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CATEGORIES: Athlete, Coach

BORN: 1908 (died 1990)


[NOTE: The information for this article is drawn from material written by Mike Murphy and appearing in Denis Reno’s Weightlifter’s Newsletter in the first year or two after Joe’s passing.]  Joe Mills, the legendary coach of the Central Falls (RI) Weightlifting Club, was also a national- and international-caliber competitor in the sport in the light bodyweight categories. His lifting career was disrupted by service in World War 2, 1942-46, and he was unable to compete at the same level thereafter. He became involved in coaching after the war as other New England lifters sought his advice on training and technique. Following are highlights of his career on the platform, 1935-42. In only his second official competition, the New England Championships 1935, Joe came in second in 126 Lbs. Class with lifts of Press–150 lbs.; Snatch–145 lbs.; Clean & Jerk–190 lbs. He also put 95 lbs. overhead in the One-Arm Snatch, plus 115 in the One-Arm Clean & Jerk! (These lifts were sometimes included in competitions in those days.) At the New England Championships 1937 Joe set a National Record Total of 600 lbs. in 126 Lbs. Bodyweight Class. At that year’s Junior Nationals he couldn’t quite match that Total, but won his class with Press–175 lbs.; Snatch–175 lbs.; C&J–230 lbs.; Total–580. He was considered the favorite to win Senior Nationals that year but was unable to make the trip to Michigan to compete. In the period 1936-37 Joe Mills set National Records of Press–181 lbs. and C&J–248 lbs. In February 1938, weighing 130 pounds, Joe achieved lifts of Press–200 lbs.; Snatch–192 lbs.; C&J–260 lbs.! This made him the first New Englander (and only second non-York athlete) to Clean & Jerk double his bodyweight. His Total was only 2 1/2 lbs. shy of the previous year’s Gold Medal Total at World Championships. At the 1938 New England Championships in April, Mills had good lifts with 195/190/245 lbs. He missed a Snatch attempt at 205 and a C&J attempt of 270. These gutsy efforts caught the attention of Bob Hoffman and Joe was invited to York, PA to train for a few weeks. At Senior Nationals that year Mills had to settle for 2nd Place, 15 lbs. in Total behind John Terry, but he did C&J 250. At 1939’s New Englands Joe set a N.E. Record with a 201 lbs. Snatch and again missed an attempt at Clean & Jerk of 270. In June of that year he won the 132 Lbs. Class, with a total of 615, at the Eastern Outdoor Invitational WL Tournament (Amsterdam, NY). Sadly, Joe was again unable to afford to travel to Senior Nationals in Chicago that year. However, he entered America’s Finest Physique Contest (a forerunner to Mr. America) and earned a Certificate of Merit in the class for men under 5 feet 8 inches height. In April 1940 the AAU staged its first National Championships (NYC), featuring a Bent-Press contest. Mills won the 132 Lbs. Class with a lift of 175 lbs.! Senior Nationals were held the following month, at Madison Square Garden. Joe Pressed 180 and Snatched 185 but then “bombed” in the C&J, costing him a chance to medal overall. Philadelphia hosted Senior Nationals in 1941 and Joe took 3rd Place (presumably 126 Lbs. Class) with a Total of 625 lbs. Joe Mills achieved Lifetime Bests of Press–200; Snatch–201; C&J–264. Each of these was just about 15 lbs. shy of the then-World Records, also held by US lifters. In later years Joe coached, among others, World Champion Bob Bednarski and Mark Cameron. Joe was said to be tough on his students but greatly respected and loved.

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