“Oh, you’re a weightlifter? So you wanna go to the Olympics?”
Every serious powerlifter has gotten this question at some point, only to have to answer it with “Actually, I can’t. Powerlifting’s not in the olympics.” If I had a dollar for every time I had this conversation, I’d probably be able to afford a way nicer place.
Sadly, powerlifting isn’t in the Olympics, and no matter how hard the IPF tries to change that, it probably never will be. The reasons for this, though, have a lot less to do with the merits of the sport than you might think. The more you dig into it, the more you realize it’s an issue of sports politics. Unfortunately, powerlifting just doesn’t seem poised to navigate those politics very well.
Pros & Cons of Powerlifting in the Olympics
The case for inclusion
People didn’t start really talking about adding Powerlifting to the Olympics until a controversy surrounding PED usage in Olympic Weightlifting led to the sport nearly being cut from the games altogether. Despite being one of the original Olympic sports, the IWF’s unsatisfactory response to concerns surrounding bribery and doping has led the Olympic Committee to consider banning the sport altogether as recently as 2021.
If Weightlifting were to get the axe, powerlifters argue that the sport’s recent explosion in popularity makes it the obvious candidate for replacement. Because of the sport’s growth, many countries have a dedicated national team that could quickly fill the void left behind if weightlifting were removed.
Unfortunately, the convenience of the swap doesn’t address the problem.
The case against inclusion
If the whole reason Weightlifting’s on the chopping block in the first place is its ongoing problem controlling PED abuse, why on Earth would the IOC prefer Powerlifting: a sport famously accommodating to anabolics users?
You may think at first that it would be as simple as adhering to strict drug testing measures. Untested powerlifting wouldn’t make it to the Olympics, but why not tested? It’s not like they aren’t already committed to following the rules. The US’ Worlds Team, for example, follows USADA-level testing using randomized sample collections throughout the year. That’s as strict as you’ll find in any other sport.
However, many argue that the added pressure of becoming an Olympic sport would negate all the good behavior the tested leagues have built up for themselves. In other words, the stakes are higher at the Olympics than they are elsewhere, and the temptation to try cheating would be far stronger.
When you combine that with the fact that the highest totals ever recorded of all time are almost exclusively from untested meets, it would be difficult to hype up heavily-tested lifting’s comparatively less impressive records.
Are there incredibly strong tested lifters? Of course. But in reality, they’ll never be as strong as the strongest untested lifters. Every powerlifting fan knows this, and the vast majority just want to see bigger and bigger lifts anyway. They understand they won’t see it on the tested side, which is simply a consequence of drawing such a clear line between divisions.
Which they should, by the way.
Simply put, the IOC does not want to replace one headache for another
Although the highest level of tested powerlifting comes close to meeting Olympic standards, the ongoing, rampant PED abuse in Weightlifting has normalized the results that cheating can deliver. As a result, the broad public interest in tested strength sports has significantly declined.
As a result, adding Powerlifting to the Olympics would probably invite even greater PED abuse than Weightlifting, and the IOC knows this. That’s why it’s unlikely to ever happen.
Fans want the spectacles you see on the untested side. That’s just how it is. Until athletes have more to lose from PED’s than they could potentially gain (in fame, awards, or anything else), we’re unlikely to see Powerlifting in the Olympics.