THE Australian weightlifter who allegedly threatened to destroy the Olympic hopes of his teammates unless he was paid $5000 could face extortion charges if the accusation is proven.
Daniel Koum yesterday said he was ''shocked'' at the claims against him, but did not deny he had asked for the cash to complete his lifts during last week's Oceania Championships in Samoa. Had he walked away from the tournament, it would have cost Australia its only place in the male lifting events at the London Games.
The Australian Olympic Committee announced yesterday that it would conduct an investigation into the alleged incident, while athletes still in Games contention told of their dismay at Koum's alleged threat.
"Disappointed" ... Daniel Koum at home yesterday. Photo: Pat Scala
Koum is still entered in the final Olympic qualifying event in Brisbane on Saturday, though sources in the sport say he is unlikely to be allowed to compete.
Yesterday he said: ''I've put all my financial money to represent this country and they're accusing me for [asking for] $5000?
''With past competitions, even I just went to represent Australia in the world championships and it cost me more than $10,000.
Amazed at teammate's action ... weightlifters Ben Turner and Damon Kelly at training in Brisbane yesterday. Photo: Paul Harris
''I'm very disappointed.''
Specialist sports lawyer Tim Fuller, from Walsh Halligan
Douglas and the University of Queensland, said Koum could face extortion charges even though the alleged incident took place in Samoa.
"If it is true, the elements of extortion have essentially been made out,'' Fuller said. ''I think it would be unprecedented in Australian sporting history.''
The AOC investigation is to be headed by its director of sport Fiona de Jong, who spoke with Australian Weightlifting Federation president Robert Mitchell yesterday afternoon. The AWF is expected to hand the AOC a report into the matter tomorrow.
Australia needed to finish in the top five in Samoa to guarantee a place for one male lifter in London, with Koum's lifts vital to earning that position.
His teammate, Commonwealth Games gold medallist and London hopeful, Damon Kelly, said he felt ill when informed of what had allegedly transpired.
''It's amazing to think someone could put their own personal interests before the team.''
The team's coach, Michael Keelan, yesterday defended his decision to hand cash to Koum. Keelan said he had heard earlier of Koum's alleged plan and offered him an incentive of $1000 out of his own pocket if he lifted a total of 250kg in his 62kg division.
When Koum later demanded $5000 to complete his lifts, Keelan said he thought ''it was a despicable act and I still feel that way''. However, he felt he did the right thing by the rest of the team by arranging the payment.
Another lifter, Ben Turner, praised Keelan's decision.
"They [team officials] were put in one of the toughest spots you could imagine … they had to weigh up all the options in such a short time-frame. I've got nothing but good things to say about team management.''