Houston 2015 behind-the-scenes: The Warmup Room

When I went to my first World Championshipss way back in 2010 the experience was very much a guerrilla affair: I arrived with no tickets, no media pass, and no clue how I was going to gain entry into anything. Paying seemed out of the question, which is a pretty typical mindset for a weightlifter. Fortunately, things somehow worked out, and despite a few run ins with people in charge I more or less made it through unscathed, with consistent access to the training hall and competition venue. The only area off limits then—and every year following—was the warmup area.

But that all changed this year. Thanks to an unexpected windfall of good luck hard work, I managed to get a media pass that included “Field of Play” in its access areas—in short, the Holy Grail of a major weightlifting meet: the warmup room. (More on why I had that later.)

Unfortunately, not all of us chose our media passes so wisely...

Unfortunately, not all of us chose our media passes so wisely…

Even though I had a legitimate pass for the warmup room, every time I stepped in I felt like I was gate crashing a party that I was bound to be thrown out of at some point. It was simply too good to be true. There was a constant tension between enjoying the spectacle of the behind-the-scenes competition and the near-constant anxiety that my media pass would turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. 

the fact that my phone takes panoramas like this, despite my total lack of photographic know-how, has convinced me it works via magic...

the fact that my phone takes panoramas like this, despite my total lack of photographic know-how, has convinced me it works via magic…

But somehow I made it through the week without being kicked out for trying to touch one of Lu Xiaojun’s intercostals (I’m told they have the miraculous power to heal bad lifting). I cannot even begin to describe the self-control that took, or the willpower required not to join in the celebrations of the Russian team when Artem Okulov won the 85s (I’m not even sure if it’s still legal for that many grown men to hug each other in Russia).

I could only control myself for so long...

I could only control myself for so long…

Wait, where was I? All this talk of intercostals and sweaty Russians has me a bit off track… Right! The warmup room. Anyone who’s been to a warmup room at a hotly contested national event knows that there is a competition that takes place off the platform: a degree of posturing and jockeying for unspoken superiority via body language and nonverbal cues. Things are no different at an international meet, except they’re happening with athletes who don’t just think they’re the best in the world, they are the best in the world.

Interestingly, the most intense warmup rooms—the ones that were the most charged with athletic energy—were for the lighter men’s classes: the 56-, 62-, and 69-kilo categories. It was in these sessions that lifters spoke not just via body language—aggressively dropping bars and strutting with the sort of confidence usually reserved for when you’ve just sacked a medium-sized city—but through vocalizations, as well. Many of the athletes who were fighting for the top positions were loud, shouting seemingly at random: before lifts, during lifts, after lifts, simply for the joy of hearing their own impressively manly vocal chords echo through the space. In the 62s I watched North Korea’s Kim Un Guk shout the entire time he followed a snatch down to the floor after one warmup. It was almost operatic in its power, volume, and clarity. 

And it wasn’t just athletes shouting: coaches often got in on the action. Sometimes the Chinese teams sounded like they were a chorus, singing/shouting in harmony. There are barbershop quartets out there who would envy their of rhythm and timing.

But there are a few exceptions here worth mentioning: first, the Russians that I observed were almost uniformly quiet. Oleg Chen, in the 69s, didn’t so much as grunt during his warmups. Watch this video and try to find him make a sound (other than the noise of his feet hitting the platform and breaking the sound barrier):

Nothing! The guy was a monk. Unlike a mullet, he was business in the front and back. [NB: speaking of mullets, if you haven’t already seen Kianoush Rostami’s headshot from the 2012 London Games now is a good time to check it out.] And from what I saw, Chen’s teammates were similarly reserved. Which is not to say they weren’t intense—it was simply a different type of intensity, more internal than external. 

The other exception: the 77 A session. Here the energy was interesting. I was only in the warmup room for the snatches, but there was very little yelling or posturing that I could discern. My thinking—and it’s a guess, which is standard trade around here—is that there was no reason to fight over who was king in that room: everyone already knew that Lu Xiaojun was operating on a different level. To fight for superiority would be to battle for whatever scraps he deemed worthy to toss down.

