The Effect of Testing for Performance Enhancing Drugs on the Progress of World Records in Weightlifting

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Do not reproduce or republish in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. © 2001

Considerable press has been devoted to the problem of doping in sports. Millions of dollars are spent annually on testing athletes at national and international competitions including no advance notice out of competition testing.

The list of banned substances is so long and complex that only a biochemist could expect to decipher it. The popular assertion appears to be that "25 - years after the introduction of supposedly rigorous drug testing of Olympic athletes, the use of banned performance - enhancing substances has become more widespread, and effective, than ever"(3).

However, there is little or no data offered in support of this notion. The support offered for this idea comes from the testing community, anecdotes from athletes and so called "drug gurus".

The purpose of this article is to examine this question with respect to the possible effect the drug testing protocols of the International Weightlifting Federation and those of the International Olympic Committee have had on the rate of improvement of world records in weightlifting.

A study conducted by Medvedyev, et al. al. (1) analyzed the rate of the improvement in world records from 1924 -1990. This study was undertaken in the aftermath of the drug scandals of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul; where the Bulgarian and Hungarian teams were sent home after some of their lifters were expelled from the Olympic Games with positive doping tests. The fall out from the negative publicity was such that the IOC considered removing weightlifting from the Olympic program.

Consequently, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) instituted more stringent testing procedures and stiffer penalties (lifetime suspensions for two positives of the same athlete) in order to eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs from the sport, thus ,consequently, preserving its status as an Olympic event. This was the basis for the aforementioned authors' taking into account these new stringent protocols as a real factor affecting results in weightlifting.

Medvedyev, (1) did a statistical analysis of the world records established in the snatch and the clean and jerk from 1924 and 1990. The 110, 100, 90 and 52 kg classes were excluded. The results showed that the rate of improvement of world records in weightlifting accelerated from the period 1967 - 1973 up to 1980. This was followed by an even faster rate of improvement from 1980 up to 1988.

The authors reasoned there was some underlying factor conditioning the rate of improvement during these two periods which, heretofore, did not exist from 1924 up to the period 1967 - 1973. Three possible reasons for the two spikes in the rate of progress were considered:

  • new training methods;
  • new significant changes in the technique of executing the exercises;
  • the use of performance enhancing drugs.

With the elimination of the press beginning in 1973, the only major change in training methods was that twice - daily workouts became commonplace. The increase in the total volume of lifts increased by 40% in the 80s, primarily from pulls and squats, which do not have a direct effect on the snatch and the clean and jerk. So, this factor was eliminated.

Since most of what is known of modern technique had already become common knowledge by the early 60s, this factor was also eliminated.

This left, as the only plausible reason, the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs.

The average relative strength of world recorders in the clean and jerk in the following weight classes: 82.5; 75; 67.5; 60 and 56 kg, was 2.43 (the world record in the clean and jerk divided by the weight class) in 1964. From 1964 to 1988 the relative strength of the world record holders in those weight classes increased by 21% to 2.79, 2.92, and 2.94 in 1980, 1984 and 1988 respectively (Figure 1). The same analysis in other types of sports, where there had been some changes in training methods over the same period of time, revealed that the maximum improvement was only 9% (1).

Figure 1
Graph Percentage Increase in C&J Relative Strength

So, there was a noticeable acceleration in the rate of improvement of world records in all weight classes and exercises, beginning with the period 1967 - 1973 up to 1988. The widespread use of performance enhancing drugs is the most plausible reason for these atypical spikes in the rate of improvement.

The data showed that the use of performance enhancing drugs had a greater affect on the clean and jerk. The authors divided the period of accelerated improvement into two stages: the first stage from 1967 - 73 to 1980; the second stage was from 1980 to 1989, where the acceleration of the rate of improvement was even greater.

