irst of all, there’s nothing like the Olympics, and if you don’t believe it, just go’whether as an athlete, a coach, an official, a member of the media or as a ticket-buying fan. Second, if you’re an iron guy or gal, you probably already know that weightlifting’as in Olympic-style weightlifting’is the only branch of the iron game to make the program at this five-ring extravaganza. And, third, for weightlifting competitors, making it to the ’04 Olympics in Athens, Greece, began at the ’03 World Weightlifting Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, this past November’just so you know how important that event was.
No, this isn’t a fiendish plot cooked up by travel agents’just a heads-up that the Olympic movement is so successful that a lot more people want to come to the party than it can accommodate, and guest lists are carefully managed. Weightlifting, for example, has a quota limiting the number of athletes eligible to compete in Athens. The number of slots allocated to each country depends primarily on how that country fared at the ’03 World Weightlifting Championships. That explains the kind of pressure there was on everyone in Vancouver and why countries showed up with full teams, pulling in everyone they thought might help them earn the precious points that would translate into Olympic berths in August.
Turkey’s Halil Mutlu used to dominate the men’s 56-kilogram (123-pound) class, but since he moved up to the 62-kilogram (136-pound) category, Wu Meijin of China has been the top lifter. Wu didn’t disappoint here, sweeping the gold medals with a 127.5-kilogram (281-pound) snatch and a 160-kilogram (352-pound) clean and jerk. That’s right: A guy who weighed less than a buck and a quarter lifted more than 350 pounds from the ground to arm’s length overhead. Wu seems to be on track to possibly break Mutlu’s world record in the clean and jerk at the Olympics, so remember his name. Let’s see what he does in Athens.
Naim Suleymanoglu of Turkey was the first person in history to win three Olympic gold medals in weightlifting, which he did in fabulous style at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Now Mutlu is poised to reach the same mark, even though he was coming back from arm and shoulder surgery in Vancouver. While he won the 62-kilogram (136-pound) category, his performance, by his usual lofty standards, was a little ragged: After missing his opening snatch, 145 kilograms (319 pounds), Mutlu came back and made it, followed by a successful third attempt with 147.5 kilograms (325 pounds). In the clean and jerk, Mutlu also missed his 175-kilogram (385-pound) opener before making it, and he missed with 189 kilograms (396 pounds) on his third attempt. For Mutlu the big questions for his Athens appearance are whether he’ll move back to the 56-kilogram category and return to his razor-sharp self.
China turned in another gold-medal performance in the men’s 69-kilogram (152-pound) category, where Zhang Guozheng snatched 152.5 kilograms (335 pounds) and cleaned and jerked 192.5 kilograms (424 pounds), drawing admiring gasps when he uncorked his signature squat jerks. Russian junior Vladislav Lukanin surprised a lot of people, sliding in for a gold medal and junior world record in the jerk, lifting the same weight as Zhang. But being the lighter man, he also earned a junior world record in the total (340 kilograms, or 748 pounds).
The world championships hit a bump in the road early on when three top lifters were suspended because of an irregularity in an out-of-competition drug test. Galabin Boevski and Georgi Markov would have been among the favorites in the 77-kilogram (169-pound) class, and teammate Zlatan Vanev was a precontest favorite in the 85-kilogram (187-pound) class. All three lifters are from Bulgaria.
Mohammad Falahati Nejad of Iran took top honors in the 77-kilogram (169-pound) class with a 155-kilogram (341-pound) snatch and a 202.5-kilogram (446-pound) clean and jerk.
Veleriu Calancea of Romania hit a home run in the 85-kilogram (187-pound) class: The guy was in eighth place after the snatch, and when Yuan Aijun took over the gold-medal position with his final clean and jerk (212.5 kilograms, or 468 pounds), Valeriu still had a shot. All he had to do was load the bar to 215 kilograms (473 pounds) and then lift it well’exactly what he did, for a very dramatic end to a great class.
Milen Dobrev of Bulgaria has got to be the favorite in Athens in the men’s 94-kilogram (207-pound) category, and his performance in Vancouver only cemented his position as the front runner. Looking muscular, confident and tough, Dobrev ended up with a 185-kilogram (407-pound) snatch and a 220-kilogram (484-pound) clean and jerk.
Oil-rich Qatar made a deal for some Bulgarian weightlifters a few years ago, and one of them, lifting under the Arabic name Saeed Saif Asadd (former junior world champion Angel Popov) took home the bacon in the 105-kilogram (231-pound) class after snatching 195 kilograms (429 pounds) and cleaning and jerking 227.5 kilograms (501 pounds). ALL ‘Who wants to watch little men lift little weights?’ has been said more than once, but it’s not something you’ll hear when the superheavyweights come up to bat. The reigning Olympic and World Champion, Hossein Rezazadeh of Iran, who also happens to hold all three world records in the class, was expected to have a fairly easy time of things in the packed hall that showed such vocal support for him that an International Weightlifting Federation member turned to me and said, ‘Are we in Tehran?’ Rezazadeh can snatch 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and make it look like a broomstick. To appreciate what that means, even if you don’t exactly know how to do a snatch, just put 440 pounds on a bar, pull it up as high as you can and then instantly jump under it, catching it overhead on your fully straightened arms. Piece of cake, right?
Rezazadeh made 207.5 kilograms (457 pounds) on his third attempt, then barely missed a world-record attempt of 213.5 kilograms (470 pounds) on his third attempt. How quickly things change: Qatar’s Saeed Salem Jaber was now in the lead, having snatched 210 kilograms (462 pounds), and he was the lighter man. And how quickly they can change again: No sooner had people realized the significance of what had just happened than Jaber had to pull out, due to a hamstring injury. Rezazadeh got to bring home all the marbles after effortlessly cleaning and jerking 250 kilograms (550 pounds). However, in an attempt to break his own world record in the clean and jerk, he missed the jerk on 263.5 kilograms (580 pounds). Earlier, superheavyweight Shane Hamman (USA) had tested the nerves of the American team when he missed his first two jerks’another miss and the U.S. would get no slots for the men in Athens’but he sank the putt on his third attempt. Three men will represent the Stars and Stripes on the weightlifting platform in Athens.
Check the faces, learn the names, and get ready to see some really huge weights hoisted in Athens’weightlifting is going to rock the 2004 Olympics.
Editor’s note: Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D., is the president of IronMind Enterprises Inc., a name synonymous with strength sports around the world. To learn more about IronMind products and publications’from Captains of Crush grippers to the book Super Squats’visit www.ironmind.com or call (530) 265-6725 for a free catalog. IM