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EDITORIAL: Do We Need More Changes to Olympic Weightlifting?

by Greg Laxer, Webmaster; posted November 14, 2017

Today I received a press release from the IWF, the world governing body for our sport. It suggested that new changes to Bodyweight categories, and other changes to how the sport is conducted, can be expected in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics, scheduled to be held in Tokyo. The language was similar to that employed recently by the IAAF (world governing body for Athletics, called Track & Field in this country) in discussing the need to try to reach a broader audience, and generate public enthusiasm, for that sport. If I interpreted the document correctly (and yes, it’s in English!), the IWF will even consider altering “the format” of the sport. What, exactly, does that mean? No details were given. Do they want to add a third lift, perhaps a one-handed lift (which would take us back to the 1920s/’30s!); replace the Snatch or Clean & Jerk with something else, something borrowed from Powerlifting or Strongman contests? Again, no details are available at this time.

For several years now, I’ve contemplated suggesting to our local competition organizers that they might add a special, one-time component (an Exhibition Event) to one of our meets, to add some extra interest (one might even say intrigue!). Something like a one-armed Snatch, Deadlift, or perhaps a Kettlebell Challenge. But I didn’t get around to actually doing that–too bashful, I guess. Results of such an endeavor, of course, would not have been reported to, or had any meaning to, USA Weightlifting. To tell the truth, I kind of miss the days when competition started with the Clean & Press, then moved on to Snatch, and concluded with the Clean & Jerk. I wasn’t attending WL competitions in person back then, but I understand it wasn’t unusual for a competition to last until 2 AM, maybe later. The IWF press release indicated the field for each Bodyweight Category for the Tokyo Olympics would be limited to 14 athletes, in both the Men’s and Women’s sessions. In theory, this should ensure that only the true cream of the crop gets to step onto the lifting platform. With a similarly limited field, a competition featuring a third lift (“discipline”) should be capable of being conducted within a reasonable span of time. But on the local level, would we want such a limited field of competitors? Will folks be happy about being excluded? Questions, questions, questions.

Now let us all, collectively, look at ourselves–and thereby our sport–in the mirror. With total honesty. Folks, we ain’t “normal”! And I’m not talking just about physique, since there are “Muscleless Wonders” among us. Competitive Weightlifting, as distinguished from Powerlifting or Crossfit competition, may as well be taking place on Mars as far as the general public is concerned. Who constitutes the audience at our local meets? It’s almost entirely “Weightlifting people,” not curious onlookers. I’m talking about the USA, not some smallish nation with a history of spectacular success in the sport, where a lifter’s name may be known in most households or on the streets, in the cafes. Track & Field faces the same problem. We are both considered “minor” sports in this country, and that’s the lowdown truth. What athletes are on Joe Schmoe’s lips any given weekend? Those who earn multi-millions of bucks a year, that’s who! And then there’s Golf! Don’t get me started on that topic! Nearly every weekend, year-round now, my TV is plagued with coverage of Golf, pre-empting the 6 PM News! The IAAF is also seeking to “invigorate” Track & Field, to make changes, to innovate. Though I am not opposed to change in general, I have a problem with the notion of mucking about with T&F: those of us who are into it, who follow it, who love it, who know its past, recognize the classic nature of the events. They are disciplines which exemplify the most basic athletic skills: the ability to run fast/far, to jump high/long and to throw weighted implements astounding distances. It really is that basic, one might even say primitive. To me, dropping the Javelin Throw from the program, for example, to shorten competitions, would be criminal. Similarly, Olympic Weightlifting exemplifies not so much brute strength as scientifically applied strength, agility, balance, quickness. No, the first Olympians in Ancient Greece did not compete with the barbells we use today, but the classic principles still apply.

Only time will tell what changes to our sport the IWF is going to propose and implement. I look forward to the next few years, but I admit, with trepidation. I think I may very safely predict that the buzz around the watercooler at work on Monday mornings in the future will not be about Olympic Weightlifting. However, I will even keep my mind open to the possibility of changes coming that will improve our sport, whatever that may mean. In the interim, it is our interest in, love for, and willingness to volunteer, that will keep our sport alive in New England and the USA.

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