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What is Olympic Weightlifting?

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The phrase “Olympic Weightlifting” distinguishes our sport from Powerlifting, Strongman contests and other strength sports. Our disciplines, the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, are performed with two hands using the Olympic bars, which are larger than the standard bars bodybuilders have used in their home gyms over the decades. Our sport is governed by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), founded in 1905. Since most of the world uses the Metric System, the lifter’s bodyweight and the weight loaded on the bar are expressed in Kilograms. (One Kilogram=2.2046 pounds.) The Women’s bar with collars weighs 20 Kilos; Men’s bar with collars weighs 25 Kilos. Weight is added to the bars in whole kilo increments.

The Lifts

The Snatch is contested first.The athlete lifts the bar from the platform to overhead position in one smooth motion, arms straight, and must stand erect, motionless; the Referees signal that the bar may be lowered to the platform. The lifter cannot drop the bar until it has descended to shoulder height. If you go to YouTube you will find plenty of videos of the Snatch being executed.

After all lifters have completed the Snatch phase, the second element of the competition, the Clean & Jerk, is contested. As the name suggests, this is a two-part lift. The bar is pulled (“cleaned”) from the platform upward in front of the body and secured at top of chest/front of shoulders, lifter standing upright. A pause at this point is required. The second part of the lift consists of the bar being driven explosively to overhead position with arms locked straight at conclusion. The lifter dips at his/her knees, then starts to ram the bar upward and “splits” the legs–one forward, the other aft–to further lower the body, which facilitates getting the bar to overhead position. Then the lifter must “recover” the feet so the legs are aligned beneath the torso; the lifter must become motionless to get the signal from the Referees to lower the bar. Note: A minority of lifters prefer to drop into a semi-squat when ramming the bar overhead in the Jerk part of the lift, instead of “splitting.” Again, YouTube will be a good source for videos of correctly performed Clean & Jerks (or at least, successful ones!).

Colossal achievements by “little guys”: Pound for pound (or more properly, Kilo for Kilo) the strongest athletes in the world are the lightest Weight Class lifters. Halil Mutlu, of Turkey, set the Men’s World Clean & Jerk Record for 56 Kilo class by ramming triple his bodyweight overhead!! That’s 168 Kilos, or just over 370 pounds! This was in 2001; other lightweight male lifters have come close to this amazing feat over the years.

Age and Weight Classes

The major age divisions for competitors of both sexes are:

Youth–from the youngest up thru age 17. There are special divisions within this category to accommodate very young, light bodyweight athletes.

Junior–ages 18 thru 20 only.

Senior–ages 21 thru 34.

Master–age 35 and up (and yes, we have lifters competing beyond age 80!). As with Youth, there are further divisions here for age, e.g. Men aged 40 thru 44, Women aged 55 thru 59, etc.

Men beyond Youth category compete in 8 different Weight Classes (the stated figure marks upper limit of the Class):

56 kg (123 lb), 62 kg (137 lb), 69 kg (152 lb), 77 kg (170 lb), 85 kg (187 lb), 94 kg (207 lb), 105 kg (231 lb), and over 105 kg

Women beyond Youth category compete in 7 different Weight Classes:

48 kg (106 lb), 53 kg (117 lb), 58 kg (128 lb), 63 kg (139 lb), 69 kg (152 lb), 75 kg (165 lb), and over 75 kg

U.S. woman lifter made Olympic history:  At the 2000 Summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia–the first Games in which women lifters were allowed to compete–Tara (Nott) Cunningham won the lightest Women’s Weight Class (48 Kilos), thus becoming the first woman Oly Gold Medalist weightlifter ever

Some Basic Rules/Officiating

There are many violations of form that can cause a lift to be turned down by the Referees–enough to make a newcomer’s head spin. That’s why it’s very important that a beginner learn proper technique from day one. Your best bet to start to understand our sport is to attend a competition in person and observe.

The weight loaded on the bar only increases as the contest progresses, so athletes capable of lifting the most will only appear on the platform toward the end of a session. Once the lifter is called to the platform to attempt the weight she/he requested, one minute is allowed to commence the lift. If a given lifter takes consecutive attempts, however, two minutes are allowed. Each lifter is given three attempts in each of the disciplines (Snatch, then Clean & Jerk). Should two or more contestants finish with the exact same total for the two lifts, first place is awarded to the lifter of lightest bodyweight within the Weight Class.

The most common form error that will cause a decision of “No lift” by the officials is the dreaded “press-out”: if the elbows are not locked out (arms straight) when the bar arrives overhead at conclusion of the lift, and the bar is given a sudden last-second push to get the arms straight, this is a violation. Such a ruling can be very difficult, very borderline, for the Refs to make.

Three Referees adjudicate the lifts in a competition. A majority vote decides if a lift is “Good” or “No lift.” In major competitions there may be a Jury of experienced Refs empowered to reverse decisions by the officials refereeing the session. There are three basic levels of Referee: LWC Referee–authorized to officiate in local events; National Referee– authorized for any event held on US soil; International Referee–authorized for any event in the world. Though Referees are almost always active or former competitors in Olympic Weightlifting, this is not a requirement. With proper training, a non-lifter can start as an LWC Ref and advance over time.

Though USAW has a paid national administration, all officials are 100% volunteers! We travel to and work events because we love our sport!

We can always use more help: