So you want to go to the Olympics?
Demystifying the IWF qualification system for Tokyo 2020
TL;DR: to go to the Olympics, be as high on the ranking list as possible. The ranking list doesn’t care about weight class. Spots are given based off this list.
Who among us hasn’t harbored Olympic dreams? I can still recall watching Naim Suleymanoglu and Pyrros Dimas compete at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and thinking “That could be me.”
My desires for Olympic glory were strong—in part because I wanted sporting fame; in part because I had a devastating crush on Dominique Moceanu and thought this might be a good way to meet her.
Alas, a lack of talent, dedication, and zero self-control when it came to playing Doom long hours into the night forever sidelined my Olympic aspirations. But there may still be time for you! If so, you are in luck: This short guide will tell you roughly everything you need to know to make sure you’re selected for one of the 196 spots open to weightlifting (98 men, 98 women) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
While the IWF system isn’t quite as simple as qualifying for the first modern Olympics in 1896—when basically all you needed to do was show up—it’s not nearly as complicated as something like quantum field theory or cold fusion. Compared to the last two, the IWF qualification system is as easy as
pie the physics of high-temperature superconductivity.
A step-by-step guide to the IWF qualification procedures
STEP ONE: Plan your schedule.
Plan your schedule for the next year. The 18-month Qualification Period runs from November 1, 2018 to April 30, 2020. (This can be helpful to get out of a variety of obligations: anytime you don’t feel like going out just say you’re totally swamped with this whole Olympic Qualification thing you’ve got going on.)
The total 18-month qualification period is then subdivided into three shorter blocks:
I. November 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019
II. May 1, 2019 to October 31, 2019
III. November 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020
You must participate (i.e., at least weigh in) at least six times during the 18-month period and you must participate at least once during every short block. So if your plan is to head into the mountains for the next year, load up on Cell-Tech, and then squeeze in six last-minute comps once you clean out you’ll have to rethink your strategy.
FURTHERMORE there are rules on the types of events you must compete in. The IWF has categorized competitions into three tiers: Gold, Silver, and Bronze.
Gold events include the Junior/Senior World Championships and Junior/Senior Continental Championships, like the African Champs, Europeans, Pan Ams, etc.
Silver events include Multi-Sport Games and Championships and IWF events like the International Fajr Cup.
Bronze events include a variety of international and regional championships and cups like the Las Vegas International Open.*
To be eligible for 2020, you must participate in at least one Gold event AND at least one additional Gold or Silver event during the 18-month qualification period.
(More about the value of Gold, Silver, Bronze events later.)
To recap: Compete (or at least weigh in, although not totaling isn’t doing you any favors) at least SIX times in 18 months, at least once per block, and in at least one Gold and one Silver event.
STEP TWO: Pick a weight class.
There are ten (10) weight classes per gender at IWF Senior and Junior events (Youth events do not count toward qualification). But only SEVEN (7) classes per gender will be contested at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The Olympic categories are the following:
Men: 61kg, 67kg, 73kg, 81kg, 96kg, 109kg, +109kg
Women: 49kg, 55kg, 59kg, 64kg, 76kg, 87kg, +87kg
That means the following will NOT be contested in Tokyo:
Men: 55kg, 89kg, 102kg
Women: 45kg, 71kg, 81kg
Each of the 14 categories at the 2020 Games can have a MAXIMUM of 14 athletes. Furthermore, a country NOC (National Olympic Committee) may only enter ONE athlete per category (presumably an effort to distribute medals to countries that aren’t China). Each NOC can enter up to FOUR athletes per gender (eight total), subject to other rules that we’ll get to later.
What do you do if you’re not currently sitting in an Olympic category? Not to worry (yet).
You can compete in non-Olympic categories during the qualification period, but in at least TWO of your events you must compete in the same Olympic category during this period. So if you’re an 81kg athlete who wants to lift as a 76kg athlete in Tokyo your totals in the 81 class count toward ranking (discussed later), but you must compete in your desired Olympic category (76) at least twice during the qualification period (as must everyone).**
STEP THREE: Have the right passport.
Try to avoid having a passport from, say, Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan (or another country that’s been using a bit too much, uh, Cell-Tech).
In short: countries whose athletes have consistently been popped will lose spots. Or, framed another way, all countries (NOC/MF) start with two spots (one man, one woman) and countries with better WADA records earn more spots (subject to the IWF Anti-Doping policy), up to the eight total possible lifters.
The important period for violations is July 27, 2008 to April 30, 2020 (the start of the Beijing Olympics to the end of the qualification period).
Countries with 10-19 Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) in this period can qualify FOUR total athletes (2 men, 2 women).
Countries with fewer than ten ADRVs in the same period can qualify the full slate of EIGHT athletes (4 men, 4 women).
