There was a break following the end of the 105 session, and for the 105+ session I grabbed a spot in the stands, not wanting to push my luck any more. I had been kicked out of the press area more times than I could remember and didn’t want to risk being forcibly removed while trying to watch Chigishev and Steiner battle it out. Plus all the jockeying for better visibility and taking pictures was tiring, and I thought it’d be good to relax for this final session, to simply be a spectator, without feeling the pressure to document.
But those plans were short lived, since by the end of both the snatch and clean and jerk portions of the competition I was once again making my way toward the stage, trying to get as close as possible. The lifting was simply too intense not to do so.
Matthias Steiner, the 2008 Olympic champion, was clearly competing below his bests. Still, he managed 190 and then 194, missing 196 on his third. Even if his weights were a bit down, this guy was thrilled to be competing, and nearly brought the house down with his post-lift celebrations. Anyone who watched Steiner win the Olympics knows how excited he can get, and if this wasn’t quite on the same scale, it was still the same animal.
Latvia’s Viktors Scerbatihs also put on an impressive performance (at least in the snatch), going 3 for 3 with 190, 195, and 200. Solid numbers for a guy who’s old enough to have fathered a lot of the other lifters. And despite his age he still looks damn good snatching. Very solid, precise, consistent technique, even for a big guy.
But the real fun was watching the Ukraine’s Artem Udachyn, Iran’s Behdad Salimikordasiabi, and of course Russia’s Evgeny Chigishev. Udachyn went 3 for 3, finishing with a solid 205. But Chigishev and Behdad were the main source of action, with Chigishev setting the mark and Behdad following. Chigishev opened with 202, so Behdad went 203; Chigishev went to 207, Behdad did 208. Neck and neck. Chigishev then went to 210–just one kilo off his competition best–and held on to it in one of the best goddamn fights with a weight all competition. I don’t know what Chigishev’s personal best is, but at that moment, it wasn’t a gram over 210. Behdad then went for 211, but it was a gram or two more than he could handle.
As a brief aside, Chigishev is fast. Really fast. Especially for a guy who weighs in at just over 130 kilos. And when he explodes for his second pull you can almost hear the bar shriek in pain. His pull and drop under very nearly creates a shockwave, and you’re not sure if the sound you’re hearing is his feet hitting the platform or his massive body breaking the sound barrier.
The big snatches, especially by Chigishev, made me keen to see a real fight in the clean and jerk. And it certainly would have been one, with Chigishev set to open at 240 and Behdad at 241. No doubt it would have been a back-and-forth similar to that seen in the snatch. But unfortunately it wasn’t to be; Chigishev tweaked something in his left thigh on his opener, and that was the last attempt he would take. They let the clock run out on two more attempts, though, perhaps hoping to work out whatever he did to his leg, or perhaps just fucking with the other competitors. Who knows. Whatever the case, this left the number one spot open to the Iranian.
But not without a strong showing by Steiner, who despite his weak (by comparison) snatch, came out with a huge 246 clean and jerk to win that discipline and place second overall, just over Udachyn by virtue of lighter bodyweight. And judging from his post-lift celebration, second was just fine for Steiner. You can only wonder whether he’s this happy for all his gym lifts. And yet it should be noted that there’s something different about the way Steiner celebrates; it’s less of a celebration of victory over others, less of a yell of dominance, and more of an outpouring of joy and genuine happiness with his own performance, totally independent of his competitors. His is not a patronizing scream of victory, but a real expression of one man’s joy at confronting the weights and winning over them, and perhaps over himself. His reaction to making the 246 clean and jerk was one of unbridled joy and excitement, and you get the feeling that he would have acted similarly even without a crowd of fans screaming with him and for him. Of all the celebrations I saw this week, Steiner’s was the best.
In some ways the 105+ class, which closed the competition, was a fitting end, serving a microcosm for the entire championships. There were some really big lifts, at or near record levels; there were surprises and upsets; some new faces and some old; injuries that totally changed the nature of the competition; surprising victories; and battles between national superpowers and lesser countries played out on 16 square meters of space.
With the competition over, I grabbed my stuff and headed out for what would (thankfully) be my last ride in a Turkish cab this trip. And it was blessedly short, the airport located only a handful of minutes away from the Expo Center. That didn’t stop the driver from managing to scare the shit out of me in that short span of time, but by then I was somewhat accustomed to it. And this driver was an older gentleman; I figured if he’d survived this long flirting with death, one more cab ride was probably a safe bet.
It was quite a week and quite a competition. And it’s a lot to process, and I imagine I’ll be looking through my photos and videos and notes for a long time to come. I don’t think there are any secrets hidden in there, no kernels of foreign knowledge that we Americans lack that will make us competitive on the international stage, but I do think there are some obvious points that are either overlooked or ignored or are so obvious as to be considered insignificant. And in the coming days I’ll try to put some more videos and photos online, as well as some observations that might be relevant, both from the training I watched as well as the competition.
But for now, back to the gym…