The principal difference between these two stages was the differences in the effect of the performance enhancing drugs used. The drugs chiefly utilized in the first stage were the weaker anabolic steroids: Dianabol; Nerabol, Durabolin, Winstrol, Stanazolol, Nerabolin, etc. The main, more powerful drugs, employed in the second stage were: Testoterone, Testosterone - Proprionate, Growth Hormone, etc. There was an observable spurt at the beginning of each stage and then a slowing towards the end, indicating, evidently, the body's declining reaction to the preparations.

It has already been pointed out that in the wake of the Seoul drug scandals, stricter, more sophisticated testing procedures and stiffer penalties were instituted. Consequently, there was an obvious drop in the results of all exercises and weight classes at the major world events of 1990 and 1991.

Accordingly, there were only two world records established in 1991 and only one in 1992 - an Olympic year. One would typically anticipate the highest results due to the intense preparation for the Olympics and the actual competition itself.

Medvedyev, et al. (1) calculated the time required to reach the world records in place in 1992 without the use of performance enhancing drugs. Accordingly, it would take 13 - 25 years to equal or exceed those records.

As a result of the intensified testing and the growing sophistication of the testing protocols, the International Weightlifting Federation decided to change the weight classes for competitions, so that new records could be established and bring a halt to the stagnation. In the wake of the Seoul scandal the IWF was even considering snatch only competitions. In effect, to eliminate the clean and jerk would eliminate the principal reason for using anabolic steroids (4).

The IWF once again changed the weight classes in 1998, this time to reduce the number of weight classes in conformity with other Olympic sports. Once again, new world records could be established in new weight classes.

Medvedyev (2) conducted further research into the effect of the testing for performance enhancing drugs on the improvement of world records in 1998. Utilizing Starodubstev's table of coefficients to compare the results of athletes in different bodyweight classes, Medvedyev analyzed the current data to see if testing had continued to hinder the improvement of world records in weightlifting.

He compared the best results for each year from 1993 - 1998 and the absolute best results from this period to the world records in place in 1992 (5); he then utilized the aforementioned table of coefficients to make allowances for the new weight classes. The results obtained confirmed the earlier conclusions (1,2). There had been no improvement in the world records over the six year period from those in place in 1992 (Tables 1, 2).

Table 1
Class Snatch
WR in 1992
Best Snatch
Value Difference
56 kg 135.0 135.0 = -- --
60 152.5 147.5 143.7 -5.8%
67.5 160.0 162.5 158.7 -0.8%
75 170.0 170.0 168.8 -0.7%
82.5 183.0 180.0 179.4 -2.0%
90 195.5 187.5 186.5 -2.8%
110 210.0 200.0 201.7 -4.0%
Super 216 205.5 -- -- -4.8%

Table 2
Class C & J
WR in 1992
Best C & J
Value Difference
56 kg 171.0 170.0 161.2 -3.2%
60 190.0 187.5 177.9 -6.4%
67.5 200.5 195.0 190.5 -5.0%
75 215.5 205.0 203.6 -5.5%
82.5 225.0 213.5 212.8 -5.4%
90 235.0 227.5 226.3 -3.7%
110 250.5 236.0 238.0 -4.2%
Super 266.0 262.5 -- -- -1.3%

In fact, with the exception of the snatch record in the 56 kg class (the 135 kg snatch of Mutlu equaled the record of in place in 1992), the best results over this period were all lower. The results in the clean and jerk showed a greater overall decline than in the snatch.

Only the best results over the six year period are presented in tables 1 and 2; and, where appropriate, the results are adjusted for the differences in weight classes. For instance, the 162.5 kg best result in the snatch (table 1) in the 70 kg class is equal to only 158.7 kg. This represents a relative decline of -.8%, when compared to the 160 kg in place in 1992 for 67.5 kg class. No adjustment was made for the 56 kg or superheavyweight classes. So, the 262.5 kg clean and jerk of the Russian Chermerkin, at a bodyweight approaching 400 lbs, is still -1.3% of the 266 kg of Taranenko made at a bodyweight of about 325 lbs.