Having gold shoes also sends out a certain statement...

Having gold shoes also sends out a certain statement…

Of course, in retrospect that wasn’t how it played out at all. What many of us failed to take into account (myself included) was Aleksey Ni, who demonstrated that nobody is without their weak points. But we’ll save that for another day…

It’s also worth noting that the shouting and extreme vocalizing all but stopped in the heavier classes (85s and up); if anything, it was primarily—perhaps strictly—a phenomenon in the lighter men’s classes.

A final thought (for now) on one of the side effects of spending too much time in the warmup room at the Worlds: seeing dozens of lifters effortlessly move loaded barbells makes you forget that these are heavy weights. You begin to fool yourself into thinking that something like 100, 120, or 140 kilos isn’t all that heavy. “Look at how Oleg Chen played with that 120,” you say to yourself. “That doesn’t seem so bad…” Only the next time you step into a gym—unless you happen to be Oleg Chen, or someone of that ilk—you realize that it is, in fact, a lot of weight. It’s just the athletes who made it look like something to be toyed with…

Until next time!

Posted in olympic weightlifting, travel, weightlifting | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Houston: The Kazakhstan of America and the 2015 World Championships

Much like last year, I very nearly didn’t make it to this year’s World Championships, held in glorious Houston, Texas. After an unseasonably warm autumn in the Midwest, the climate here went from Tatooine to Hoth in what felt like a matter of hours. Maybe Han finally got the hyperdrive working. Whatever the case, temperatures plummeted, the media erupted into a weather-related frenzy, and the meteorological gods conspired to send an apocalyptic snowstorm to my precise location at the exact hour I was scheduled to fly from ORD to IAH. It was exactly like The Perfect Storm, but with snow instead of rain. And weightlifters instead of fishermen. And planes instead of boats. So ultimately it was nothing like The Perfect Storm. But I digress.

Only via a combination of luck, unusual generosity on the airline’s part, and begging with the captain (I promised I’d finally finish the Grabero and Lydiet saga, although this just seemed to confuse and scare him…) did we manage to take off in the midst of moderate snowfall the worst winter storm in the history of the world.

Weather conditions under which we took off from Chicago. Also note that we were under heavy AT-AT Walker fire.

Weather conditions under which we left from Chicago. Also note that we were under heavy AT-AT Walker fire.

Houston, for the uninformed, is somewhere in Texas. This is significant because—much to the dismay of many of the state’s residents—Texas is a part of the United States.[citation needed] Depending on how you count, or more accurately what you count, the last time the World Championships were in the US was either 28 years ago, 31 years ago, or 37 years ago. Those correspond to the first Women’s World Championships (1987, Daytona Beach, Florida), the 1984 Olympic Games in LA (counted as the Worlds that year), and the 1978 Championships held in Gettysburg, PA.

[NB: I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention that the homepage video for the official site of the competition, http://www.houstoniwf2015.com/, wildly misstates how long it’s been since the last Worlds were held in the US. To save you the pain of sitting through this video, allow me to quote the opening line: “For the first time in over 40 years, international Olympic weightlifting returns to the United States.” In absolutely no way, shape, or form is this accurate. At the risk of sounding somewhat harsh, that opening line—and most of the video—sums up a few aspects of what were otherwise a really, truly amazing Worlds: ambitious and well-meaning but ultimately clueless.]

The eternal mathematical question of trying to figure out when the last Worlds took place in the US...

The eternal mathematical question of trying to figure out when the last Worlds took place in the US…

Where were we? Ah yes, Texas. Which is surprisingly not that dissimilar from Kazakhstan, where last year’s Worlds were held. Both have notable spaceflight facilities: NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in south central Kazakhstan. Both are heavily involved in the oil industries, so much so that my Uber driver—who was in the oil industry for a period—had actually worked and trained with several Kazakhs. And oddly enough the area around the George R. Brown Convention Center, where this year’s competition was held, looked in many ways like a bombed out former Soviet outpost. (I’ve been told this is under construction; I certainly hope so.)

