Defiant weightlifter Oleg Musokhranov has told AFP “Russians never throw in the towel” as he contemplates sitting out the Paris Olympics later this year.
Even though he will be 33 by 2028, the four-time champion of Russia is already looking ahead to the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.
“It is not the end of the world,” he said.
Musokhranov said he would only contemplate competing at this year’s edition of the quadrennial sporting showpiece if “the Russian national anthem was played and the flag was present.”
Neither will feature at the Paris Games that run from July 26 to August 11 due to restrictions laid down by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a result of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine launched in February 2022.
Athletes from Russia and their allies Belarus will have to compete under neutral status.
“For an athlete, it is hugely important to compete under your national flag and to have the national anthem,” he said, speaking in late January on the sidelines of a competition in Tula, 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Moscow.
Russia has condemned the conditions set by the IOC as “discriminatory”.
They sparked a furious reaction from Russian weightlifting federation president Maxim Agapitov, who has ruled out his athletes competing.
In a letter addressed to AFP, the 53-year-old former world champion derided the Paris Games as “a festival ridiculously and unfortunately branded as the Olympic Games”.
Agapitov is especially agitated because a generation of weightlifters of Musokhranov’s vintage may now never experience an Olympics.
He said the career of a weightlifter was “short” and it was “difficult” to remain at the top for several years.
“But it is possible,” Agapitov added, adopting a more positive tone — he himself was 27 when he topped the podium in the -91 kilogramme category at the 1997 world championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Musokhranov agrees a lot of weightlifters at his age call it a day but he believes his form is good enough for him to plug on with an eye on Los Angeles in four years’ time.
“I feel as strong as ever, I have not lost my motivation with regards to training,” said the father of two daughters.
Musokhranov’s desire to carry on and experience an Olympics is understandable given his longstanding love affair with the sport — coming about by chance as aged 11 he waited for a friend to emerge from training.
“Everything depends on your body and your hunger,” said Musokhranov, who served a three-month doping suspension in 2013.
“I am very hungry. The body has no alternative but to satisfy those needs,” he added with a smile.
Paris will certainly miss his showmanship.
He dances onto the stage with a mischievous look in his eyes which he says is to put psychological “pressure” on his rivals.
It certainly worked in Tula as a few minutes after speaking to AFP he had won the 61kg category at the Russia Cup.
He admits, though, it is hard to calibrate where he might stand against non-Russian opponents as the number of international weightlifters he faces is currently extremely limited due to events in Ukraine.
However, he is very much a glass half full person.
So, while he may not yet be able to emulate his idols, such as fellow Russian Evgeny Chigishev, the Olympic silver medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games, or Turkey’s three-time Olympic champion Halil Mutlu, he takes succour from the crumbs he can sweep up.
“We have the Russian Cups, the Russian championships,” he said.
“Last year (April) we were invited to Venezuela.”
Musokhranov took gold in Caracas — and what he would give for that to be the result in Los Angeles in 2028.