Four Olympic weightlifting champions from Kazakhstan, including star Ilya Ilyin, are among 10 lifters who failed drug tests in a reanalysis of samples taken at the London 2012 Olympics.
Ilyin, the men's 94-kilogram gold medalist, and three women champions, Zulfia Chinshanlo (53 kilograms), Maia Maneza (63 kilograms), and Svetlana Podobedova (75 kilograms), tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs, the International Weightlifting Federation said on June 15.
The federation provisionally suspended all 10 lifters who tested positive, including seven London medalists and a current world champion who had been expected to be medal contenders at the Rio de Janeiro Games in August.
All four of Kazakhstan's gold medalists in London are expected to be stripped of their titles, dropping Kazakhstan from 12th to 23rd in the medal standings.
Stripping the Kazakhs of their gold medals would elevate three Russian silver medalists at the London Games: Ilyin rival Aleksandr Ivanov, Podobedova rival Natalia Zabolotnaya, and Maneza rival Svetlana Tsarukayeva.
Another Russian silver medalist in weightlifting in London, Apti Aukhadov (85 kilograms), was one of the 10 who failed the drug retest, however, and he is likely to lose his medal.
Ilyin, 28, is a double Olympic champion and global superstar who has been named male weightlifter of the year four times and has nearly 400,000 followers on social media.
The four-time world champion is also a national hero and a personal friend of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Ilyin tested positive for dehydrochloromethyltestosterone and stanozolol when the International Olympic Committee reanalyzed his 2012 samples using more advanced detection methods, the federation said.
A multiple world record holder who never failed a test before, Ilyin had been confident of winning a third gold medal, at 105 kilograms, in Rio.
Of the Kazakh women gold medalists, Chinshanlo and Podobedova are both former female weightlifters of the year.
Pavel Novikov, the former vice president of Kazakhstan's National Olympic Committee, disparaged the report of Kazakh weightlifters having doped and suggested WADA is biased against former Soviet republics.
"For some reason, tests for banned drugs are only of interest for athletes who have represented and represent countries of the former Soviet Union," Novikov said.
"We see that there is a political push to discredit the major sporting achievements of former Soviet Union countries," he added.
Novikov attributed WADA's findings to "conflicts within the Olympic movement."
The retests showed oxandrolone and stanozolol in Chinshanlo's sample while Maneza and Podobedova both tested positive for stanozolol.
The other 2012 medalists who tested positive were Russia's Aukhadov (dehydrochloromethyltestosterone and drostanolone) and two women's bronze medallists, Ukrainian Yulia Kalina (58 kilograms) (dehydrochloromethyltestosterone) and Belarusian Maryna Shkermankova (69 kilograms) (dehydrochloromethyltestosterone and stanozolol).
The reigning women's 58-kilograms world champion Boyanka Kostova, a Bulgarian who now competes for Azerbaijan and finished fifth in London, also returned a positive test for dehydrochloromethyltestosterone and stanozolol.
Two other athletes from Belarus failed tests -- Yauheni Zharnasek (ninth in the men's +105 kilograms) and Dzina Sazanavets (fourth in the women's 69 kilograms).
The World Anti-Doping Agency carried out the retests on athletes' samples in a range of sports at the 2008 and 2012 games.
"We believe that retrospective testing serves as a strong deterrent to those who may consider cheating," it said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS