Randall J. StrossenWeightlifting Jumps into the Mainstream—and Makes a Big Splash
Olympic-style weightlifting burst out of its usual conservative, low-profile shell in the United States this year—first with a major role at the mediagenic Titan Games in San Jose, California, and then with its debut at the Arnold Fitness Expo in Columbus, Ohio. Weightlifting is the only iron game activity on the Olympic program, which automatically gives it very special status, but it has a relatively small following in the U.S., usually assuming a quiet role far from mainstream interest. All that changed this spring, though, as the sport moved from the wings to center stage with those two big-time events.
Organized by the U.S. Olympic Committee and hosted by the San Jose Sports Authority, the Titan Games featured seven elemental, fierce Olympic sports contested four at a time, side by side in one arena. Imagine wrestling, boxing, karate and weightlifting enhanced by high-energy announcers and rock music laced with techno support you’d expect in a 21st-century Silicon Valley setting. Did we mention that gold medalists and marquee names were there as competitors, special guests and fans?
This festive, made-for-TV environment marked a new kind of showcase for weightlifting, and the USA’s Shane Hamman, a former champion powerlifter who once said, “Powerlifting is like poker; weightlifting is like chess,” closed out the night with a 500-pound (227.5 kilogram) clean and jerk, following his 407-pound (185-kilogram) snatch, to a standing ovation from a full house roaring its approval. Do they really rock like this at chess tournaments?
The Titan Games featured lifters from the USA, Hungary, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela—a competitors list that included world champions. Even though it was very early in the competition season, which meant that lifters were well below their peak-performance levels, there were still some very nice lifts, and Boris Burov smoked an outstanding world-class 182.5-kilogram (402-pound) snatch at a bodyweight of 96.58 kilograms (213 pounds). The American team produced many notable performances, and, underlining the big splash weightlifting made, Hamman and Cheryl Haworth received the Ultimate Titan honors at the end of the weekend.
A couple of weeks later weightlifting joined the feeding frenzy known as the Arnold Fitness Expo and managed to draw a crowd so large that at one point there was concern that the fire marshall would have to clear the place.
This event was the brainchild of meet directors Mark Canella and Megan Tornstrom, who leveraged Megan’s experience working with Jim Lorimer and Arnold’s interest in weightlifting to provide three different competitive formats over two days of lifting.
Weightlifting at the Arnold Expo featured U.S. lifters and drew its strength not from world-record-level performances but from the variety of formats, which were presented in the quick-moving rounds system, with only two attempts per lifter, superenhanced by the unstoppable wave of energy generated by the expo. Chuck Vinci, who won Olympic gold medals in weightlifting in ’56 and ’60 and was the last American Olympic gold medalist in the sport until Tara Nott rang the bell in Sydney, was on hand throughout the event, and everyone joined in celebrating Chuck’s 70th birthday.
Given the very nature of the Arnold Fitness Expo, there are always a lot of name-brand people milling about. Among the notables who came over to watch weightlifting were powerlifting superstar Ed Coan, World’s Strongest Man competitors Odd Haugen and Phil Pfister and kettlebell king Pavel Tsatsouline.
And just to make sure everything ended on the highest possible note, when the competition was over, a small group of lifters and coaches were whisked off to meet with Arnold at his hotel, where he exclaimed, “I love Olympic weightlifting!” Arnold told the group that he had begun his career as a weightlifter, that he’d been instrumental in bringing weightlifting to the expo, and that he wanted it back. USA Weightlifting president Dennis Snethen presented Arnold with an invitation to be honorary team captain of the 2004 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team.
One great sport, two great events.
Editor’s note: Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D., is the author of Ironmind, IRONMAN’s monthly sports psychology column, and he is the founder and president of IronMind Enterprises Inc., a name that’s synonymous with strength sports around the world. Visit www.ironmind.com for more information.