Why the US Sucks at Olympic Lifting: OL’ing Part 8

We’re almost done as my goal is to wrap this up by Friday.  Yesterday in Why the US Sucks at Olympic Lifting: OL’ing Part 7, I looked at a bunch of factors that took the US from it’s dominant heyday in the 40’s and 50’s to almost rans almost overnight.  Certainly the rise of the Eastern European countries was part of this but it wasn’t all that was going on.

The sport had changed due to a rules change along with the dropping of the press (in 1974) and Americans, still fascinated with maximum strength and muscle size hadn’t changed.  Other changes in the gym culture of the day, the rise of bodybuilding, machine training and other strength sports (powerlifting, strongman) along with the big three starting to throw stupid money at its athletes just further diluted any talent that might have pursued OL’ing.

The sport, never more than a niche to begin with had begun it’s downward spiral.  What facilities existed started to disappear as the sport declined, incoming lifters went into other activities, the teachings (such as they were) of coaching and technique were lost, results declined, further decreasing interest.  The magazines didn’t cover the sport, nobody cared.

And that’s led us to where we are today and, in essence, this part of the series is sort of the ‘punchline’ to all of this (the part that everybody wish I’d started with) although I won’t stop here because I want to address not only some recent developments but other things that might change the situation (if it’s changeable at all).  And while some of what I’m going to write will probably have been ‘obvious’ to everyone from the start, hopefully you’ll see that not all of it.  And why I spent 5 weeks getting to this point.

And as I continue today, this is where the simpletons who stopped after Part 1 of this series will say “See, this is all Lyle had to say.”  But they’ll be wrong.  These are the simple answers to the problem of Ol’ing, the ones everybody focuses on while ignoring what I think are bigger issues.  Even the mere existence of people that thing that there is a single, simple problem or fix makes part of my point.

For structural reasons, I’m going to actually address some of the problems along with some of the potential ‘fixes’ that have been suggested as I go.  It’s a bit more broken up but saves me a lot of tedious repetition by first defining the problems and then redefining them to address the solutions.  Hopefully it will all make sense.

And as you continue, some well-informed readers may note that I’m explicitly leaving out about three important things, very recent changes in the landscape of OL’ing that may or may not end up having a rather large impact.  I’ll get to those when the time is right but please be patient (if you’ve read this far, you’re patient by definition).

Much of what I’m going to say initially isn’t even news.  Quite in fact, as you’ll see in my sources, about 18 years ago in the early issues of Milo, a discussion of the state of US Ol’ing brought up pretty much exactly the same points.  And nothing has really changed in that time until very very recently (and I’ll talk about that change tomorrow or Friday).

Deciding where to start in describing the current state of Olympic lifting isn’t easy since I see the problem as one vast interconnected web; there is no singular problem that can be readily identified in my mind.  So with no real reason other than it jumped to mind, I’ll start with the easy one and then just run in circles for a bit.

If you get nothing else out of what follows, it should be this: there is no SINGLE SIMPLE problem with Ol’ing in this country (a mistaken inference that people continue to make with this series).  Because, fundamentally, everything is wrong with it.  I’d note that, as appropriate I’ll tie the issues here in with other parts of this series, mainly to justify having dragged everybody through them to get here.

And mainly I’m going to focus on how the sport has existed historically in this country; I’ll address a few new developments towards the end of the final wrap-up.  So don’t freak if two specific names and one specific group go unmentioned for a bit.  What’s happened in the last couple of years is too new to have had an impact…yet.

In any case, let’s start with an easy one.

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A Lack of Facilities

Frankly, finding an OL’ing facility in the US, or even one where you can do the OL’s is like finding a virgin at a Catholic girl’s school; they exist but you gotta dig to find ’em.  There have always been a handful of long-standing gyms with coaches who have consistently developed US lifters.  Places like Coffee’s Gym (he consistently produced top women lifters), Calpains, The Sports Palace and others, you can find a list at OWOW.   If you’re in the Austin area, get in touch with Grassiron to get hands-on coaching.

