LOS ANGELES - Wes Kitts competed in weightlifting for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which was delayed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he hopes to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
But the International Olympic Committee will not allow the sport in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games — for now — leaving Kitts concerned about the future.
The sport, along with boxing and modern pentathlon, were all left off the initial list of sports for the 2028 Los Angeles Games in December and were asked to make changes by the International Olympic Committee. IOC members cited governing and financial concerns with the AIBA International Boxing Association and financial and safety concerns with the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne.
In regard to weightlifting, IOC said it felt that the International Weightlifting Federation, or IWF, hadn’t done enough to address ongoing doping concerns among some athletes.
The IOC said it will reconsider its position on the three sports in 2023.
Kitts, who has maintained a clean record, said he understands the IOC’s concerns given the growing problem.
"It’s disappointing," the 31-year-old told FOX Television Stations Wednesday from his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. "It’s such a great sport, and it’s an old sport."
Wesley Brian Kitts of Team United States competes during the Weightlifting - Men's 109kg Group A on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo International Forum on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. ((Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images))
A culture of alleged corruption among international weightlifting officials was detailed in June 2021 in an investigative report of covered-up doping cases for athletes who won Olympic and world championship medals.
Three of the sport’s longtime leaders — former International Weightlifting Federation president Tamás Aján, vice president Nicolae Vlad and executive board member Hasan Akkus — were charged with a range of complicity and tampering offenses under the World Anti-Doping Code.
Alleged misconduct for a decade up to 2019, including 146 unresolved doping cases, was laid out in a 50-page document. The investigation was run by the International Testing Agency, which manages anti-doping programs for Olympic sports. Reasons for the failures to prosecute some doping cases ranged from "chaotic organizational processes" and errors to "outright negligence, complicity, or — at worst — blatant and intentional cover-ups," ITA investigators wrote. A total of 29 cases cannot be prosecuted due to destroyed evidence or expiring statute of limitations.
Kitts said it’s been tough maintaining his focus throughout his weightlifting career knowing some of his colleagues are cheating. Nevertheless, he was able to place 8th at the Tokyo Games and won a gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games.
"Honestly, you just don’t think about it," he said. "You train as hard as you can. Do the right thing and you show up and compete to the best of your ability."
FOX Television Stations has reached out to IWF for comment regarding weightlifting’s exclusion from the 2028 Olympics amid doping concerns.
Kitts shared his thoughts on what needs to happen to crack down on the issue but remains skeptical that the sport will become doping-free, putting the onus on countries to better manage their athletes.
"On a worldwide scale, it’s pretty well impossible to make sure everybody is clean, but at minimum, when you get these lifters at competitions, make sure the testing is legitimate," he continued. "Try to do some random testing when you can."
Kitts said he’s undergone random drug tests and hasn’t failed any of them. He would like to see the IWF work with countries to develop more rigorous testing for weightlifters.
Meanwhile, Kitts said he’s working on getting back in shape to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. He said he enjoys the sport because there’s always a goal to reach.
"You can never really win," he said. "You could always fit more weights on the bar. You can always lift with a little better technique, so it’s like an endless challenge, and you’re just always pursuing perfection."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.