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Weightlifter devastated by extortion claim

Date

Crystal Ja

Weightlifter Daniel Koum at his Geelong flat yesterday.

Weightlifter Daniel Koum at his Geelong flat yesterday. Photo: Pat Scala

Weightlifter Daniel Koum feels he's been let down by the sport's governing body for claiming he ransomed Australia's Olympic hopes for $5000 cash, arguing he has spent thousands more over the years to represent his country.

Australian weightlifting was rocked yesterday by allegations Koum, 26, demanded the money just minutes before he was due to compete in the Oceania Weightlifting Championships in Samoa last week or else he'd pull out.

His appearance was necessary to ensure Australia was able to secure enough points in the competition to send one male lifter to the London Games.

Australian Weightlifting Federation (AWF) boss Michael Keelan yesterday said he felt forced to comply and he and two other officials scrounged around for the cash, which was paid directly to Koum in American dollars.

But Koum, who fell just short of the medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, has rejected the claims.

''I'm very shocked,'' he said.

''I've always been competing.

''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.

''I'm very disappointed.''

Koum, who was one of three Cameroon weightlifters who competed in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games but remained in Australia to take up citizenship, would not say if he would still attend Saturday's national championships.

It's there that the AWF board will decide which athletes will go to London, Australia having qualified one male and one female in Samoa.

A formal investigation is still pending, but Koum has all but ruled himself out of getting the men's spot.

''Yeah, I don't think there's any chance of that,'' said Keelan, who singled out Beijing Olympian Damon Kelly as the front-runner for the job.

''But we still have to go through the process.''

Keelan said he was reeling from Koum's actions, which came after the AWF chief had already promised to give him $1000 out of his own pocket if he lifted a total of 250 kilograms in the 62kg men's category.

Later that day and less than an hour before Koum's competition was scheduled to begin, the lifter took AWF president Robert Mitchell aside to say he wanted more money.

''He's made a demand, he wants $5000 or we can kiss our Olympic Games men's team goodbye,'' Keelan alleged.

''And as far as I'm concerned that's blackmail and extortion.''

But the AWF has also been copping flak for its side of the bargain, amid calls for Keelan's head.

Keelan was standing by the decision, saying: ''It was made under extreme duress and I hope people see that we care as an organisation, that's why we didn't want one bad apple in the keg ruin it for everyone else.

''The criticism is lousy, but what can you do? I can look in the mirror and I think I've done the right thing.''

The Australian Olympic Committee said it will wait to hear from the AWF by tomorrow and that its investigation was ongoing.

Koum came 29th in the weightlifting world championships in Paris last year and is currently ranked joint-44th in the world. AAP

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