But in most cities, finding a place to do the OL’s has been traditionally impossible.  Commercial gyms have bent bars that don’t spin, bumpers are impossible to find and you get looked at funny or kicked out for dropping the bar from overhead.  Most followers of the sport either luck into finding a gym with OL’ing facilities (such as Grassiron Gym here in Austin) or get their own equipment and lift in their garage.

Mind you, that didn’t really stop folks in other sports such as speedskating, where the insanely limited facilities didn’t hold us back.  Then again, all of the skaters came from that singular Midwestern area so they were already local to places to skate.  It was only people not from Minnesota/Wisconsin that were out of luck.  But that’s the situation in OL’ing, if you’re not lucky enough to live in a handful of places where OL’ing facilities exist (or can relocate to chase the dream), you’re not getting into the sport unless you break down and buy your own equipment.

Proposed Solution: Build More Facilities
A simple problem with a seemingly simple answer: don’t have facilities, just build ’em and watch the sport grow, right?  While this seems logical on the surface it is based on a faulty assumption which is that people care.  And the reality is that the majority don’t know what Olympic lifting is, aren’t interested in Olympic lifting, and aren’t going to be interested in Olympic lifting any time soon (a topic I’ll come back to throughout the rest of this).

Spending a ton of money to build specialty facilities for a niche sport with few participants is just a losing proposition on all levels.  First, who is going to pay for it?  Second, who is going to use it?   You see this occurrence in spades at the Olympics, folks spend millions building these amazing facilities for the niche sports that require them which, after the games, go completely unused.  Because once the games are over, nobody cares any more.

Sydney has plenty of unused stuff from their games and SLC is only lucky enough to have become the OTC for many winter sports to put the Oval and bobsled/luge track to use. Otherwise it would go unused, just an expensive leftover from a games steeped in controversy, corruption and graft.

Which isn’t to say that an OL’ing facility need be particularly expensive.  Platforms, bumpers, plates, squat stands.  It’s pretty simple stuff.  But from a commercial standpoint, the whole idea is completely flawed.  Because basing a business model around a sport that nobody does is not the way one succeeds in a capitalist society especially in a sport like OL’ing where the athletes are all broke (see below).

Targeting niches only works if the niche has cash (and yes I will come back to specific group that I’m explicitly avoiding for the time being) which is why golf succeeds.  But OL’ing is not golf.   Poor athletes are poor and the guys who get into the activity who have money can just as easily outfit their garage as join a gym.

Make no mistake, it’s been tried; hardheads love to prattle on about the hardcore gyms they belong to that is nothing but old school dungeon equipment.  And you get to also hear about the roughly 22 members who use the place (while the typical commercial gym has 10,000 paying members of whom 300 use the place regularly).

Small hardcore gyms are awesome, make no mistake, I love ’em and would prefer not to train (or train anybody) anywhere else.  But they are always more expensive, usually falling apart (because the membership is lower and they can’t afford to fix stuff) and never attract more than the small niche who can’t stand Planet Fitness (I’d point you to the documentary Dodgeball for a look at Globogym vs. Average Joe’s Gym).

And given the choice, the majority of folks will join the commercial gym for $20 per month so they can train for 3 days on the shiny equipment before never showing up again rather than pay $45 per month to train on equipment that’s falling apart for 3 days and never showing up again.  And keep in mind that it’s the majority who defines who wins the capitalism game under most circumstances. And the majority has spoken: big commercial gyms win, small hardcore gyms do not.

About the only way to make a hardcore oriented gym (or training studio) work is to cover more than that one niche base.  You can give the OL’ers a place to train but you have to recognize that your money comes from the general training client, or other sports training, or the general public (again, still avoiding a specific group for the time being).

And unless you have a shitload of money, you can’t compete with the big commercial gyms anyhow on space, equipment or price.  If you try to focus on just the niche, you fail economically and nothing is changing that.  The awesome hardcore gym I trained at in SLC was owned by a guy who ran another business that was lucrative.  The 30 members at the gym couldn’t even cover the electric bill.  But it was sure awesome to train there.

