n 2012, Dean Scicchitano competed in his first weightlifting meet. At age 12, he had a bodyweight of 58kg. Dean lifted a meager 16 kg in the snatch and 23kg in the clean and jerk—a performance only a mother could love.
Fast forward five years . . . Dean is one of the top youth weightlifters in the United States. He is one of only a handful of youth athletes to receive a stipend from USA Weightlifting. He is ranked number 2 in the 94 kg weight class. And he was recently selected to represent the United States at Youth Worlds in Bankok. In fact, Dean was deemed the fourth most valuable member of USA’s Men’s Youth Team.
Dean talked to me recently about his experience in Bankok and what it takes to become an elite youth weightlifter.
Q: How were you were selected to participate at Youth Worlds?
A: My friend, Ian, and I went to the American Open to compete in the Youth Division. I wasn’t thinking about Youth Worlds. I just wanted to qualify for a stipend. After the American Open, I received an email telling me that I was eligible to compete for a spot on Team USA. The final decision was made after my performance at Junior Nationals.
Q: So, you earned a spot on the team at Junior Nationals?
A: Yes. At Junior Nationals I needed a total that was one-point above what I had made in the American Open. I wasn’t feeling very well the day of the competition, so I knew this would be hard to do. Plus, there was another lifter in my weight class who was also competing for the spot. It was very stressful. After the snatch session, I was 7kg behind. I knew that I would have to work hard in the clean and jerk if I wanted a spot on the team. Fortunately, I came back in the clean and jerk, beat the other lifter and earned a spot on the team.
Q: After qualifying, what did you do to prepare for Youth Worlds?
A: I only had six weeks between qualifying and competing at Youth Worlds. I spent the first week working exclusively on strength—no Olympic lifts. Then, I spent the next three weeks working on power exercises and lifts from the hang. The last two weeks, I focused on the traditional Olympic lifts from the floor.
Q: Tell me about traveling to Thailand.
A: For starters, TSA doesn’t like me. Let’s just say, we have a little suspicion about my skin. I got selected for every random check possible. It was very annoying. The rest of the trip went okay, though. Team USA traveled in two groups: an East Coast group and a West Coast group. I traveled with the West Coast group. We met up at LAX (Los Angeles) and then flew together to China and then to Thailand. It was a 26 hour flight for me!
Q: Did you take anyone with you to Thailand?
A: No. I traveled by myself to LAX and then met up with the rest of the West Coast group there. I’ve traveled by myself before, so I wasn’t nervous.
Q: Who coached you at the event?
A: Team USA brought three coaches: Pyrros Dimas, Mike Gattone, and Jimmy Duke. Athletes who did not bring their own coaches could select one of these coaches to help them. I chose Jimmy because I felt most comfortable with him. Jimmy lives in my part of the country, in the St. Louis area, and I see him at a lot of local meets. I trusted him to take care of me.
Q: How was the competition environment different than other competitions?
A: The equipment was so much nicer than what I am used to using. Everything was new. I’m used to working with old equipment, stuff that might break at any moment. Also, they had an athlete rest room—not a bathroom—but a room where you could lay down and take a nap or listen to music. I used that room to listen to music while I was waiting.
Q: How was the crowd different than at a local competition?
A: Well, the audience was mostly athletes and coaches from the countries attending. Because it was so far away, parents and friends couldn’t come. However, everyone from Team USA was at every session—we were required to be there. And we cheered for everyone. It was a lot of fun to support the other members of my team this way. Plus, I got to see some amazing lifts, including CJ Cummings and Harrison Maurus make new youth world records. Also, there was a native of Thailand in the audience who banged a drum after every successful lift. He was at every session. He added some fun to the competition.
Q: What were your biggest concerns about competing at Youth Worlds?
A: I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to the competitive environment. This was definitely the biggest meet I had competed in, and I hoped that I wouldn’t get too nervous. Fortunately, I got more adrenaline than normal and was able to compete just fine.
Q: How did you feel about your performance?
A: My event coach, Jimmy, opened me lighter than I wanted. Another lifter bombed out earlier in the competition, and I think everyone else was played more conservatively after that. So, I understood the decision. Still, I wish I could have lifted more weight. I’m proud of my performance, though. I had the heaviest clean and jerk out of the B session. I took 5th place in the B session and 14th place overall.
Q: What was the most exciting thing about Youth Worlds?
A: It was amazing to see Harrison Maurus and CJ Cummings make new world records. They are both great athletes who work really hard.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I want to qualify for the Youth Pan Am Games with a solid performance at Youth Nationals. I’m excited about the Pan Ams because I have medal potential there. Also, I will have more time to prepare for this competition if I make the team.
Q: What are you doing now in training to prepare for these events?
A: Well, today my coach, Boris Urman, had us lift with no shoes, no wrist wraps, no knee wraps, nothing. He likes to mix things up to challenge us. It actually felt better than I thought it would. Generally, though, my coach has me doing lots of strength work. We’ll refine technique as the competition gets closer.