That said, the venue was damn impressive. Perhaps the best of the World Championships I’ve attended. True, Poland (2013) had a building with a far more interesting history and style, and Kazakhstan (2014) had theatrics that were hard to top, but this arena was really excellent. The stage was lit with the intensity of a supernova, and there was not a bad seat in the house, from what I could tell. It’s also worth noting that the hotel buffet was delicious—a far cry from the strange, pink sausages of last year. The training hall, too, was top notch.

You could tan under those lights on the platform...

The area that looks like the white hot core of a nuclear fire is actually the stage…

And how was the actual competition? Outstanding. Consider that Russia’s Alexey Lovchev took down Rezazadeh’s 11-year old records in the clean & jerk and total. And that was just one amazing lift of hundreds more! The whole competition featured dozens of record attempts (I’m guessing here, but it was a lot; “dozens” is certainly closer than the Houston video’s claim of “over 40 years”). 

In conversations with my co-commentator Dr Westbrook, we considered the possibility that these might have been the best Worlds since the legendary 1999 Worlds. While Lovchev closed the men’s sessions in fine style, the first men’s A session (56) featured both Om Yun Chol’s 171 clean and jerk (triple bodyweight yet again) and Wu Jingbiao’s 139-kilo snatch, the latter breaking Halil Mutlu’s 14-year old record. The excitement rarely let up from there: more world records attempted and made, an American (CJ Cummings) taking a crack at a Youth WR, four Chinese lifters bombing out, huge lifts from the likes of Boyanka Kostova, Artem Okulov, and others, and excellent performances by some US lifters, including Alex Lee, Mattie Rogers, Jenny Arthur, and Sarah Robles, to name just a few.

But you already know all that! (You do, right? Apologies to any of you who don’t.) Anyways, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What went on behind the scenes and in the warmup room, the media room, and—most importantly—the hotel bar? In short, what was it like on the ground?

That’s precisely what I intend to discuss. Just not right now. It seems I’ve already run this post a bit long. So assuming I don’t flake out (always a possibility) I’ll return to this shortly, and cover a few of the more interesting aspects of this year’s World Championships: namely, the warmup room experience, the broadcasting madness, late-night discussions with a member of the Russian team, the crazy performance by North Korea’s Rim Jong-Sim, and what happened to our savior, Lu Xiaojun. In the meantime, to whet your appetite, enjoy some (rather shaky) video footage from the warmup room of the men’s 62A session.


Stay tuned…

Posted in olympic weightlifting, travel, weightlifting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Post-Nationals Social Media Status Generator

Congratulations! If you are reading this, odds are you survived the 2015 USAW Nationals (relatively) unscathed. Trust me, this was no easy task, what with the 100-degree heat and the conflicted emotions of watching a 15-year-old kid clean and jerk more weight than most of us can even dream of loading. 

Now that we’ve returned to our daily lives, we get to experience the final payoff for all the blood, sweat, and tears: the chance to update our social media accounts with the post-competition status that proclaims our victory. This is the chance to assert our dominance with false modesty and declare ourselves, in the words of one champion, “American as F*ck”, which presumably means we spend all day drinking gasoline and giving tax breaks to wealthy friends.

Ye gods! You didn’t come in first place?

"What if first place, was last place?"

“What if first place, was last place?”

Fear not! The typewriter monkeys dedicated staff at The Human Circus are here to help. So what if Nationals didn’t go *quite* as you’d hoped. So what if you did not, in fact, arrive at the top of the medal podium in a blaze of fiery glory. Maybe you were relegated to a lower tier on the podium; maybe you were a little lot farther down; maybe you never quite made it past the weigh ins, due to a faulty hot tub and a long night consuming inappropriate amounts of food (we’ve all been there).

Despite the fact that just qualifying for Nationals is a big achievement (even just making it to the gym is more than most people can say), there is still the need to justify your performance to people who probably can’t distinguish between wrestling and weightlifting.

what most people still think I do...

what most people still think I do…

Take heart—the glory of social media is that you can address all of this in one fell swoop thanks to a well-written status update. Whereas in my day I had to spend weeks making excuses for my lackluster performances in person, Facebook allows this to happen instantaneously to your friends—and an overzealous NSA—at the click of a button. Use this handy questionnaire to create your very own, personalized status update (it would be a real “generator” if I knew anything about programming; alas, such mysticism is beyond me). In just a few short questions, you’ll have a few well-crafted sentences conveying your pride, your gratitude to family/friends, and the reason you let them all down, along with an appropriate statement of the social media religious affiliation of your choice.

