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AOC defends weightlifting coach axing
By Crystal Ja
18:43 AEST Thu Jun 28 2012

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has defended its decision to axe national weightlifting coach Michael Keelan just one month out from the London Games, saying the move is best for Australia's two athletes.

Keelan was dumped on Wednesday, told in a letter his services were no longer required and that he would be replaced by two people: the personal coaches of lifters Damon Kelly and Seen Lee, who are both London-bound.

Keelan has been under scrutiny since revealing he and other officials agreed to pay weightlifter Daniel Koum $5000 for his participation in an Olympic qualifier in June, which helped secure Kelly's spot.

Koum had allegedly threatened to pull out of the tournament, which would have dashed Australia's hopes of being represented in the men's competition.

An independent investigation, ordered by the Australian Weightlifting Federation, is underway.

The AOC said on Thursday the decision was made to "ensure that they (Kelly and Lee) have access to their day to day coaching support".

They said they found room to send two officials given Australia qualified two lifters - and it made sense to choose their personal coaches over the head coach.

"This is consistent with what the AOC has done in other sports.

"Coaches have always taken priority over administrative or support personnel because personal coaches have the most positive impact on athlete performance."

But a shocked and angry Keelan has written to the AOC to plead his case, arguing the change this close to the Games could have the opposite effect.

The weightlifting fraternity has generally expected Australia to qualify two lifters for London as far back as a year ago and Australia sent a weightlifting duo to the past two Games in Beijing in 2008 and the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Asked whether the move to axe Keelan was at all related to the ongoing saga surrounding Koum and the extortion claims, the AOC was unable to comment, saying legal action was pending.

Koum, who denies any suggestion of impropriety, is suing Keelan for defamation.

Keelan has received the backing of good friend Kelly, who will be contesting the 105kg plus super heavyweight division in London, although Lee, in the women's 58kg category, was keeping quiet on Thursday.

Kelly said he wasn't consulted on the move.

"I was happy with that appointment. I was planning on that going into the Games," he told AAP.

"It's not ideal in the build-up being disrupted this close."

Australia's weightlifting campaign starts in London on July 30.

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