Taken a step further, consider the same figures for the records as of August 2001. These current records are for the weight classes introduced in 1998 (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 3
Class Snatch
WR in 1992
WR in 2001
Value Difference
56 kg 135.0 138.0 -- -- +2.2%
60 152.5 152.5 148.6 -2.6%
67.5 160.0 165.0 161.2 +0.75%
75 170.0 170.5 168.1 -1.1%
82.5 183.0 181.0 178.3 -2.6%
90 195.5 188.0 184.4 -5.7%
110 210.0 197.5 WS 205.0* -3.7%
Super 216 212.5 -- -- -1.7%

Table 4
Class C & J
WR in 1992
Best C & J
Value Difference
56 kg 171.0 168.0 -- -- -1.8%
60 190.0 180.5 175.9 -7.5%
67.5 200.5 196.5 193.7 -3.5%
75 215.5 210.0 207.0 -4.0%
82.5 225.0 218.0 214.7 -4.5%
90 235.0 232.5 228.1 -3.0%
110 250.5 242.5 WS 245.4* -1.2%
Super 266.0 262.5 WS -- -- -1.3%

There are only two world records, Multu's snatch of 138 kg in the 56 kg class and Markov's snatch of 165 kg (equivalent value of 161.2 kg) which have exceeded those in place in 1992. All the other results are negative in regards to 1992. The clean and jerk results lag further behind than the snatch.

Now look at the progress, or lack thereof, in even simpler terms. The sum (in kilograms) of all the snatch world records as of December 31, 1992 and the total of those same records in place as of August 31, 2001 were compared. There has been a grand total of 4.2 kilograms of improvement (from two classes 56 and 69 kg) in the snatch; 3 kg from Mutlu alone, in the 56 kg class. But, the total weight lifted has declined by 12 kilos (1,417 vs 1,405 kg).

When the same calculations are applied to the clean and jerk the result is a decline of 43 kg (1,753.5 vs. 1,710.5) and no improvement, in any record.

These calculations take into account an equalized value of 205 kg and 245.4 kg for Zakharevich's snatch and clean and jerk records, respectively as of 1992; and, the WS (world standard) results for these records for the 105 kg class which are in effect now and have yet to be equaled.

If this were not enough, consider this, most of the records of 1992 were established in 1988 or earlier, so in effect we are actually talking about 13 years of stagnation/deflation of international results in weightlifting. Consequently, the prediction of Medvedyev, et al. (1) is correct as of 2001.

"I'm sorry sir, but those are the figures"
(Doctor Strangelove, Columbia pictures)

Considering the rather compelling, objective evidence presented here, it would be quite difficult to assert that drug testing is a sham and "the use of banned performance - enhancing substances has become more widespread, and effective, than ever". If this were the case in weightlifting, certainly, the data cited here would reflect that.


Presented in table 5 are what the "Soviet experts" consider to be the maximum possible snatch and clean and jerk results. By referring back to the records of 1992 and those of today, it is obvious we are not even close to those possible maximum results.

Table 5 (Maximum Possible Results in Weightlifting)
Upper Limits Lower Limits
Clean & Jerk Snatch Clean & Jerk Snatch
+110 320.0 270.0 280.0 230.0
82.5 270.0 227.5 237.5 195.0
75 255.0 212.5 222.5 182.5
67.5 235.0 197.5 205.0 167.5
60 210.0 177.5 195.0 155.0
56 195.0 165.0 175.0 140.0

The introduction of sophisticated testing has undoubtedly affected weightlifting and probably many other performance sports. The main "evidence" relied upon by the press is the fact that there are fewer positive results at the Olympics.