 

Questionnaire (for each question, choose any and all that apply):

  1. Opening sentence:

“Well, the 2015 USAW Nationals just finished and I ___

a) didn’t do as well as I’d hoped.”

b) did so poorly I must now commit seppuku.”

c) accidentally weighed in two classes heavy.”

d) at least made a total, thanks to duking one of the judges a fiver before the session.”

e) am still locked in the sauna. Please send help.”

 

  1. Falsely modest excuse of dubious authenticity:

“I guess it’s not too bad for ___

a) only having trained seriously for two months.”

b) only having been lifting for two months.”

c) only having learned the Olympic lifts that morning.”

d) lifting while injured with this nonspecific injury that keeps popping up.”

e) lifting while on fire.”

 

  1. Internet expression of laughter to indicate your good humor and general self-deprecation:

a) lol.

b) haha.

c) ?

d) lulz

e) ROFLcopter

 

  1. Statement of familial gratitude and/or friendship:

“Huge thanks and love to ___

a) my parents, for getting carried away while listening to a Lionel Richie CD all those years ago.”

b) the wolves that raised me as one of their own.”

c) the commune that rescued me from the wolves when I was a child.”

d) any children I may have abandoned to wolves along the way.”

e) my firstborn son, whom I sacrificed to the weightlifting gods in the hopes of a better snatch.”

 

  1. Statement of religious affiliation:

“Glory be to the source of all true strength, ___

a) God.”

b) Jebus.”

c) Superman.”

d) The Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

e) Mike Graber.”

 

  1. Cryptic religious quote indicating the depth of your newfound spirituality:

a) “Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” (2 Kings 2:24)

b) “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1)

c) “People are just like camels, out of one hundred, one can hardly find a single camel suitable to ride.” (Vol. 8, Book 76, Hadith 505)

d) “Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing.” (Song of Solomon, 6:6)

e) “I am the walrus.” (John Lennon)

 

  1. Declaration of renewed commitment to training and/or return to the grind:

“Time to get back to ___

a) the gym.”

b) the job I have been ignoring during contest prep.”

c) life, back to reality.”

d) eating every meal like it’s my last until the next time I have to cut weight.”

e) posting selfies on Instagram instead of training.”

 

  1. Positive note on which to end:

“On to ___

a. bigger weights!”

b. admitting I should be in the next weight class up!”

c. reconnecting with my wolf family!”

d. getting a refund from the televangelist who promised me results!”

e. crossing my fingers until the USADA results come back!”

 

Et voila! You now have your status update. For example:

“Well, the 2015 USAW Nationals just finished and I at least made a total, thanks to duking one of the judges a fiver before the session. I guess it’s not too bad for only having been lifting for two months. lulz. Huge thanks and love to my parents, for getting carried away while listening to a Lionel Richie CD all those years ago. Glory be to the source of all true strength, Superman. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing.” (Song of Solomon, 6:6) Time to get back to eating every meal like it’s my last until the next time I have to cut weight. On to bigger weights!”

Just like that, all your bases are covered. And conveniently, this can be altered for all sorts of events beyond the 2015 Nationals: local meets, international meets, first dates—you name it. Because the reality is that everyone, at some point, has a bad competition. Except C.J. Cummings, of course.

Feel free to use and share on Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, and your AOL Page. And anyone who has the ability to actually program a real generator—which is presumably a skill you learn in day one of Java—is more than welcome to do so.

"I CAN PROGRAM IN MY TI-83!"

“I CAN PROGRAM IN MY TI-83!”