STEP FOUR: Be good.
More specifically, be really good at the World level, OR, be the best in your category at the Continental level.
This is a hard one. Countries (NOCs) no longer qualify spots and then get to select their athletes, irrespective of how they’ve performed on the platform. Rather, ALL Olympic spots are allocated on an INDIVIDUAL basis to particular athletes (there’s an exception for the host country, discussed in a note). In this way your Olympic spot is like an airline ticket: non-transferrable.
So, you have to earn your spot based on qualification points / scoring.
Here is where the Gold, Silver, and Bronze events become really important.
Athletes will be ranked in the IWF Absolute Ranking using a formula that incorporates event status and Robi points. What are Robi points? Simply put: a means of comparing athletes across classes based on World Records. In each weight class, 1000 Robi points is the score achieved by equaling that class’s World Record. So if you lift a World Record total in the 76kg class you score 1000 Robi points; if your best friend lifts a World Record total in the 64kg class she also scores 1000 Robi points.
BUT: your Robi point score for the IWF Absolute Ranking can change based on the TYPE of event in which you lift. If you lift a WR total at a GOLD event (e.g., the World Championships) your score is multiplied by 1.10 (i.e., the score is 110%); if your friend does her WR total at a SILVER event her score is only multiplied by 1.05 (105%). And if you (popular weightlifting person that you are) have a third friend who lifts a WR in a Bronze event then her score remains as is (multiplied by 1.00, or simply 100% of her original score).
To recap: Gold event earns Robi x 1.10; Silver earns Robi x 1.05; Bronze earns Robi x 1.00.
Final IWF Absolute Ranking will happen at the end of the qualification period (subject to athlete and MF/NOC eligibility). Rankings will be calculated from FOUR results in the Total:
Score 1 = your best Robi score from qualification block 1
Score 2 = your best Robi score from qualification block 2
Score 3 = your best Robi score from qualification block 3
Score 4 = your next best Robi score from the entire 18-month period
The final score, based on these four results, will determine your ranking at the end of the period.
You can see the current rankings here: https://www.iwf.net/qualif/menu/
Note that Mount Lasha currently has a Robi score of
one million 1278.7001, which is pretty decent. Let’s break it down:
World Standard (at the start of the Qualification period): 453
Lasha’s total at 2018 Worlds (his current best total in block 1): 474
Robi score = A (category constant; for the +109 class it’s 0.000001501871444) x Total^b (b=3.321928096)
Lasha’s Robi score (raw): 1162.45463036 (it’s over 1000 since he exceeded the WR)
Lasha’s Robi score x Gold Level event multiplier (1.10): 1278.7000934, rounded to 1278.7001
Lasha fanning himself with a wad of Robi points.
If you want to check your own Robi score there is a calculator on the IWF site: IWF ROBI Points Calculator
What happens when new World Records are set?
New World Records do NOT affect scores—i.e., the standards in place at the start of the qualification period (November 2018) will be used for the entirety of the period. UPDATE: apparently the Robi scores ARE updated, but only at the start of each 6-month Qualification Period (i.e., moving forward, they will be changed to reflect new records on May 1 and November 1, 2019). What this means is a new World Record will not affect anyone’s current Robi score, but will affect athletes’ scores starting in the subsequent 6-month block. This is not exactly clear from the IWF’s documents, but per USAW CEO Phil Andrews it is apparently the case (see his response to the issue on the reddit post about Zhang Wangli’s records).
Here you can see the importance of doing well at Gold (and to a lesser extent, Silver) events for the IWF Absolute Ranking. Let’s take dad-bod phenom Sohrab Moradi and winter-bulk Tian Tao of the 96kg category as examples. Currently, their totals from the Worlds (a Gold event) give them scores of 1242.7220 and 1155.6312, respectively (Moradi did 416 and Tao did 407). But let’s pretend Moradi instead did his total at a Bronze event. In that case, his Robi score in the IWF ranking would be 1129.7472, placing him behind Tian Tao despite having done more weight.
Also note that Absolute Rankings feature ALL bodyweight categories (Olympic and non-Olympic); to determine spots they will be filtered down to the Olympic categories. Athletes who have competed in multiple Olympic categories or Olympic and non-Olympic categories will be given their spot in the Olympic category where they received their highest ranking (but remember to be eligible you must have competed in TWO events in the same Olympic bodyweight category)…
STOP THE PRESSES
At this point, assuming your brain has not begun to ooze out of your ears and onto the platform, you may be wondering how the IWF will go from 10 to 7 categories, and how an athlete in the 55s will earn a spot in the 61s, for example.
This is, by far, the most ambiguous part of the rules. BUT, I think I’ve figured it out, despite some truly dizzying logic and wording on the part of the IWF.
