Have you ever watched an Olympian perform a clean and jerk and thought to yourself, “I could do that”? Read on to see what it takes to join these athletes on the platform . . .
Weightlifting was one of only nine sports featured at the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896. It has been on the Olympic program ever since, with the exception of the 1900, 1908, and 1912 Games.
Since 1896, thousands of weightlifters have participated in the Olympic Games. Do you have what it takes to join these illustrious athletes in the most prestigious athletic competition on earth?
Your chances of becoming an Olympian are best if you . . .
Start weightlifting before age 15. The average age of a weightlifter in the Olympic games is 25 for men and 24 for women. The average years of training to obtain an Olympic championship is 10.72 years. So, you will be in the best position for success if you begin weightlifting before age 14 if you are female or before age 15 if you are male.
Perform well at competitions. Obviously, you will need to be one of the top weightlifters in your nation to be selected for the Olympics. However, this is not enough. The selection procedure for participation in the Olympic Games is complicated:
- First, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) organizes qualifying events to select competitors at the Olympic Games. For the United States, these events are the World Championships and the Pan Am Games.
- Next, countries—not individuals—receive qualification places based on their teams’ performances. This means that an individual could take first place at a World Championship—or even make a new world record—and not get an invitation to the Olympic Games. For example, CJ Cummings set a new youth world record and won gold at the 2016 Youth World Weightlifting Championships. However, he was not selected by the U.S. to represent them at the 2016 Olympic Games.
- Each country is awarded a limited number of spots. For the 2016 Games in Rio, each country could win a maximum of 6 spots for male and 4 spots for female weightlifters. (6) For the 2016 Games, the United States was allocated 3 spots for female lifters and 1 spot for a male lifter. Note: Individual qualification places are also allocated to athletes, ranked in the top 10 in each bodyweight category, from countries that have not gained any quota places through qualification events.
- Then, each country holds its own qualification events to select athletes for these spots. Based on athletes’ performance at the qualification events, countries rank their athletes and select the athletes with the best likelihood of bringing home an Olympic medal. (7) So, even stellar performance at the qualification events does not guarantee an invitation to the Olympics. A prime example was Travis Cooper, who was the most eligible male candidate to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Games based on his performance at the qualification events. Kendrick Farris was selected over Cooper, however, because he was more likely to bring home a medal based on the projected competition at the Olympic Games.
What exactly does this mean? Not all great athletes go to the Games. You do not have absolute control over whether you will be selected to represent your country at the Olympics. The best you can do is perform well and help your national team win as many qualification places as possible.
Stay clean. As of April 2017, 46 weightlifters have been stripped of their Olympic medals due to doping. These athletes, like all world-class weightlifters, invested countless hours in the gym building strength and perfecting their technique. Unfortunately, the athletes will not be remembered for their hard work. They will only be remembered for cheating. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stores samples for up to 10 years and retests these samples as new technology becomes available. So, cheating will be caught—if not immediately, in the future.
Don’t give up on your dream. “People don’t know the process which [athletes] undertake in their individual sports to reach the Olympic level,” said Jim Ochowicz, who competed in the 1972 Olympic Games. “You get there by sticking it out. There [are] a lot of people that try and give up.” Many talented athletes drop out on the road to Olympic glory. The ones who ultimately succeed are the ones who Just. Don’t. Quit.
If you dream of Olympic glory, start young, perform well at competitions, stay away from banned substances, and never give up!