Posted in weightlifting | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A review of “Lifting King Kong”: Korean weightlifting and cinematic glory

Lifting King Kong, 2009, dir. by Park Keon-Hong, starring Lee Beom-So, Jo An, Lee Yun-Hee, Jeon Bo-Mi, etc., 120 mins

Has the moviegoing public been clamoring for a movie about Olympic weightlifting? I know I have, ever since I watched an oiled up Ivan Drago do a series of power cleans during his Rocky IV training montage. For me that moment—rather than Rocky’s speech about “change,” later appropriated by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign—was the film’s high point. Now, after decades of waiting, all four the millions of us who wanted such a film have had our cries answered: South Korea’s 2009 Lifting King Kong.

lifting-king-kong-2009-poster

Admittedly, South Korea’s film industry is not quite the international powerhouse of, say, Nigeria.* But that doesn’t mean it can’t produce some very fine films. Just last year (released 2013 in South Korea) US audiences had Bong Joon-ho’s excellent sci-fi action flick Snowpiercer, a film that laid out class warfare, inequality, and climate change with a potency rarely seen in US cinema.

"Yes, I know I also played Captain America. That's called 'irony'..."

“Yes, I know I also played Captain America. That’s called ‘irony’…”

Coincidentally, Snowpiercer is also the last South Korean film I watched. Which was also the first South Korean film I ever saw. And until the other night, when I watched Lifting King Kong, it was the only South Korean film I’d ever seen. So let’s just be upfront and state that my credibility in evaluating a film from South Korea in its proper context is essentially nonexistent (much like my lack of credentials in evaluating a Bulgarian weightlifting book). But that won’t stop me! Journalistic integrity has never been this site’s strong suit, and I’m not about to start mucking about with it now. What follows is a review wholly divorced from the context of South Korean cinema, written pretty much with my Western standards and expectations in mind (what else do I have?), as though evaluating a typewriter for its ability to connect to the internet. Caveat lector.

How, you might ask, did I even end up watching Lifting King Kong? In a word (or two): Amazon Prime. As anyone who has Amazon Prime knows, the streaming movie selection leaves something to be desired—though it does feature such classics as Bloodsport IV and Leprechaun: Origins. Once I’d made my way through those Oscar-worthy gems, Lifting King Kong seemed like the obvious choice. Plus, I’d actually heard about this film years ago, when Alex Lee posted training footage from the Korean team and noted there had been actors and actresses present to learn about weightlifting for an upcoming movie. This was in the wake of South Korea’s performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where two of their lifters—Sa Jae-Hyouk in the 77s and Jang Mi-ran in the 75+ class—took home gold medals, and a third (Yoon Jin-hee, 53) took bronze.

For a (former) weightlifter evaluating a weightlifting film, the first question that comes to mind is What kind of lifting shoes are they wearing? How accurate is the lifting? In short, did the Korean actors and actresses do in their research? I.e., did they convincingly portray Olympic lifters? Did they convey a sense of having studied the lifts? A sense that the movements of the snatch and clean and jerk are in their very bones, as is the case with real-world Olympic-caliber athletes? Do they even lift, bro??

Let us simply say that they don’t seem to subscribe to the method acting of, say, Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s more Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san than Daniel Day-Lewis.

Indeed, despite being a weightlifting movie there’s not really a whole lot of actual weightlifting going on, aside from some strangely filmed competition sequences (lifters going in no particular order, appearing in different singlets, pooping their pants on the platform [seriously], etc.). Anyone hoping for insights into South Korean training methods is going to be sorely disappointed, unless tire dragging and lifting outdoors in the snow are legitimate South Korean training methods (cue hundreds of CrossFitters buying tires and outdoor lifting shoes).

also, running up hills carrying plates on your head

also, running up hills carrying plates on your head

Before we go too far into the details of what the film does contain, here’s the basic plot: an ex-lifter who missed out on gold at the 1988 Olympics due to a career-ending injury is now given a chance to coach a ragtag group of middle school girls to lifting glory. Hilarity and/or tear-jerking drama ensues. Note that the use of the word “ragtag” is not my choice; they’re actually called “ragtag” in the film (in the English subtitles). Anyone with information on “ragtag” in Korean is invited to clarify the shades of meaning here.