Because this isn’t like track cycling in the UK, where there was interest in the sport already and they were willing to put money into building a velodrome (that could also host World Cup events and make money).  OL’ing is too small a sport in the US to support more than a handful of dedicated facilities and there aren’t enough lifters to make putting on competitions financially feasible or beneficial.  This isn’t like running where 10,000 show up to run a 10k; it’s more like you get 50 lifters and maybe take the judges out to lunch if you’re generous.

And overseas Olympic lifters have plenty of places to train and compete; they don’t need the US.  Building an  OL-centric facility in this country is a losing proposition all around unless you accept a lot of non-OL specific trainees (general public, whatever) to keep the doors open.

And with this comes with a very related problem.

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A Lack of Qualified Coaches

Just as facilities for Ol’ing are nearly impossible to find in this country, so is competent coaching.  Usually you find the two going hand in hand, the handful of coaches with any understanding of the lifts or how to teach them are found in the handful of gyms.

Jim Schmitz, Arthur Dreschler, Gayle Hatch, John Coffee and others are the handful of coaches in this sport, usually doing it for the love of the sport itself at the facilities that they are involved with.   Glenn Pendlay told me in email that we currently have two paid coaches in the US, China has 3000.  That’s coaches.  Paid coaches who do nothing but try to develop OL’ing talent.

And this is a problem given the insane technical demands of the sport.  They are grossly misconceptualized by most people who see them (Commonly heard question “Don’t their arms get tired?”) or simply taught incorrectly under most circumstances.  And in a sport where technique is just a monstrous part of overall success, having good coaching (and not picking up awful habits which take forever to correct) from the start is paramount.   And we just don’t have the people teaching things properly.

Again, here OL’ing is like speedskating where there were never more than a handful of coaches, with varying competency (even Dianne Holum, Eric Heiden’s coach, never really produced anybody but Eric, and he was just a freak).  Somehow what didn’t hold speedskating back is part of what’s hold Ol’ing back: there is simply a lack of good coaching.  Swimming had tons of coaches and coaching cycling is pretty much telling guys to “Ride lots.”

And I have no idea if most current coaches, (and again don’t freak out that I haven’t mentioned two specific people here yet) are up to date on Ol’ing technique or training on any level.  I imagine it’s no different than in every other aspect of American sport, there are some top notch folks, some mediocre guys and a ton of folks that are just making shit up as they go along (like arguing for a straight line pull in the OL’s).

Proposed Solution: Train More Coaches
Again another duhh solution and certainly USA Weightlifting offers it’s coaching certifications.  Which has had about as much impact on the level of coaching as most certification in this country.  It exists and it lets you put some nifty letters after your name but I’m not sure it accomplishes much more than that. Mind you, I took the club coach course years ago, I’m told it’s been revamped in recent years, I don’t really know enough about it to comment to any significant degree on it’s current iteration.

But this is a place where the US’s decentralized ‘system’ and lack of overarching organization is biting us in the ass: anybody who wants to call themselves an OL’ing coach and start coaching can do it, even if he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to the lifts or how to teach them.  In the Eastern European countries, coaches were highly trained on both general training theory and specific sports training theory and technique.  They pour energy into Olympic lifting coaching and training the way Americans pour gas into SUV’s.  And we do not.

But even there, the above assumes that coaches would have someone to coach.  Because, for the same reason that building facilities would be pointless, having lots of trained coaches available wouldn’t make an iota of difference because they’d be coaching thin air.  Because, among other things missing in the sport of OL’ing in this country is athletes.  And while some other sports have gotten away with relatively small athlete populations (for reasons I’ll address below), it hasn’t cut the mustard in Ol’ing.

