Antonio Urso, in white, has been given a Gold Collar by CONI for his service to weightlifting ©Facebook/FIPE

Antonio Urso, who has transformed Italian weightlifting and is tasked with reforming the sport's global governing body, has been awarded a Gold Collar, the highest honour conferred by the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI).

Urso, secretary general of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), received the Gold Collar from the CONI President Giovanni Malagò at the Foro Italico.

Last year Malagò had been in tears when Italy won its first Olympic weightlifting medals since 1984.

Giorgia Bordignon took silver in the women's 64 kilograms and two men claimed bronze, Mirko Zanni at 67kg and Antonino Pizzolato at 81kg.

That gave Italy more medals than any other European nation in Tokyo and put weightlifting on the front page of Italian newspapers.

It also brought to fruition a development plan that began back in 2012, before the London Olympic Games.

There was further success this year when Giulia Imperio and Pizzolato won gold at the European Championships in Tirana, Albania, where Pizzolato became the first Italian in 100 years to claim world records in clean and jerk and total.

The "Italian system", now 10 years old and thriving, is continuing to produce winners and Italy has high hopes of more medals from its team of eight at the IWF World Championships in Bogotá, Colombia next month where Pizzolato moves up to the new Olympic category of 89kg alongside team-mate Cristiano Ficco, and Oscar Reyes Martinez makes his debut at 81kg.

The key to the Italian system, Urso told insidethegames from Tokyo last year, is in treating the athletes "like humans rather than machines", a process that has been helped by the appointment of two psychologists to work with the coaches.

Antonio Urso, third left, was given the honour by Giovanni Malagò, second left ©IWF
Antonio Urso, third left, was given the honour by Giovanni Malagò, second left ©IWF

"For Paris we will be even stronger," he said after the Tokyo successes.

"We have many good young lifters who are improving.

"This is a new era for weightlifting in Italy, and I hope Italy will be a leader of change."

After Urso was elected into his IWF role in bizarre circumstances in June - a second vote was needed after the wrong result had been called - he immediately set to work on trying to reform the sport as it attempts to regain its Olympic status for Los Angeles 2028.

He said weightlifting is wasting 60 per cent of its potential and needs to move into a new era.

"Either we change course or Paris 2024 will be the last chapter in our Olympic history," Urso told insidethegames in an interview in August.

In the two days before the lifting begins in Bogotá, there will be an IWF Board meeting and a Special Congress, at which members will be asked to support a range of projects.

They include the proposed exclusion from the Olympic Games of countries that do not cooperate with out-of-competition anti-doping tests, bringing new life to the way the sport is presented, overhauling of the way the IWF operates day-to-day, and asking members - for the second time in less than two years - to adopt a new Constitution.

Giorgia Bordignon was one of three Italian weightlifting medallists at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images
Giorgia Bordignon was one of three Italian weightlifting medallists at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images

"We have a lot of projects for the future and without governance reform those projects are not possible," said Urso.

The Gold Collar ceremony was attended by Andrea Abodi, Italy’s Sports Minister, Malagò and the president of the Italian Paralympic Committee, Luca Pancalli.

Italy's haul of 40 medals from all sports in Tokyo was a record, and other National Federation leaders were honoured.

Malagò, an IOC Member, said, "Never has Italy won so many titles in history, thanks to technical athletes and sports federations that contribute to increasing the value of Italian sport."

Male and female athletes who won world titles in 2022 are given the prestigious award.

"Today was a special day for me and for weightlifting," Urso said.

"In Italy it is the first time that a Gold Collar has been recognised to a President of weightlifting and if I then think that just a few days ago the same recognition was given to the President of the IOC, I remain even more particularly grateful to the Italian Olympic Committee and to the its President Giovanni Malagò for having valued all the great work done in these past years."