As far as I can determine, the best way to conceptualize this process is to consider Robi points irrespective of weight class. The Absolute Rankings don’t care if you’re a 55, a 96, a 109, or whatever (so long as you meet the requirements of lifting in the same Olympic category at least two times during the qualification period).
Robi points, in theory, are meant to equalize results across all categories. This initial ranking—which includes all 10 categories—ranks people as though you could compare them meaningfully across classes.
So if we look at the women’s ranking at the time of writing (Jan 2019), Sukanya Srisurat is the number one woman, period [Whoops! Srisurat and three other Thai lifters were just popped; so clearly the ranking list will change. But it’s a good reminder of how in flux things will be throughout the entire period.].
Tatiana Kashirina is the number two woman, period. Before the 10 categories are whittled down to seven the ranking doesn’t care about bodyweight class: conceptually, Sukanya is not (yet) the number one 55kg athlete, she is just number one overall. Tatiana is not (yet) the best +87 lifter, she is just the number two female lifter.
AT THE END OF THE QUALIFICATION PERIOD, to arrive at our seven categories, we go down the list and THEN assign spots. Sukanya is number 1, so we assign her a spot in the Olympic category in which she did the best (the 55s). Easy.
Now let’s pretend Egypt’s Sara Ahmed was ranked number 2 on this list (based on a mix of Robi scores from Olympic and Non-Olympic categories).
Remember: at this moment we ONLY care about Robi points: bodyweight is irrelevant. Sara is assigned a spot in the Olympic category in which she did the best. It doesn’t matter that her hypothetical Robi score is composed of Total results from the 71s and 76s, nor would it matter if her best Robi score ever were in a non-Olympic category: she earns a spot in the 76s based on her Absolute ranking, assuming she competed in that class twice.
Again, this happens because of the magic of Robi points, which are meant to iron out the differences among categories. This also likely explains the relatively underwhelming World Standards that were set as “Records” at the start of the qualification period: doing so prevents an entire weight category from being screwed by an outlier like Lasha, whose once-in-a-generation lifts would make the category’s Robi points even more worthless than Weimar-era Papiermarks.
Still with me? Good! Onward…
Lasha being forcibly restrained after breaking down while trying to make sense of the poorly-worded IWF qualification document.
At the end of the qualification period (April 30, 2020), we now have 14 spots per category to fill. Here’s how it happens:
EIGHT spots per bodyweight category will be determined by the IWF Absolute ranking method. That is, the top eight athletes in a category will have earned spots, subject to these restrictions:
- Each NOC/MF can only have a maximum of 7 men and 7 women ranked, with a maximum of one athlete per NOC per category***
- For countries with more eligible than the maximum allowed per country (4 men, 4 women, except for countries that lost spots due to doping), the NOC will select which athletes earn spots—and remember they are NOT transferable (so if USA has 5 women ranked they will have to pick the 4 women who have spots)
FIVE spots per bodyweight category will be given to the top ranked athletes per continent not already qualified via the method above; that is, one from each continent: the highest-ranked from Africa, Europe, Pan-America, Oceania, and Asia (not already qualified). So if you’re the best 109kg athlete from Europe and you don’t already have a spot, congratulations, you’ve earned a spot (assuming other restrictions on eligibility don’t apply).
ONE spot per bodyweight category can then be given to the Host Country OR via a “Tripartite Commission Invitation” (8 spots, 4 men/4 women, are available via the Tripartite method)****
8 + 5 + 1 = 14
And that’s it! You’ve got your full cohort of athletes for the class.
high-temperature superconductivity pie!
Loredana Toma upon learning that someone had cracked the IWF qualification code.
* Note that you cannot set new World Records at Bronze events AND the IWF can revoke an event’s status as a Bronze level qualifier after the fact if it determines that the event was compromised in some way. Caveat athleta.
** In keeping with the category limits for Tokyo 2020, athletes CANNOT change bodyweight categories at the 2020 Verification of Final Entries.
*** Member Federations (MF) without an NOC designation are excluded from IWF Absolute Ranking (e.g., Wales)
**** Japan (Host Country) is guaranteed six spots (3 men, 3 women) if they don’t qualify for the maximum quota of eight. Also, Host country spots ARE transferable, if the spots are true Host spots (i.e., not spots qualified through the normal, Absolute ranking method).
The Tripartite Commission Invitation is a way of trying to achieve the goal of universality and representation at the Games. Eligible NOCs can submit requests for spots via this method by January 2020. Countries using this method will, as best I can determine, be those countries that send small delegations to the Games or countries unable to qualify via the paths outlined above. Athletes in this group do NOT have to adhere to all the rules above regarding participation, but they must have participated in at least TWO qualifying IWF events during the qualification period, one of which must be at least Silver.