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A Lack of Lifters: Introduction

For the past 30-40 years, USA Weightlifting has had something like 2000 total registered lifters or so including juniors and masters.  Compare that to the 450,000 that the Soviet Union had at it’s peak.  Contrast that to the 3,000 paid COACHES that Glenn Pendlay informs me exist in China.  They have more OL’ing coaches than the US has lifters.  Mull on that for a few seconds.

And most of the lifters we have, again, are juniors or masters.  And that latter group aren’t making the medal stand.  Something that the sport massively needs is an infusion of bodies to get into the sport.  You need enough people going into the sport to find a world beater.   Although, mind you, there are exceptions, I’ve talked about two (cycling and speed skating) for the most part generating top athletes requires numbers.

And those numbers don’t exist in Olympic weightlifting for a variety of reasons.  Some of it is that potentially great power athletes are drawn into the big three and track and field.  But that’s not true of everyone, just as it has been throughout the history of the iron game, there have always been folks taking up weight training purely for it’s own sake (or perhaps got into it secondarily through sports and then decided to skip the sports bit).  And those groups have traditionally been teenaged males and somewhat older adults.

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Teens or Adults: The Goal is Always the Same
Honestly, both groups, teenagers or adult 20-30 somethings (and again here I’m focusing exclusively on males) tend to get into weight lifting for the same basic reasons: to get jacked, buff, look better naked or hopefully attract the opposite sex.  Usually all of those.  It’s not until folks hit middle age that exercise for ‘health’ becomes a relevant goal to most people.  It’s all about appearance for the grand majority who join a gym.

It’s not even as if most are pursuing the iron game from a competitive standpoint.  And even if they did want to compete, powerlifting and bodybuilding are much easier to pursue, get into, and get reinforcement from than Ol’ing ever will be.  Why spend a year training the OL’s so that you can go lose to a 15 year old when you can just buy a bench shirt and add 100 lbs to your max?

But that’s still ignoring the fact that most don’t go into the weight room with any goal of competing.  Here’s some trivia for the day: most steroid use among weight trainers is by folks who never intend to compete.  They take drugs simply to get stronger and/or more jacked.  It’s purely for appearance and is the same reason that plastic surgery among males is on the rise (see: pec implants, ab contouring, calf implants and butt implants).

And in the post-rise of bodybuilding, rise of the machines, rise of the commercial gym culture, the Ol’s simply don’t fit in with those goals (ok, fine, complexes got popular for fat loss for a while).   The Ol’s don’t really accomplish those goals well anyway.   Until you’re good at them, the Ol’s aren’t good for building strength, any muscle they build tends to be in pretty specific (and uninteresting to American lifters) muscle groups and, simply, there are faster and easier ways to accomplish either goal.  The Ol’s are too hard to learn and too hard to do compared to exercises that give more immediate results.

This certainly isn’t eased by the lack of facilities or coaching but, even if they existed, most wouldn’t care.    Hell, most aren’t even aware of the sport unless it happens to be an Olympic year and they accidentally turn on coverage during the 37 seconds that Ol’ing is being featured.

The only magazines that talk about OL’ing are niche publications read only by the lifters themselves.  Even PLUSA can be found on the newsstands sometimes (though Greg Everson briefly published his Strength and Power magazine which covered them but it died quickly for a lack of interest and titties).  Mention Ol’ing as a sport to most people and all you get is a blank stare most of the time (before they ask you how much you bench).

Because about the only time the average gym trainee will even be remotely exposed to anything related to the Olympic lifts is when it’s time (about one or twice a year) for the mags to run a ‘Why You Should Be Doing Power Cleans’ article or features some athlete on the cover who says they are part of his routine and folks figure that doing them will make them awesome like that athlete.  So Men’s Fitness or whatever will run an article and show an athlete performing some abomination of a power clean, describing the movement in a way that makes anybody who knows the lifts die a little bit inside.

And then for about a month, every commercial gym is infested with guys doing horrible, horrible looking cleans with inadequate equipment until the next super secret exercise for freaky mass and fat loss shows up next month.  The Ol’s don’t make you big and they don’t make you strong until you’re good enough at them to use some decent weight.  Why bother with these stupid ass things you can load 8 plates per side on the leg press and take creatine?

