Lifting In London: Ask Not What Olympic Weightlifting Can Do For You
The other night, my friend who I'll call Big Z, busted his mother’s toilet seat. He didn't mean to, of course. Who would ever intend to break their mom’s toilet? He simply sat down too quickly, using the same explosive power he puts into his snatches, and crack! The seat had no chance.
Given all the mass in the ass that he's built up over his previous year of Olympic weightlifting training it was inevitable - if we're being honest. The man is now 129 kilos at a height of 6'5''. I don't know how he will ever safely go to the bathroom again. (Please, don't tell him I said that, I don't want to worry the poor guy.)
Weightlifting as an activity works wonders if you suffer from flat-butt syndrome. It builds muscle, speed, coordination, and zaps your metabolism into high gear. It's darn near the perfect thing for whatever ails you. But weightlifting isn't just an activity, or collection of exercises. Olympic weightlifting is a sport whose popularity has been skyrocketing over the last decade.
We are creeping up fast toward the Olympics, and whenever this happens the Internet explodes with arguments between the most hardcore fans about what we can do to make sure our athletes do better. The debates always center around the same topic: How do we win more medals? The issue with Olympic weightlifting in America is that we simply aren't as competitive on the world stage as we'd like to be. In fact, we're rather low on the totem pole. And we have been for half a century.
How do we change that? Well, that is where you come in. Weightlifting can make you strong enough to bust up your bathroom, but I'm going to argue that now it is your turn to give back to the sport that has given your body so much. Don't worry. What I ask of you is fun and easy. Unlike your actual weightlifting workouts!
The Biggest Reasons American Weightlifters Aren't Winning
Arguments on the Internet are almost always pointless. People talk past each other, quibble over meaningless semantic details, and never end up convincing their opponents of anything. I, for one, have little interest in Internet battles - life is complicated enough as it is. What I do care about is the sport of weightlifting and helping it grow and thrive, because it is fun, I think it makes you better person, and it looks damned cool.
As I see it there are only two arguments being put forward about why American's aren't kicking butt in weightlifting that are helpful, true on a large scale, and would make any serious difference if changed:
- American Weightlifters are TOO clean. That is, they don't use (or rarely use) steroids and other performance enhancing drugs the way their counterparts do in top performing countries.
- Most Americans who are not weightlifters don't even know the sport exists, let alone watch it.
All other arguments are subservient to, or subsets of the arguments above. American weightlifting either needs to allow steroids, dramatically increase the number of people who do the sport, or both. Without at least one of those being true, all other arguments lose their meaning.
Laid Back, Sippin' on GH and Juice
It is a fact that the top lifters in the world are on steroids. It is a pipe dream to pretend we can dominate on the world stage with a "clean" team. We can't. And we won't. We might have outliers here and there, genetic freaks who are beyond freaky. But that will be rare, very rare.
We have to make a choice as a society. Do we turn a blind eye to steroid use (like we do in sports we are actually competitive in) so that we can see winners? Or do we aggressively stop lifters from using so we can make sure our lifters are playing by the rules - accepting that they will never (or very rarely) be the best of the best?
As of now, our choice has been the second one. No drugs, no medals. But, we get to take the moral high ground.
That is fine. But if we choose this, we have to be clear the only way we will ever get medals at the Olympics is by finding and cultivating the freakiest of the genetic freaks on the planet. Unfortunately these freaks are rare enough that you'll need to increase participation in the sport immensely to have any chance at all of even finding them when they are young enough to have a chance.
The More the Merrier
I run an interview show called *Weightlifting Academy* - where I've interviewed both of our upcoming female Olympians in the sport, Holley Mangold and Sarah Robles. This show has the expressed goal of putting another 10,000 lifters on the platform by the end of this year. Sure, that's totally hyperbolic and unrealistic. But I like big goals that force you to strive harder than if you had wimpy smaller goals that allowed you take it easy.
But as big a number as 10,000 is, it is small compared to what we'd actually need in order to find our special genetic freaks who would have a chance at a medal at the Olympics without steroids. We can argue all day about the importance of one training style over another, whether strength or technique is more important, if Russian is better than Bulgarian, or if low hips are better than high hips, but that stuff don't mean jack if you don't have enough athletes in the sport to begin with.
With enough drugs, you can get away with fewer total athletes. But if you won't allow drugs, you need a ton of athletes to filter through to get your diamonds.
Stay Clueless: Lifting is like High School
Being popular is important. Even if all we mean by the word popular is "liked" or "trusted," some form of popularity is imperative to your success in virtually all endeavors. The same is true for weightlifting.
I didn't even know the sport of weightlifting existed when I was a kid. If you don't even know a sport exists, how can you choose that sport? Weightlifting is like the wallflower hiding in the dark at the sports dance, scared to death of anyone noticing it, or worse asking it to shake its muscular hips on the dance floor.
Remember the movie Clueless? The main character Cher took it upon herself - as a challenge - to transform the nerdy girl in school into a popular girl. I see myself like Cher, trying to help bring weightlifting out of the dark and into the arms of a cute guy who wants to dance with it.
This analogy is getting out of hand, but the point is that if weightlifting is going to ever find enough young athletes to weed through, then it needs to dramatically increase in popularity in some capacity. Given the strangeness of the sport, the best audience for it are always those people who do the snatch and clean and jerk themselves in a recreational way - maybe they don't even compete, they just do the lifts as a part of their workouts.
In other words, the best audience members for the sport of Olympic weightlifting are people like you and me.
Ask What You Can Do For Weightlifting
It is my job to try and gather more people and bring them into the fold. It is your job to support weightlifters by showing up to their competitions and cheering them on. That's it. It's a fun and simple task I ask of you.
If you'd like to see American weightlifters be more dominant in the Olympics, a simple way you can help make that happen is to just show up at local meets in your area, bring your kids, your friends, whoever, and cheer loudly.
And if you need any help finding those meets, ask me. I am here for you.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.