots remain per weight category (or 182 athletes total), and they will all come from the IWF Absolute Ranking. Simple!
Eight will come from world points.
This means there will come a date – April 30, 2020 – where the IWF Absolute Ranking list (more on how this is derived later) is final and the top eight athletes – from eight distinct countries – in each Olympic weight category are named to the Olympic team. If a nation has, for example, the first and fifth athletes on the men’s 76 kg. list, the fifth-ranked athlete would be skipped over as that country is already represented in that category by a higher-ranked athlete. Then the ninth-ranked athlete would qualify for Tokyo (assuming their country is not yet represented, of course).
The remaining five athletes for each category will also come from the IWF Absolute Ranking but are determined through continental points.
There are five IWF-recognized continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Pan America. The highest-ranked athlete on the IWF Absolute Ranking list from each of those continents will qualify for the Olympics; of course, since only one athlete per country per category can go, this means an athlete whose nation is already represented in that category (either via world points or because they are Japan, the host country) is disregarded.
Team USA is projected to send a full eight-member team to Tokyo, a stark contrast from the four athletes who went to Rio and three who went to London.
“I think the entire U.S. women’s team is going to come from world points,” predicted Mike Gattone, USA Weightlifting’s senior director of sport performance and coaching education. “I would say that two to three of the men are going to come from world points, so I would say that one to two of the men are going to come from Pan Am.”
Boom. Eight plus five plus one equals 14 athletes per category. That’s where the 196 weightlifters in Tokyo will come from. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty.
Mattie Rogers competes at the USA Olympic Team Trials on May 8, 2016 in Salt Lake City.
What Is The IWF Absolute Ranking?
The ranking list sorts athletes by ROBI points.
ROBI points create a baseline to compare individual athletes across weight categories.
ROBI points are calculated based off an athlete’s meet result compared to the world record in that category. In this system, a total lift that matches a world record is awarded 1,000.0000 ROBI points.
Example: The world record in the men’s 67 kg. is 332 kg. Lifting 332 kg. at a meet would yield 1,000 ROBI points. Lifting 328 kg. for a total would yield 960.5336 ROBI points.
On the journey to Olympic qualification, ROBI points are weighted based on the significance of the meet.
There are designated gold, silver and bronze events, each with a weight attached for the ROBI points.
Gold events include senior and junior world championships, and senior and junior continental championships. There are eight gold events during the qualification period, which kicked off Nov. 1, 2018. Typically, athletes must qualify or be selected by their national federation to compete at these events. Also, athletes must be 15-20 years old for junior events. ROBI points earned at a gold event are weighted at 1.10, so a total of 328 kg. in that above example would earn 1,056.5870 ROBI points if lifted at this September’s world championships.
Silver events include other existing IWF competitions, the July 2019 Olympic test event in Tokyo, multi-sport Games (the Pan American Games this summer in Lima, Peru, for Team USA) and championships. Silver events are weighted at 1.05, so that 328 kg. total lift would garner 1,008.5603 points.
Bronze events include other international competitions, such as this past weekend’s Las Vegas International Open. Bronze events are weighted at 1.00, so we’re back at the start, where a 328 kg. lift would receive the expected 960.5336 ROBI points.
The number of silver and bronze events is unknown, and they will continue to be created and designated in the coming year.
What Are The Requirements For Each Athlete En Route To Tokyo?
There are three qualification periods: Nov. 1, 2018-April 30, 2019; May 1, 2019-Oct. 31, 2019; and Nov. 1, 2019-April 30, 2020.
With that in mind, here are several important musts:
-Athletes must compete in at least six events across that 18-month period.
-Athletes must compete in at least one event in each of the three windows.
-Athletes must compete in one gold event plus either a gold or silver event. (Read: If a U.S. athlete never makes a world or Pan Am championship team, that athlete cannot compete in Tokyo.)
-Athletes can compete in various weight categories at their six mandatory events – including the three non-Olympic ones in their gender – but each athlete must have two events in the same Olympic category.
“From a performance point of view, one of the more difficult things is you have to stay up more throughout the year,” Gattone said. “It used to be you could show up at Olympic trials or one, two key competitions and you could make the Olympic team – no more of that anymore because you have to be on in all three periods of qualification at some point, especially when you’re at a gold competition. You have to tweak your training that way a little bit more.”
To get the athlete’s score for the April 30, 2020, IWF Absolute Ranking, four ROBIs are added together: the athlete’s best ROBI from each of the three qualification periods, plus the athlete’s next-highest result.
Because an athlete needs two results in the same Olympic category (as a minimum), if an athlete had only two or three in a category, the remaining one or two necessary ROBI scores would come from another (perhaps even non-Olympic) category the athlete competed in during the qualification period. Some athletes might compete in multiple Olympic categories throughout the period to see where they stand a better chance of making the team.