Of course, there are exceptions, as the numbers of lifters clearly attest to.  Where do they come from?

OL’ing for the Upwardly Mobile White Guy
So who are the adults that get into the sport of Olympic lifting at either a competitive or non-competitive level?  Often they are ex-athletes, who learned the lifts as part of training for their sport who then moved on from football or basketball and decided to devote themselves to lifting.  They often have the general physiological propensities for the sport but are either starting late or having to unlearn a lot of bad habits (see my comments below).

Usually it’s adult males, perhaps they pursued bodybuffing or powerlifting earlier in life and got fed up with its inherent silliness.  They may have started delving into the history of the sport, gotten into the old school cellar dweller movement as a reaction to the silliness of the mainstream gym world, whatever.  Usually they are a bit older (mid to late 20’s or late 30’s, past the time when there is the monstrous drive for BIG GUNS TO GET CHICKS although, let’s be honest fellas, it never goes away) and get interested in this other activity.

They often come from that same middle class white stock that fuels cycling, swimming and speed skating and I had to think long and hard to understand why the latter three sports succeed and OL’ing does not given that commonality.  And the best explanation I can come up with is simply one of age with kids in swimming and speed skating invariably starting pretty young.  Which is crucial given the technical and feel demands of those sports.

And while one might argue that the lack of coaching (it’s abundant in swimming) might hold skaters back, the fact is that even if you’re doing some stuff wrong, if you do it for 20 years, you get pretty good at it.  And speed skating is weird enough to let some folks get away with stuff at the highest level (Chad Hedrick was certainly not the prettiest skater) so long as you’ve got a motor, ice feel and corners.

Cyclists often start a bit later but the sport is notoriously non-technical (tactics are another story).  The learning curve for cycling is about 10 minutes or so and the training comes down to ‘ride lots’ because it’s low impact and your joints don’t fall off when you start drilling 400-500 mile weeks.

If you have the genetic propensity (VO2 max for example is massively genetic and many are born with a higher Vo2 max than others will ever achieve with training), you can start seeing pretty early success in the sport.  It’s not unheard of for cyclists to start approaching the highest level in a few years of consistent training if the talent and drive is there.

But that doesn’t apply to adults entering Olympic lifting.  Assuming no bad habits to break, the technical demands of Ol’ing are just as high as swimming or speed skating (another reason I wanted to discuss both).  Learning basic technique may not take long but the nuances and mastery (especially in the snatch) may take a decade.

And strength/power sports have that age cutoff since peak strength/power is around the mid-20’s.   Even a sport like cycling is more forgiving since endurance guys often peak later in their 20’s or early 30’s.  A guy starting cycling at 18 or even 20 still has 10+ years to fully develop.

But from the standpoint of high level Ol’ing competition, if you haven’t gotten under the bar by the time you’re 15 or so, you’re not going to make anywhere close to the top 99% of the time.  By the time you’ve put in your 10 years, you’re far past your peak of power production.   Even if you start at 15, you’re still going to be facing kids who started when they were 5 and have twice as long as you do under the bar.  That’s an insurmountable disadvantage.

That’s on top of greater difficulty developing the needed mobility and flexibility, feel and fearlessness to do the Ol’s when you’re starting older.  It’s the same reason it’s hard to learn gymnastics as an adult: your adult brain rebels against throwing yourself into the air upside down.  Kids bounce and don’t have that fear response, they learn backflips as kids and it’s no big deal when they are teens.  The same applies to Ol’ing and many adults simply won’t commit to the lifts because of that fear response.

Which brings me full circle to talk about kids and lifting.  Because, as it has always been, teenagers (or even pre-teens sometimes) often get into lifting for various reasons.  And, given the demands of the sport, the age issue and the time under the bar issue, they are what’s required to find potential US champions.  The sport needs lots of kids entering the sport.

