Day 3, and the long-awaited, stirring conclusion to the Trials

Where has the time gone? Has it really been a whole month since the US Olympic Trials/National Championships happened out in glorious Columbus, Ohio?

Indeed, it has been just over a month since the Women’s Trials finished, bringing The Arnold weekend to its conclusion. By now the dust has settled and those of us not currently residing under rocks are well aware of who will represent our women at London 2012: Sarah Robles and Holley Mangold, two of our 75+ lifters. This was despite a strong showing by Amanda Sandoval, who displays some of the finest technique of any American lifter.

Unfortunately we only have two spots for our women, and using the current qualification formula–based off highest percentage of the average for third-place totals over the past five years of Worlds and Olympic games–our two supers edge out Sandoval. Robles total of 258 (114 and 144) gives her 90.273%; Mangold’s 255 (110 and 145) is 89.223%; and just below them is Sandoval’s 197 (89 and 108), worth 87.323%. It’s not ideal to leave any of our top lifters off an Olympic roster, but in sports that’s often the way the cookie crumbles, and had we earned more slots during the previous two World Championships things might have been different.

There is likely to be some grumbling about selection procedure, especially since the Sinclair formula puts Sandoval as the number one lifter (she has 259.8450, compared to 258.0078 for Robles and 255 for Mangold). It’s unfortunate, to be certain, but any qualification procedure is going to be flawed, and there’s no guarantee that ranking by Sinclair will provide better results than other systems that are ultimately just as arbitrary. This the danger of weightlifting and selection procedure: as a numbers based sport it has the appearance of objectivity, yet as anyone who knows the sport can tell you it is anything but objective. You can chart and graph and analyze data all you like, but in the end the number of variables is simply too great to make any real conclusions. In 2010 the whole weightlifting community–including myself–probably thought China’s Lu Xiaojun was a lock for the 77-kilo class gold medal in Antalya. And by most objective standards–looking at numbers alone–he was the best lifter in his class.

apparently nobody told the armenians that xiaojun was a mathematical lock for first

But however good Xiaojun may be in some theoretical and mathematical sense, at the 2010 World Championships he was not the best lifter; Tigran Martirosyan was the best, even if his best lifts aren’t near what Xioajun’s best are. Numbers lie, and perhaps in no other sport do they lie so insidiously, since they do so under the guise of having value. We are thus left with our imperfect system of team selection (a bit far out in advance, admittedly), which is the best system available until someone comes up with another. And until we have a lifter who is a clear medal contender all the math and formulas in the world aren’t going to change our standings all that much.

xiaojun, making up for his 2010 silver and therefore avoiding being sent to work for foxconn

If only Olympic slots were determined by the ability to yell and foot stomp, in which case we would be sending a full women’s team with a strong possibility of medaling. Out of the fifteen women who competed on Sunday in the Trials nearly all of them (though not quite all) put on some sort of display of shouting/stomping/grunting, often loud enough to scare away small children and animals.

you may want to cover your ears. and your kids' ears...

There was every conceivable form of non-verbal vocalization, from banshee wails to diaphragmatic growls to screams that sounded like either pain or sexual ecstasy. There’s no need to name names here, but if you were there you very likely know of whom I speak, as each lifter who yelled did so in a style uniquely her own. Perhaps it was part of some sort of outreach program for the small but powerful contingent of blind fans of weightlifting, who no doubt could identify every lifter based solely on her vocalizations.

“AAAAaaiiiEEEEEEE!”

“Ah yes,” a man in sunglasses would say. “That must be so-and-so…”

“HUUUUUUuuuuunnnnhhhhh!”

“Ah, and now it’s [insert name] again.”

Alas, Olympic slots are not determined by how well you can shout or kick the platform, and so we are left with two.

But Sarah and Holley make for a good team, in my view, and I think there’s a real chance of seeing some strong improvement from both lifters thanks to the added pressure and competition. Just over a year ago Robles was essentially unchallenged, and I’m sure more than a few people wrote Mangold off after her disastrous performance at the 2010 American Open. But Mangold has now come back better than ever–by far–and Robles can no longer rest easily on her achievements. That sort of impetus, the flame under the ass of these two competitors, might be the motivation our athletes need to perform well at the Olympics.

I recognize that only a few sentences ago I devoted considerable space to talking about how meaningless numbers often are in our sport. But it wouldn’t be weightlifting if we weren’t engaged in baseless speculation, so it doesn’t hurt to consider some results from the past few years.  The third place total for the 75+ women in Beijing 2008 was 270; silver was only 7 kilos more. At the 2011 Worlds third place was 273. From the 2011 to the 2012 Nationals Mangold managed to put nearly 20 kilos on her total. Both she and Robles show signs of room for improvement, and while they have a ways to go–and the totals will always depend on who shows up to London 2012 and in what shape, etc. (all the usual caveats of predictions)–they’re not out of striking range for a top five or better placement. Robles is brutally strong, and with a bit of cleaning up to her technique there’s no reason why she can’t total 270 or more. Mangold is locking her technique in, and now she just needs to make greater use of the strength that is already there.

Enough speculation. We all know what the gods have to say when we start planning and thinking we can divine the future. London is still several months away, and between now and then a lot can happen. No doubt Robles and Mangold will be training hard in an effort to stay ahead of each other, and we can be equally certain that the other top 75+ women in the world will be doing likewise. As always, it will be interesting to see who exactly shows up. There are some very powerful women out there–China’s Zhou Lulu and Meng Suping, Russia’s Tatiana Kashirina, and South Korea’s Jang Mi-Ran–and as the 2011 Worlds proved (in case there was any doubt) they’re unlikely to settle for second place.

Of course, it’s not just women who compete in the Olympics, and there’s no doubt that those of us with any interest in weightlifting are all looking forward to the living legend that is Dmitry Klokov, which is why I can think of no better way to bring these lunatic ravings to a close than by posting training footage of him. If there is one thing this world needs more of it is gratuitous footage of Klokov (lifting, walking, brushing his teeth, folding laundry–anything).

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One Response to Day 3, and the long-awaited, stirring conclusion to the Trials

  1. Pingback: Day 3, and the long-awaited, stirring conclusion to the Trials | Decadence and Depravity: Tales of Weightlifting, Food, and Everything Else

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