As an added twist, the film is said to be “Based on a True Story,” although (perhaps tellingly), the subtitle that mentions this includes a question mark.

Not the sort of punctuation the inspires trust

Not the sort of punctuation the inspires trust

They’re really, really stretching this “Based on a True Story” bit, from what I can gather (and what the film says at the end). To help separate fact from fiction, I’ve compiled a list of things that are true in the film that I’m pretty sure are also true in real life:

1) There is a country called South Korea[citation needed]

2) In that country, there are people who practice Olympic weightlifting[citation needed]

That pretty much does it.

So, what does the film consist of, if not the secrets of the South Korean weightlifting team? As best I can say, it can be roughly divided into three main components:

1) eating

maybe this is why they can get away with "based on a true story" about weightlifters...

maybe this is why they can get away with “based on a true story” about weightlifters…

2) yelling

The doctor has just told him he should quit lifting and take up CrossFit

The doctor has just told him he should quit lifting and take up jogging

3) crying

"Also, why aren't you eating?"

“Also, why aren’t you eating?”

These aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s not uncommon for two or three of these things to overlap (i.e., eating while crying), but the film generally features these things in the above sequential order. Indeed, the last ten or twenty minutes are pretty much uninterrupted crying (about which, more later).

In a weightlifting film eating might be expected, since weightlifters are known consumers of food. And in fact at one point the ex-lifter-cum-coach (Lee Ji-Bong, played by Beom-su Lee) asks for a kitchen in the lifters’ dorm, since eating is a necessary part of training. I’m with you so far. But much of the eating seems to serve no purpose other than to show people eating. There’s the easy gag of showing a bigger girl stuffing her face, but then there are lots of other shots of people just eating—loudly, messily, noisily, food dripping down their faces eating.

"Also, you have something in your teeth..."

“Also, you have something in your teeth…”

really, I could go on and on with these images...

"Does anybody know if this is paleo?"

“Does anybody know if this is paleo?”

I could easily go on, but you probably get the gist. It’s like a propaganda film for food consumption, as though South Korean filmgoers needed constant reminders that eating is necessary for life. I’m not entirely sure what the point is, but ever since watching the movie I’ve had an insatiable desire to buy lots of Korean food…

Yelling and violent outbursts make up another significant chunk of the film. For much of the acting, there seem to be two options: (1) low-level, normal conversation, and (2) emotional explosions on the scale of a typhoon carrying wolverines riding hydrogen bombs that’s just hit land in the middle of an earthquake. Maybe this is Korean method acting. And it’s seen not just in the evil-villain coach character (the nemesis of the good-guy coach), who would be almost comically evil were he not so sadistic (he spends as much time paddling the girls as he does yelling at them and slapping them in the face). Anyone might be overcome by the nuclear typhoon of angry outbursts, including the good-guy coach (who stops himself from paddling the girls only when he sees they’re already bruised from the other coach’s beating).

the secret to South Korean weightlifting success? It's worth a try...

the secret to South Korean weightlifting success? It’s worth a try…

And then crying. It’s difficult to convey just how much crying there is in this film, and how severe it is. A couple years ago, the interwebz was abuzz with the fact that Angela Chase Claire Danes actually looks like she’s crying when she cries in films and on TV.

she will *always* be Angela Chase in my heart

she will *always* be Angela Chase in my heart

Apparently, people can’t accept anything other than Keanu-like stoicism from women who cry onscreen.

"This *is* my mourning face..."

“This *is* my mourning face…”

God help those people are if they ever see Lifting King Kong. These women make Angela Chase Claire Danes look like a high school drama club actress, in terms of crying fervor and intensity. They look like women who’ve just watched their families die at the hands of a typhoon bearing wolverines riding hydrogen bombs. They wail like ancient Greek mourners turned to eleven: snot running down their noses, breast-beating, rivers of tears, screams, and (seriously) the rending of clothing.

perhaps I was eating the wrong kind of porridge in my competing days...

perhaps I was eating the wrong kind of porridge in my competing days…

I haven’t seen crying like this since I found out Klokov and Akkaev pulled out of the 2012 Olympics. (Oh god, here it comes again. I thought I’d moved on…)

Knowing all this, is Lifting King Kong worth checking out? Sure, especially if you have Amazon Prime and have already watched Bloodsport IV. For a weightlifting fan it’s actually quite fun to see how our sport is portrayed by and for outsiders (we can assume that the intended audience is not primarily weightlifters). The story—despite being a lotta little bit cliched—is enjoyable, and certain elements do give insights into South Korean athletics, such as institutional funding for school sports and the development of younger athletes. There are also several moments of real comedy, along with the sort of comforting life lessons you expect from a sports movie.

