By Chris Gallagher
TOKYO (Reuters) - Weightlifting powerhouse China is set to extend its dominance in Rio de Janeiro after topping the medal table at every Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Games.
After cruising to five golds in London four years ago, China will land in Brazil with a full contingent of 10 lifters and all but three have won Olympic or world championship titles - highlighting the nation's depth in multiple weight classes.
"In the country they have an impressive amount of good lifters so even internally the competition is tough," Lilla Rozgonyi of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), the sport's governing body, told Reuters.
China is the only country with a full team, partly because quotas were removed from some nations over doping violations, which have cast a cloud over the sport in the run-up to Rio.
Athletes from Azerbaijan and Bulgaria have been excluded from Rio because of violations. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia are also subject to suspension under IWF rules but their cases remain open with the International Olympic Committee, Rozgonyi said.
John Paul Nicoletta, an author for OLIFT Magazine, said the weightlifting world had hoped the men's 105 kg division would yield a rematch from the 2014 world championships, where Kazakhstan's Ilya Ilyin, Uzbekistan's Ruslan Nurudinov and Russia's David Bedzhanyan smashed multiple world records.
But Ilyin is out of the Games following positive doping retests from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, while the situation for Russian athletes is uncertain amid the country's doping scandal.
That means the divisions to watch will be the men's 77 kg where China's Lu Xiaojun will aim for his second straight Olympic gold, and the men's 85 kg in which Iran's Kianoush Rostami and China's Tian Tao will likely test world records, Nicoletta told Reuters.
Elsewhere, North Korea's Om Yun-chol will look to extend his impressive run in the men's 56 kg, having taken gold in London and at the 2013-2015 world championships, while Iran's Behdad Salimi will seek to defend his title as strongest man, in the +105 kg.
Chinese women in particular have been a formidable force since women's weightlifting debuted at the Olympics in 2000, accounting for at least half of their country's golds each time.
Deng Wei in the 63 kg class and Xiang Yanmei in the 69 kg division will be making their Olympic debuts after both won gold at last year's world championships and should be favorites in Rio.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; editing by Ken Ferris)