Tarragona 2018: Albania eyes athletics medals as it bans lifters over doping

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 19, 2018 11:45

Tarragona 2018: Albania eyes athletics medals as it bans lifters over doping

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  • "I am not very happy that weightlifting is not participating in these Games, otherwise I would have been quite confident of the medals claimed, but I am still confident that we have many athletes who can bring home medals especially this year which we are marking as the year of our national hero Skanderbeg," said President Ilir Meta as he handed over Albania's national flag to Izmir Smajlaj, Albania's European champion long jumper

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TIRANA, June 19 – Sixty athletes will represent Albania at the 2018 Mediterranean Games that kick off in Spain’s Tarragona this weekend, but weightlifting, the elite discipline that has brought the country most medals since Albania’s 1987 Mediterranean Games debut, will for the first time be missing from Albania’s competitive disciplines.

Albania’s choice to pick no weightlifters for the 2018 multisport games comes after the local National Olympic Committee handed the country’s lifters a two-year ban from international weightlifting competitions in punishment for repeated cases of athletes testing positive for doping and being stripped of their medals.

Albanian weightlifters have tested positive for doping eleven times since 2011, marring the reputation of Albania’s traditionally best performing Olympic discipline at international competitions.

The country’s National Olympic Committee said it made the drastic decision, fearing any new doping case could lead to the suspension of Albania’s weightlifting by the world weightlifting body and in a bid to teach a lesson to weightlifters over doping consequences.

Briken Calja, who last March claimed three gold medals at the European Senior Weightlifting Championships in Romania, as well as former medal winners Daniel Godelli and Erkand Qerimaj, all three having previously tested positive for doping in international competitions, strongly opposed the decision.

Albania have claimed 43 medals in their eight Mediterranean Games participations since the late 1980s, most of which in weightlifting.

Speaking at a flag ceremony this week ahead of Albania’s departure to Spain, Albania’s President Ilir Meta said he regretted weightlifting was not representing Albania in this 18th edition of the Mediterranean Games, but was optimistic about Albanian athletes bringing home medals in this Pan-national Skanderbeg Year that is being marked in honor of the 550th death anniversary of Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg.

“I am not very happy that weightlifting is not participating in these Games, otherwise I would have been quite confident of the medals claimed, but I am still confident that we have many athletes who can bring home medals especially this year which we are marking as the year of our national hero Skanderbeg,” said Meta as he handed over Albania’s national flag to Izmir Smajlaj, Albania’s European champion long jumper.

A 25-year-old jumper who in March 2017 was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships, Smajlaj will be Albania’s flag bearer and is a top favorite to bring home medals along with Luiza Gega, a middle distance runner who has previously claimed gold and silver for Albania.

“I feel honored to carry the Albanian flag. Albanian athletes will do their best to make a decent representation and claim medals to hoist this great flag in every discipline,” said Smajlaj.

Athletics is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines, but poor financial support to athletes and improper training infrastructure remain a huge barrier.

Albania is participating with 36 athletes competing in 13 individual sports disciplines at the Tarragona 2018 including archery where three athletes will make the country’s debut.

In addition to athletics and archery, Albanian athletes will also compete in wrestling, another discipline which has earlier brought medals to Albania, as well as swimming, boxing, cycling, rowing and shooting among others.

Another 24 athletes will represent the country in volleyball. Albanian women recently finished third at the 2018 European Volleyball Silver League, in a major success for the country’s volleyball.

The 18th Mediterranean Games will be held in Spain’s Tarragona from June 22 to July 1 in ten days of competition bringing 4,000 athletes from 26 different countries.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 19, 2018 11:45