True, the actual lifting won’t win any awards, but ultimately this isn’t a film about lifting technique. It’s a sports story that looks at the sometimes harsh realities of being a top athlete—and the harsh realities of middle and high school kids who don’t quite fit in with the crowd. It’s also about the bond between a coach and athletes, something I think most lifters can appreciate (along with all the eating). It also features several female leads and strong female characters, which puts South Korean cinema light years ahead of most Hollywood films. And while the technique may not live up to weightlifters’ standards, it’s certainly no worse than what you’re going to see in some CrossFits. So yes, by all means, spend a couple hours watching this, if you have the chance and are interested.

And with that, I leave you in the grace and favor of a man who deserves a feature length film about his yell alone.

"IT SHOULD BE CALLED 'AKKAEVS ON A PLANE'!"

“IT SHOULD BE CALLED ‘AKKAEVS ON A PLANE’!”

* All kidding aside, Nigeria’s film industry is huge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_Nigeria)

Posted in olympic weightlifting, weightlifting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tatiana and the 2015 Arnold – Part 1, The Seminar

Kashirina Seminar group photo

“What do I have to do to get a World Champion to put her hands on me?”

That was the question I posed to Yasha Kahn, head translator and Master of Ceremonies at the Tatiana Kashirina seminar organized by former USAW Board Member and the de facto face of USA weightlifting, Mike Graber. The extraordinary Ms Kashirina was guiding a fellow seminar attendee into proper position as we all went through a basic snatch progression. I imagined—nay, hoped—that there must be some advantage to that touch, like the laying on of hands by a faith healer. Potential benefits aside, it’s not every day that you have a three-time World Champion (2010, 2013, 2014), Olympic silver medalist (2012), and multiple world record holder putting her hands on you. At least not in my circle. If a preternaturally gifted athlete and her coach are offering tactile feedback, I say take it.

Fortunately it didn’t take long for me to require Tatiana’s gentle manipulations. The moment I took hold of the barbell for a snatch she was pushing me slightly, telling me to keep my hips down off the floor and my shoulders over the barbell a little longer. Not wanting that to be the end of our fleeting encounter, I promptly did a number of things incorrectly, requiring her to make more corrections. By the third or fourth time I think she’d figured me out, and decided to wander to a more capable student…

"He is like old clay; is impossible to fix."

“He is like old clay; is impossible to fix.”

The practical portion of the seminar was the final part of the day, and it lasted for some two hours—well past the allotted time. During this period the participants were split into two groups. One group started under the guidance of Tatiana while the other worked under her coach, Vladimir Krasnov. Everyone began with the snatch, which meant starting with no-touch snatches (which they referred to as muscle snatches with squat). A number of points were emphasized on this movement: start position, hips not coming up too soon, standing up completely (i.e., full extension of the body) before turning the bar over, keeping the elbows high, and so on. First this was done with PVC, then with the bar. When everyone had satisfactorily executed this movement we continued to a classic snatch, where similar points were emphasized. Contact between the bar and the body (roughly at the hips) was stressed, although in the form of upward movement, and not—as some people argue—via aggressive horizontal slamming of the hips into the barbell. Starting and landing in the same plane was also important, and both Tatiana and her coach corrected jumping forward or backward. When a lifter had done a weight in a capable fashion—and it should be stressed that these were all relatively light weights, based off our individual abilities—we would be told to add weight or begin doing working sets (doubles or singles).

