After traveling back from Dallas, TX and partaking in a little R&R myself, it’s time to get back on the horse. I had intentions of writing a preview before heading out on nationals but since I didn’t, lucky you for getting a longer post. First and foremost, if you are a fan or participant in USAW you need to stop right now go find Phil Andrews either on the USAW site or on Facebook and send him a big “THANKS!” for pulling off another successful national meet. Since the governing body has taken over running the national meets (Nationals, AO, and I guess Regionals if we want that to be a thing now) they have been first class events. From the venues, the loaders efficiency on the competition platforms, and even the training hall equipment, there shouldn’t be many complaints. If you have one well there is not much hope left for you. But seriously, go find Phil and thank him. The efforts he puts in for these meets are what the sport needs to grow and evolve and eventually land bigger partnerships so the athletes can see more benefits (ie. possible money incentives for performances at the meet).
Now onto the part that matters most, the lifters and lifts they made/didn’t make. Now going into this meet I repeatedly said and honestly felt like if you are a weightlifting fan in the US then this was going to be one of the most exciting nationals to be a spectator for. Whether it was live in person or via the livestream you were not disappointed. Almost every weight class had a serious battle for the podium, not just the gold, but some classes were a bare knuckle brawl for a medal of any color. The team title (in an individual sport) was even talked about BEFORE the meet started. That alone was crazy to me seeing that the big focus should and was who was going to lock a spot on the World Team, but there were side conversations about who would win the team title. That blows my mind because not only were the top teams loaded with elite talent but attention was paid to folks who wouldn’t have a chance to medal simply because whether they totaled or where they placed had a significant impact on where their team finished.
As mentioned earlier this was suppose to be (I’ll touch more on this later) the only qualifier for the World Championships held in Houston, TX later this year. First, let me say that again, THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS OF WEIGHTLIFTING ARE ON US SOIL! I believe it’s the first time since 1978 we’ve hosted a worlds and who wouldn’t want to say they were on that team lifting against the best in the world in front of the home crowd. What this meant in terms of performances were lifters throwing caution to the wind and going for broke as they showed how much this World Team meant to them. It lead to some gutsy calls and performances and others not coming through as the fans had hoped. Exciting to watch none the less.
The most impressive thing to me was the full frontal assaults on all the Youth, Junior, and Senior records. Personal Records are always the goal at this meet but most of the classes had at least an attempt on a record if not multiple records broken. What this said to me is that we are moving in the right direction as a whole as not only the quantity of athletes and coaches is increased but the quality is increasing as well. Very good signs and as Chad Wesley Smith said in his article, we are witnessing the infancy of an “American System” playing out before us. Fun stuff for sure. Just a few highlights in terms of records that I saw from the meet. Jared Fleming snatch 170 kilogram (374#). I believe this record has been set 3-4 times since last nationals and went a long time before that where only a few attempts at the record had been made. Mattie Rogers rewrote the Junior records for the 69 kilogram (152#) class as she dominated that class and made a lot of guys in the crowd check their egos as she clean and jerked more than some of their back squats. The 77 class had an attempt at both the snatch and clean and jerk record meanwhile Angelo Bianco made a name for himself taking second amongst of group of guys (Tatum, Cooper, and Hernandez) that folks figured he didn’t have a shot against. Of course there is the big guy, Caine Wilkes, who snatched 186 kilogram (406#) and clean and jerked 230 kilograms (507#). Yes you read that right, he snatched 400#+ and clean and jerked 500#+ respectively. I believe he is the last Superheavyweight to total that much since 2-time Olympian Shane Hamman did so. But the absolute highlight for me as a fan was 15 year old CJ Cummings clean and jerk 175 kilogram (385#) weighing around 150#. In case you missed it he’s 15 years old, barring injuries or a lure with scholarships and possible pro contracts, the boy is leading a huge wave of junior lifters that can really do some damage on the international stage in a few years. I know I’m forgetting some really great performances and I apologize but these are the ones that really stuck with me and after all I was trying to get myself ready to compete so I couldn’t spend all my time in venue watching. Cheering and watching all that is just plain exhausting.
Really this is a short list for me. Biggest thing I saw was missed attempts, too many sessions, and inconsistent judging. But let’s start with the most controllable and work our way down. In case the powers that be forgot, this is the National Championships. This is suppose to be the best of the best we have to offer. There should not be more than one session per weight class. A cap of 12-15 per class based on a qualification total and highest ranked in that class should suffice for each class to be competitive. There is absolutely no need for a C or D session, even B sessions in my opinion, to suck up time and resources that can be used towards the A session lifters. Now I understand that money plays a huge factor in this, as less entrants means less money is made, well guess what that’s what Regionals and the American Open should be used for. If an event is a Championship there needs to be strict guidelines to entry and it showcase the best of the best in terms of talent. My proposal, look at the results from the previous year, set a qualification total based on averages or whatever based on those performances. Post the totals well in advance and cap the session at 12-15. Let anyone and their mother sign up for the meet if they meet the total and take the top 12-15 totals to the meet. The NCAA does this and it works just fine. It also will get more money into USAW as local meet availability and attendance will increase for lifters trying to inch up their spot to secure a berth at Nationals. If you want 500+ lifters do it at regionals and the American Open, not nationals. Yes feelings will get hurt by this but if we want to raise the level of competition and be more competitive on the international scene I think this is a must.
