The sport of Olympic weightlifting has grown in awareness by leaps and bounds over the last few years in the USA. CrossFit is one reason why as is the internet. It still remains a niche sport, and probably always will be in this country, but there is still no excuse for the USA to be so deficient on the world stage. With the amount of athletes and knowledgeable coaches we have there has to be a push to make a bigger splash on the international scene. Doing just this has been the debate on the internet for some time. Yes, our lifters need to be stronger, but I am not sure low bar back squatting or adopting powerlifting techniques is the answer. Yes, every other high ranking country uses pharmaceutical recovery methods but I am not sure that is the only thing holding us back.
An issue with the sport of Olympic weightlifting is the amount of time it takes to complete a meet. It is usually a weekend event that requires a lot of waiting and little weighting. Our ADD American mindset makes it a non-spectator friendly event for newcomers. But for those who love the sport it's just part of the game and it is expected. The feeling of appreciation for the sport is apparent at these events and it takes a few exposures to get it. At the Mid-Atlantic coaches conference this past October, John Filippini, president of the Maryland LWC, asked the crowd if they had any ideas to make the sport of Olympic weightlifting more spectator friendly. While it is a valid question and worth exploring, I am not sure it is the most fruitful way to drum up interest. It needs to be approached from a different angle.
On last week's episode of Big Bang Theory the plot line paralleled the problem weightlifting in this country faces - exposure. And not just exposure to everyone but exposure to youth. If you don't watch the show it is about the trials and tribulations of four nerdy scientist who are very awkward, socially inept, and deal with emotional baggage from a life of being picked on and ostracized in school. In this episode of the show Leonard was trying to come up with a way to get more women involved in the sciences. The big problem with his plan was that he was trying to target women who were already university students. Sheldon, the smartest but most socially awkward character, told Leonard that if he wanted to give more women a chance in the field, he needed to target middle school girls and expose them to the sciences earlier in their development. The same is true for weightlifting in the USA.
The path to becoming relevant on the world stage once again runs through our school system. Imagine for a moment that every school in the country that has a football and baseball team also has a weightlifting team. Over the winter those athletes would use Olympic weightlifting as their off-season training program and once a week compete for their school in a series of inter-league dual meets. This would allow ample opportunities to compete, expose more students (and parents) to the sport and allow them to really appreciate the competition of weightlifting. Most importantly, you now have thousands of young kids that have started weightlifting, training and competing, since the age of 14. Some of these kids will get drawn in and fall in love with the sport, continue to train after high school, become one of the best in the world, and win golds at the Olympics. Simple stuff and just details, right?
Chris White, Mp '14, at the Frank Spellman Classic
A basic structure for a dual meet could look something like this:
-One session for all lifters
-Use the 8 weight classes: 50, 56, 62, 69, 77, 85, 94, 105, 105+
-Two lifters per team per weight class
-The winner of each class gets 5 points, second gets 3 points and third gets 1 point
-Most points win just like in dual meets for track and field.
It will be a while before meets like this are common at the school age level but weightlifting dual meets don't have to be relegated to just high schoolers. With so many CrossFit gyms now in existence and more weightlifting clubs that are around, weightlifting dual meets between private gyms could be a viable way to test the procedure while high schools get on board with starting a program.
We have the tools in this country to be relevant on the world stage. We have money and a huge pool of athletes. We have great coaches to train our athletes and fantastic facilities to train them in. All we need is an introduction. Introduction leads to appreciation. Appreciation leads to obsession. An obsession to do heavy lifting (metaphorically) has never been a problem in this country. So instead of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work, let's put some chalk on our hands and start introducing.