I have figured out the secret to success on the Interwebz within the world of strength sports: mention Lu Xiaojun. That’s pretty much all it takes for the World Wide Web to explode. It’s like the weightlifting equivalent of mentioning Miley Cyrus, except Lu Xiaojun uses his body for something that is actually impressive, like pause squatting 260 or doing 220-kilo snatch pulls.
Had I known this previously I would have titled this site “xiaojun.hookgrip.com”, thus guaranteeing an audience in the
millions billions, even if I wrote things by simply walking across my keyboard in a pair of hookgrip socks.
I was talking about this extraordinary popularity over second dinner with none other than Mr Hookgrip himself this evening. The most immediate precedent for this phenomenon—a weightlifter with broad appeal—is, of course, Klokov. (I’m glossing over athletes who had widespread appeal within their particular countries; also, comparisons pre- and post-Internet Age are particularly difficult.) But as
handsome popular as Klokov is—and there is no doubt he is popular—Lu seems an order of magnitude more so, at least from a perspective in the weightlifting community. Over the course of our meal, sitting not far from the buffet’s number one fan, Oksen Mirzoyan, we touched upon two potentially significant factors.
One is that Lu has the objective results to back up his fame: Olympic Champion, multiple World Champion (2009 and 2011), and multiple World Record holder (175 snatch, 379 total). But perhaps more important is the fact that Lu seems to represent the absolute, undiluted purity of Olympic Weightlifting. In any other era this might not have mattered—indeed, it would not have been anything out of the ordinary—but in the age of CrossFit this becomes a significant marker of identity. Lu, unlike Klokov and so many other weightlifters (at least in the US), is not branching out or branding himself or trying to demonstrate any potential for a crossover. He is simply training and lifting.
This is not to say weightlifters are not appreciative of CrossFit, or that it’s only weightlifters who are into Lu. Quite the contrary. Weightlifters by and large are thrilled to have the added attention—and participation—that CrossFit has brought about. And the thousands of views for videos and pictures of Lu simply cannot be all lifters; we’ve never had those kinds of numbers.
What it is—I think—is the recognition of and appreciation for an ideal: Lu Xiaojun is the embodiment of weightlifting at its most pure. He is a machine made of flesh and bone who seems to have been put on this earth for the express purpose of snatching and clean and jerking (and squatting). The linguistic barrier for us in the West only increases this sentiment, as Lu is stripped of all characteristics or life outside of his physical actions. He is the perfect, 175-kilo snatch, the 205-kilo clean and jerk, the perfectly carved intercostals. He is all that is exceptional in weightlifting and nothing more. For those of us who do not know him personally (which is to say the vast majority of us), he is the sport of weightlifting: fast, powerful, graceful.
Jebus! I need to get my head on straight, lest I lose my way with all this poetic waxing on the great Lu Xiaojun. Naturally, there are other things going on here in Poland. Like the start of the World Championships, for one, which I suppose is the whole reason I’m here (is it?). The competition opened today with the 48-kilo women, in which USA’s Morghan King—lifting in her first international meet—managed 70 and 90, going 4 for 6.
Beyond those results I have no idea what happened, since I spent most of the day in the training hall or keeping an eye on Mr Graber, in an effort to head off any international incidents before they start.
Standouts in the training area from the past couple days include the Armenians and Egyptians, both of whom were looking very fast and very strong. I had the pleasure of training next to the Armenians for an hour or so, and the Armenian coach (not the buffet fan—he was probably eating—but another coach) was even kind enough to point out how bad my jerk was. I had been watching the Armenians in between my own lifts and after a set of jerks the coach walked over to me, shook his head, and then—to cross the linguistic divide—imitated my position, which wasn’t a pretty sight, even if it was likely accurate.
But he didn’t stop there: he then pointed a finger to get my attention and demonstrated what he felt I should be doing, which mostly involved putting the barbell behind my head rather than doing what amounted to a standing bench press. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen or experienced coaches communicate with athletes in the absence of spoken language, and it’s always interesting to note the ways the body itself in weightlifting becomes a veritable lingua franca. I thanked him and performed another set, after which he nodded, which either indicated some level of approval or a concession to the fact that my shoulders simply refuse to do the things I tell them.
An interesting point on the Egyptians: when Mr Hookgrip and I were discussing the
corruption of the IWF philosophical merits of Mr Lu Xiaojun over dinner, the Egyptian lifters sat next to us. Judging by the piles of food on their plates, they’re either practicing a binge and purge diet or are not concerned about making weight. Also apparently nobody told them about the Paleo Diet, or the Zone Diet. They’d probably be decent lifters if only they knew a thing or two about nutrition…
Anyways, time to disconnect the hotel lobby’s acoustic coupler modem and attempt some sleep.
Tomorrow the 56-kilo men lift, which I’m guessing will mean a battle between two extraordinary athletes: China’s Qingquan Long, entered with a 285 total, and North Korea’s Yun Chol Om, entered with 290. The latter also broke Mutlu’s clean and jerk record of 168, in a meet in North Korea that Mr Hookgrip received exclusive footage of from the North Koreans themselves. Enjoy…