Next up, the judging. I feel like every national meet this dead horse gets the crap kicked out of it. But alas there is always that one person that just won’t let it go. Seriously in all competitive sports, bad calls happen. Do some officials not like a lifter or group of lifters, sure, but who cares. Do everything in your power to make sure the call isn’t a hard one to make. That means more makes than “training makes” in practice and focus on enforcing the proper movements with athletes outside of competitions. Stop worrying too much about the celebration or whatever else you think about and focus on precise consistent movements that meet the criteria for a good lift. With an increased membership there will be a lot of rif-raf that slips through the cracks leading to questionable lifts. If you are a local coach or meet promoter, try to do your best and prepare these lifters for national meets. The judges are really strict and will call you on every little thing, so get over it. Be better, it’s as simple as that. I do agree that some judges seem to have a hard time differentiating between an elbow bobble and shoulder movement (one is illegal and one is not) but for the most part I don’t see a glaring issue with the judging. My only suggestion for USAW is to maybe do the judge testing at Youth/Junior Nationals, Regionals, and American Open (if it’s not being done already) and not at Nationals. Just get your top guys and gals there and leave the doubt out of the calls.
Last is missed attempts. This is really out of USAW’s control and shouldn’t be an issue but for some reason folks felt it needs to be addressed. There really isn’t much to say about this. With an increased number of entrants and many of them being relatively new both on the coaching and athlete side of things, the quality and consistency is expected to go down. I know the 85 kilogram class caught a lot of flack but in all seriousness there were a lot of misses across the board. Not all was due to inexperience but some lifters were simply going for the home run shot right away to secure a World Team spot and ended up striking out. Not a big deal in my opinion. Keeping the entrants in each class lower will help this issue (if that’s what you want to call it) and will increase the overall quality of the product being produced. As a competitor this really wasn’t an issue for me, seeing that I’ve been on both sides of the coin, but lots of people complained so I’m giving my take.
The World’s qualifier. In all seriousness how hard is it to set a competition calendar a year in advance? I understand there are a lot of variables that go into selecting international teams but you know when these big meets will be so why can’t we set the calendar around them. It’s hard enough for coaches to get their athletes peaked and ready for these big meets, but announcing another qualifier the day before “the only qualifier” is about to take place is just ludicrous and irresponsible on the governing body’s part. Some athletes need the second chance but in all honesty you don’t get a second chance at the World/Olympic podium if you screw up. Dave Castro is a jerk at times but you don’t see him announcing on the rest day of the Games that there will a redo of the games two months later for those who don’t like where they finished do you? Pressure is what will force the best athletes to rise to occasion, so be open and let the athletes know exactly what they have to do to achieve their goals and sit back and enjoy the show. I feel like as with the Arnold this year the second qualifier announcement took a bit of the edge off of some sessions because athletes knew they had another chance for a spot. Every other sport that is worth something has a set competition and qualification schedule for it’s members to be able to plan accordingly.
This last one is going to be more rant than facts but all the arm chair quarterbacks on social media critiquing certain lifters, calls, etc. Just stop. I saw one post in particular scrutinizing the 85’s and their lack of misses and how the AO will be different. Another post went off on CJ not fully extending on the conclusion of his American Record lift. Was the down signal premature, sure, does it mean he can’t fully extend at the top of a lift or does it often, probably not. But before all these technique purists get going, how many of you have congratulated an athlete or training partner after they blatantly pressed out a PR jerk or snatch? Before you start pointing out others and their issues, let’s get our own stuff fixed up first. It’s really disheartening that with one of the better national meets to date we had a lot of silly scrutiny over it. I understand in this age of social media folks are just looking for their next brief few seconds of internet fame, but can’t we just appreciate the progress that is made and think/act critically to make improvements on what is already there. Folks are entitled to their opinions, heck this entire post is completely opinion based, but it’s hard to watch an athlete’s hard work ripped apart.
All in all this Nationals was the best I’ve seen in my short time involved in USAW. There were way more ups than downs and if you are a true fan of the sport itself the American Open should have you pumped. If you are able to I would strongly encourage you to get to Houston in November for Worlds, even if its for a B session or just one day. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity you’ll be sorry you missed. As Travis Cooper told me “there are lifters who trained their whole lives and never got a chance to see or compete in a Worlds on US soil.” SO DO IT! But most importantly what this means to me as a fan is that the US Olympic Trials, granted we secure our spots at this year’s worlds, is going to be out of control. Nationals and Worlds are just teasers for this meet and I’m getting all sorts of excited just sitting here typing about it. The future of USAW is promising and the steps are being made to keep on pushing in the right direction. There are two really apparent options for us as a whole: 1. Contribute to the continued growth and success that allows us to put our best foot forward on the big stage. Or 2. Keep quiet, keep the negativity to yourselves, sit back, and enjoy the show.