I Believe That Children are the Future
Realistically, the sports needs kids starting young to have any chance of getting the time under the bar that they need to master the lifts.  But kids don’t usually join commercial gyms and are only exposed to whatever sports they get access to in school.  And outside of a handful of programs (at least one high school in SLC had a small OL program that took kids to competition), OL’ing as a sport simply doesn’t exist at the high-school or collegiate level outside of individuals who may pursue it for their own reasons.

About the only time athletes at those levels are exposed to the OL’s is in training for another sport like football.   And there the coaches are typically incompetent, teaching a bastardized powerclean that is more of a power reverse curl.   This is what cleans look like most of the time in this group because the goal is just about moving the most weight (you see the most amusing rationalizations for downright shitty technique from strength coaches who are simply too lazy to learn how to teach the movements properly).

This isn’t universal, sometimes you get someone who can coach the lifts and takes the time to do so but that’s like finding a virgin in the senior class of a Catholic girl’s school: it’s more of a Platonic theoretical construct than reality.   And from a recruiting standpoint, even if you could take some of the high-school kids who were ‘taught’ the lifts and convert them to the Olympic lifts (which would make them start caring in the first place) they’d have so many bad habits that you had to fix that it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort.

The same holds more or less at the collegiate level, many strength programs use the Olympic lifts, some teach them competently  but most do not.  And, as I said above, there are some athletes who come out of collegiate athletics to pursue Olympic lifting.  But if they graduate at age 23, that gives them all of 1-2 years before they’re past their peak.  It’s just not enough to break their bad habits and allow them to master the movements.

Mind you, this goes to the idea of development and having one in place.  I’m really not in a place to comment heavily on the USA Weightlifting federation or what it is or isn’t doing.  The impression I get is that it’s doing very little for the developmental end of the sport.  But that’s just reality, you can’t develop what there isn’t to develop in the first place.

You could have the facilities and train the coaches and have the development program and all for what?  To train the immense numbers of absolutely NOBODY who shows up.  Because they are busy doing other more interesting stuff like trying to get big guns and bench the world to impress girls/their buddies.

Because this isn’t like a niche sport like cycling where development was relevant because there were athletes involved in the sport who had the potential to get good (at least at the Olympic or national level).  The kids pursuing cycling weren’t being pulled into other more interesting activities the way that teenaged kids in the weight room are being pulled towards bodybuilding or powerlifting or what have you.

Exceptions That Prove the Rule
It’s worth mentioning exceptions to the above which sort of makes the point: some of the US’s top lifters did start young due to some odd circumstance or another.  Casey Burgener comes to mind; his father Mike has been teaching Olympic lifting since before Dan John was born (read: since the dawn of recorded time) and Casey was brought up in the sport and trained properly from a young age because of it (this is not unlike many speedskaters, swimmers or cyclists whose parents had been involved in the sport and passed down both any genetic propensities along with interest in, love for, and support for the sport).

Others like Wes Barnett got involved in the sport (I’m not entirely sure how he got involved) at a young age and put in 12 years under the bar. Wes would take 6th in the Olympics after 12 years of completely self-supported training.  He lamented in the pages of Milo that he had to work 40 hours/week to make a living and then work another 40 hours/week in the gym.  I’m actually going to wait to address our current lifters and some of the issues that they face until later (probably tomorrow or Friday) so it won’t interrupt the flow of what I’m on about right now.

But again, those are the exceptions and the handful of lifters who get into it young for various reasons don’t provide the numbers needed to find a world beater.  The reality is that most teens entering the weight room are either doing it to facilitate their pursuit of the big three/track and field or bodybuilding/powerlifting.  So how do you get more people into the sport in the first place?

Proposed Solution #1: Recruit Athletes from Other Sports
This is one potential solution and has been tried to at least some degree with Shane Hamman as one of the most well known.  As a 1000+ lb squatting powerlifter, Hamman switched to Ol’ing after high school and actually made a fairly good showing, finishing 10th in 2000 and 7th in 2004 before retiring.