However this may be true, this does not take into consideration that many National Olympic Committees pre - test their teams prior to a major event and leave the positives at home. Likewise, the IWF requires all of the entries in weightlifting to arrive at the Olympics in time to be tested for the results to come back before each athlete's competition date. Positives are sent home, or in the case of Atlanta in 1996, the positives were introduced, ostensibly, for the competition; then mysteriously were injured in the warm - up room and withdrew from the competition - thus avoiding the IOC testing.

The author attended the 2001 European Championships and witnessed Mutlu's (56 kg class) 168kg triple bodyweight clean and jerk "world record". This is the IWF 's verification of the effectiveness of its drug testing protocols because this was no world record. The record in place from 1987 is Terziiski's (Bulgaria) 171 kg in the 56 kg class. It is not necessary to re - establish new records in a weight class that had already been in existence , except that this is a clear admission that the record set in 1987, like the others in place in 1992, are too far out of reach for today's testing protocols.

Another "world record" in the clean and jerk established at these championships was Perepetchenov's (Russia) 210 kg in the 77 kg class. This is equal to 207.0 kg when adjusted for the bodyweight difference and is therefore 8.5 kg less than the 215.5 kg Varbanov (75 kg class) set in 1987. Perepetchenov's technique was a textbook exercise in the storage and utilization of the elastic energy of the bar and that created by the rapidly contracting - stretching muscles. He made full use of every conceivable "reactive" force at his disposal (9).

This wonderful physics lesson, a product of hard work and genetics, would appear to another athlete, grappling with the realization of this Russian's superiority to himself, as a clear manifestation of drug use. The Russian's technical prowess would be ignored or simply be beyond the grasp of the ill - informed or uneducated.

Consider this example:

"Last year the difference between him and me was that I could not afford his drug bill. Now I can. When I hit Munich I'll weigh in at about 340, or maybe 350. Then we'll see which are better, his steroids or mine" (6). This was a statement by Ken Patera in reference to Vasilly Alexeyev. The fact is that when he did get to the Munich Olympics, he failed miserably. Technically inferior and significantly less elastic than Alexeyev (due in no doubt to the superior coordination and elasticity drugs Alexeyev must have been taking), Patera was undoubtedly the stronger of the two.

The fact that the anabolics would affect the development of absolute strength almost exclusively, and, have virtually no effect on coordination, flexibility, or just the will to win was lost as to why Alexeyev was the better lifter.

This remark by Patera, although taken out of context (6), is indicative of the ignorance in athletics and academia concerning the use of performance enhancing drugs. Strength is the principal factor for success in weightlifting, but it is not the only one. Hard work, genetics, motivation and scientifically substantiated training methods are all an integral part of what goes into making a world class athlete (7,8). All of these factors have to be given their respective weight in any evaluation of athletic superiority; and, not the fact that fewer positives at international events means that the champion athletes are simply beating the tests.


  1. Medvedyev, A.S., Medvedyev, A. A., Masalgin, N.A., Sarsania, S. K., "Prognosis of World Records in Weightlifting and the Use of Performance Enhancers" Teoriya I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury, 8:39 - 43:1994, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.
  2. Medvedyev, A.S.," Prognosis of World Records in Weightlifting", Teoriya I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury, 3:2000, Translated by Andrew Charniga.
  3. Bamberger, M, Yaeger, D. "Over the Edge", Sports Illustrated, 86:15:60 - 72, 1997.
  4. Charniga A. Jr., Notes from:International Weightlifting/International Olympic Committee Coaching Medical Symposium, Siofok, Hungary, May 9 - 11, 1989.
  5. "World Records for Eternity", World Weightlifting, 1992:2:10
  6. Yesalis, C.E., Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise, Human Kinetics, P55:2000.
  7. Charniga, A., "A Sense of Perspective: The Soviet Spartakiade", Sportivny Press, 2001.
  8. Charniga, A., "Concerning the Russian Squat Routine", Sportivny Press
  9. Zhekov, I. P., Biomechanics of the Weightlifting Exercises, Sportivny Press. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.