Following the snatch progression the coaches switched groups, so that everyone had experience with both Russians, and began a similar program with the clean and jerk. Only in the clean and jerk the preliminary movement was clean with pause above the knee (Tatiana or Vlad would clap to indicate you should continue), a front squat, and a jerk (generally, 2+1+2). After a few rounds of this the weight increased, and those interested in going heavier were able to do so—but only if Tatiana or her coach gave you the nod after the completion of a lift. No nod, no increase. I got the nod just long enough to get to about 90%, at which point not only did I not get the post-lift nod, I got the coach making a big “X” with his hands, accompanied by the shaking of his head. I’m hoping that this combination of gestures in Russian means “you are an amazing lifter, and I would like to personally invite you to my gym.” [Vlad: if so, I’m ready.]

"You are make joke, right?"

“You are make joke, right?”

All this came on the heels of introductory remarks by Mike Graber, an explanation by Tatiana’s coach—via Yasha translating—of her training, an extended Q and A session with both coach and athlete, and a training session by Tatiana (during which time there were more questions and more answers). Among the many, many points covered:

* Tatiana’s coach generally doesn’t plan her training beyond the current week. There is some broad variation and limits on weights depending on where she is in a training cycle, but otherwise the weights are determined on a day-by-day basis via extensive communication between athlete and coach. There are typically two weights that serve as a rough guide for the day’s training: a weight that is just heavy enough for Tatiana to feel out technique and a heavier weight that is the day’s top attempt. As an example, for the training session that day Tatiana worked to 80 kilos in the clean and jerk for four doubles and then up to 160 kilos for a single. These numbers (and associated reps) can and are changed based on feel.

* Nearly every workout for Tatiana begins with a muscle snatch variant. On this day’s training it was of the type seen here; on other days it might not include the squat.

* Tatiana and her coach could not remember the last time she missed a lift in training. Clearly, the communication is going well w/r/t/ weight selection.

* Tatiana doesn’t taper (in the traditional sense) before a competition. Vlad explained that with Tatiana they discovered that her results suffered in competition with a taper, so they continue to train heavy up to the competition. Two days before the 2014 Worlds (where she did 155 and 193) she clean and jerked 180 kilos; one day prior to the competition she snatched 150.

* She began lifting at 11 years old and has been with her coach since the start. She reached the highest levels of sporting achievement in Russia (Merited Master of Sport) before she was even old enough to officially receive the honor (I think you had to be 17, and she was something like 14 when this happened).

* The coach stressed that what Tatiana does and what works for her does not work for all other athletes. Many athletes on the national team train very differently (more planned weights, longer term planning, tapers, etc.). He also stressed that variations extend to technique, and certain athletes (e.g., Yurik Vardanian) make unconventional techniques work, or make deviations work.

* Proper warmup and recovery (via regular sauna and massage) was stressed. Before lifting Tatiana’s coach rubbed capsaicin on her knees and shoulders and lower back; she then spent 15-20 minutes warming up and stretching before touching the barbell. There was another cream, as well; some sort of Russian anti-inflammatory or something for joint issues. I’m currently bathing in it thrice daily in the hopes that it will work its secret Soviet magic on me…

Tatiana’s training that day consisted of muscle squat snatch, classic snatch, clean and jerk, hang clean pulls, and squats. Despite her travel, the seminar, and the competition the next day, this was very similar to a “regular” training session.

Later that evening I had the good fortune to join Tatiana and associated crew for dinner in downtown Columbus. Yasha once again served as translator, aided by Dan Gorelik, while Mike Graber drank beers and shouted “You are so beautiful” in Russian across the table. Tatiana’s meal of steak and potatoes was representative of what she eats while in Russia, as she has to work to maintain bodyweight (they aim for around 110 kilos, knowing she will lose a few kilos prior to a competition). Throughout the dinner she and her coach continued to answer questions. At one point I had Yasha ask Vlad what—if anything—he looks for in an athlete as a means of evaluating potential. Without hesitation he answered: “Work ethic.”

IMG_2086

Work ethic?! That doesn’t sound like something that aligns well with the spirit of the Expo, which would rather sell you something than ask for work. Also I’m pretty sure ethics are forbidden in the Expo floor. But more on that to come…

To be continued! 

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