Cash claim scandal rocks Australian weightlifting

Australian weightlifting was rocked Wednesday by allegations that an athlete held his team's Olympic hopes to ransom by demanding Aus$5,000 (about US$5,000) cash before competing at a qualifying event.

Australian Weightlifting Federation chief Michael Keelan claimed Daniel Koum, 26, asked for the money at the Oceania Weightlifting Championships in Samoa last week.

"We were absolutely shocked and stunned. It was just unbelievable," Keelan told AFP, adding that this was the first time it had happened to him in more than 40 years in the sport.

"He said if he didn't get that amount of money he said he would not participate in the championships."

Had any Australian male athlete failed to compete in Samoa it would have made it impossible for the team to finish among the top five nations, meaning Australia would have been unable to send a male lifter to the London Olympics.

"The situation which occurred in Samoa was he (Koum) felt like he was in the position whereby he could bargain and he asked for some money," Keelan charged.

"And the thing is he asked for a considerable amount of money which is $5,000."

Koum, who competed at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, has reportedly denied the allegations, telling The Sydney Morning Herald when asked about the claims: "I deny that."

The Melbourne-based Koum, who is originally from Cameroon, competed in Samoa, helping Australia gain a berth for London and was expected to take part in the final selection event in Brisbane this weekend.

He could, however, face sanctions for bringing the sport into disrepute if the allegations are proven.

Koum is only an outside chance to go to London, with Damon Kelly, the sole Australian male weightlifter at the 2008 Olympic Games, the favourite to win the spot.

Keelan, who said he was one of several coaches and officials who pooled together to pay the $5,000, said it was hard for the sport to financially support athletes for the Olympics, where Australia is unlikely to win a medal.

But he added: "You can't have one person's actions destroying the aspirations of another."

He stood by the decision to hand over the cash.

"I am still reeling from it. But the fact is we had to make a quick decision. I still think we've done the right thing."

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