In an ideal world, athletes would compete at four gold-level events – at least one in each period – and crush it at all of them, coming as close to (or beating) the world record each time. That would yield an athlete’s highest possible ROBI and put them as high in the Absolute Ranking as possible.
“I think now you know earlier whether making the Olympic team is really in the cards for you,” Gattone noted, compared this system to past ones. “That’s difficult to deal with, but that’s the plain truth in this.”
“It’s up to us as individuals more so this time,” Lucero said, “so each competition that we do it’s completely on us and I love that. There’s no politics or anything we have to deal with. If you can lift enough then you’re good enough to go and you get to go.”
The first period has two gold events, the second period has one and the third has one. That doesn’t include the junior-level events, for those who are age eligible.
“If you make the top-level meets, you’re pretty much done,” said Alyssa Ritchey, a two-time world team member who as of next month will have two gold events under her belt. “If you made last year’s worlds, if you make Pan Am championships, if you make Pan Am Games, then you make this year’s worlds and next year’s Pan Am championships that’s five (four gold level, one silver). Then you have just one more to do.”
(Fun fact: Since athletes must compete in six events, but only four ROBI scores are added together, each athlete can actually travel to two competitions and never actually lift, provided they successfully make weight at the category they’re entered. Several athletes did exactly this at the Las Vegas International Open. Why? Athletes are training and preparing for next month’s Pan American championships, which is a gold event, and did not deem it sensible to de-load in training for a bronze event when they could continue building up to a higher total at a gold (higher-weighted) event. Another reason being they would not have to cut weight and could enter/weigh in at a non-Olympic category, considering it would count toward one of their six events to enter but not one of the four that needs a total/ROBI for the Absolute Ranking. Finally, it was an “easy” event to travel to considering it is currently the only U.S.-hosted qualification event on the schedule.)
“I don’t like to pay attention to lists all the time, because then I’m obsessing over how do I do this or get there. I would rather just show up at certain meets and make sure I do the best that I can, and if that’s going to take me to the Olympics then I think that’s the best way to go,” Ritchey said of her strategy. “Someone said to me just recently, I don’t want to pay my way to the Olympics so I should just make these teams. I don’t want to pay to fly to China to compete and fly to Russia to compete and to Turkmenistan. I want to make sure I’m making these international teams and being in the top, that way I’m able to go do the numbers I need versus fly to all these little meets that are silver and bronze level.”
Harrison Maurus competes in the men's 77 kg. clean & jerk at the 2017 IWF Weightlifting World Championships on Dec. 2, 2017 in Anaheim, Calif.
What If A Country Qualifies More Than The Maximum Athletes?
It’s important to remember the world points method takes priority over the continental points method, so if a country hits its four athletes from a given gender through world points, it will not be considered in the continental points list.
If a country has more than four athletes in a gender that qualify through world points – or fewer than four via world points but more than four once continental points are considered – it is up to that nation to decide which athletes it will send.
USA Weightlifting has decided the following:
-The spot(s) will go to the highest athlete(s) in the IWF Absolute Ranking.
-If a tie still exists via the list, it will go to the athlete with the higher ROBI.
-If still tied, it goes to the athlete with the higher individual event ROBI.
(If this is due to more than four athletes who qualify via world points, the second scenario is skipped and it goes from placement in Absolute Ranking straight to single qualification event ROBI.)
What Else Is Important To Know?
Athletes must have been born before or on Dec. 31, 2005, to compete in weightlifting at the Tokyo Games. That means the youngest athlete could be 14.
Requirements are ever-so-slightly different for athletes who go through the host country or tripartite spots. Japan’s athletes must compete in a total of three events (as opposed to six), one of which is in each of the three periods, including at least one silver event. Tripartite invitations can only go to athletes who have participated in two events throughout the 18 months, including at least one at the silver level.
Not every nation can send the maximum team size of eight.
Countries with 20 or more weightlifting doping violations between Aug. 8, 2008 and April 30, 2020 can send a maximum of one man and one woman to Tokyo. Four nations fit in this category.
Countries with 10-19 violations in that timeframe can send up to two men and two women. Twelve nations currently sit on this list, creating opportunities for additional nations – or additional athletes within a nation – to qualify.
Countries with three or more weightlifting doping violations in the 18-month qualification timeframe for these Games might end up with no athletes in Tokyo.
“I think it’s great for the United States because of the doping battle that it’s helping fight,” Gattone said of the new system and the testing being done at each qualification event. “These athletes that have maybe been in countries that do some organized doping, they have to show up more at tested competitions and they can’t hide. They can’t come to tested competitions through the quad and do some weak lifts and all of a sudden year before the Games they come out and do these huge lifts. They’re consistently under the microscope from the IWF and World Anti-Doping Agency, so overall I think it’s positive.”