There is still actually much debate as to the ability to powerlifters to make the transition, there’s been a long-held belief that excessive benching prevents them from ever achieving the mobility to truly master the overhead lifts but this may just be a leftover of some old ideas about training (some Olympic lifters in the modern era do bench pressing as a limited assistance movement for general upper body whatever though they usually do it in a fairly loose and explosive style).

Certainly there is potential here but keep in mind my previous comments about the role of limit strength and such in Olympic lifting: it’s relevant but clearly far from the whole picture (Hamman’s back squat is far in excess of anything that a top Olympic lifter would do and they still outlifted him).  Starting late, his technique was never going to get to where it needed to be before he hit that age 24-25 peak.  Again, this is a place where you’d need to start them young to have much of a chance.

But this isn’t like speedskating where what you do on the ice and what you do in inline are fundamentally similar on a lot of levels (technically and physiologically).  PL’ing and OL’ing are distinct sports, only sharing the squat (and PL’ers usually squat very differently than OL’ers) and with the deadlift looking kind of like start of the pull.   The speed of movement is totally different, the neural demands are totally different.

Even in other sports, trying to convert a great athlete at a later date often fails.  Consider Lance Armstrong’s marathon performance (he didn’t have the decade of running specific training to convert his aerobic motor to the movement) or even Jordan’s failed attempt at baseball.  Converting other athletes only works if they have a similar physiological background or they have some innate capacity to pick up the new activity quickly.  And that last bit is key for the OL’s if you’re not starting guys when they are 5.

One possibility that occurs to me here is gymnastics.  It’s a large sport (of predominantly middle- and upper class white folks) with a large enough junior and collegiate level for there to be lots of athletes.  But many can’t cut it past high school (they can go into cheerleading just like football players).  And they are invariably explosive as hell.  In this vein Kim Goss used to recruit female OL’ers from the ranks of gymnasts who had gotten too old for their sport.

Mind you, female gymnasts are past their prime at age 14 and often looking for something new to do, you can convert them and get them 10 years under the bar by the time they are 23.  Male gymnasts usually don’t give up the dream until college when/if they can’t cut it. So the development period would be a lot shorter.

Gymnasts are already fearless, have amazing flexibility and typically have levers that are at least close to what might be ideal for OL’ing.  Perhaps more importantly they always have just amazing body awareness and proprioceptive skills.  If there is any group that might be able to pick up the nuances of OL’ing technique more quickly than average it might be this group simply because of their background in movement.   Anybody who has trained a gymnast knows that you can tell them ‘shift your weight back 1/4 inch’ and they will know exactly what you mean.  Get a gymnast out of high school and you might just turn them into a lifter before they peak out at 23-24 years of age.

Of course, there is a final group, one that is tremendously underrepresented in the sport of OL’ing (dominated by pasty white Europeans), which America has in large number, a group that would appear to have a propensity towards speed, power and explosion.  A group from which several of Americas recent top finishers (i.e. Wes Barnett and Kendrick Farris) are members of.  That group is, of course, blacks of west African descent.

I suspect that if there is potential for US Olympic Lifting to succeed, that success may reside here.  It’s unfortunate that neither Barnett or Farris were able to medal this is a place where a single winning athlete might have started a tradition in the sport, a tradition that has simply not existed to this point.  But I’m not sure how the sport would go about getting folks involved.

The relative inexpensiveness of equipment would be one facilitating factor (you could outfit a basic facility relatively cheaply compared to some other sports). I am aware of at least one group Inner City Weightlifting that may be working towards this.  Perhaps like the Philadelphia swimming program, something might come out of this.  But OL’ing is competing here against the monstrous draw of the big three and track and field which have something that OL’ing hasn’t had since the 1950’s.

And that’s incentives which is right where I’ll pick it up tomorrow.

Read Why the US Sucks at Olympic Lifting: OL’ing Part 9.

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