Lessons Learned from the Youth Olympic Games

In October 2018, Peyton Brown and Jerome Smith traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games. Both athletes delivered outstanding performances, with both placing higher than any U.S. athletes have ever placed at the Youth Olympic Games.

Peyton Brown (58 kg), age 17, earned a bronze medal making her the first American to bring home a medal at the Youth Olympic Games. She totaled 186kg with a 85kg snatch and a 101kg clean & jerk. Photo Credit: USA Weightlifting

 

Jerome Smith (69kg), age 17, finished 4th with a best snatch of 127kg, best clean & jerk of 155kg and total of 282.

Jimmy Duke, personal coach of Jerome Smith, shares the highlights and challenges of the Youth Olympic Games:

The Youth Olympic Games was a really cool experience. It was incredible to see an Opening Ceremony that was for my athlete. It was cool to see all of these buildings that had been constructed just for this event and know that my athlete would be a part of it.

The 2018 Youth Olympic Games had a lot of cool firsts. For starters, the opening ceremony was held in an open town square, not in a stadium. The Games were free to the public; you just had to wait in line. It was great to see the Argentine government compensating their people for the inconvenience of the Games by offering free admission.

The Games, however, presented some challenges for Coach Duke. Specifically, the United States was given a single coach credential, which was not transferrable. Coach Brown, Peyton’s personal coach was given the credential, putting Coach Duke in an interesting position:

The experience that Jerome and I had was different because I was not a credentialed coach. After Jerome got off the airplane, they took him off, and I had to find a taxi and go to my own hotel.  Things were made even worse by the fact that Jerome’s phone froze while we were on the trip, making it impossible to text or message him.

The Games were very spread out through the city of Buenos Aires, with some of the events even taking place outside the city. Fortunately for the weightlifters, the competition venue was only about a quarter-mile from the athlete village, and a shuttle bus transported athletes from the village to the venue.

It was a little more difficult for me. Since I was not credentialed, I could not go to Jerome’s training sessions or coach him at the event.

From this experience, Coach Duke learned some valuable lessons:

Prepare Your Athlete to Compete Without You.

As much as every coach wants to be at every competition with his athletes, this is not realistic. Says Coach Duke:

I love Jerome to death, and I’ll be at every single event that I can, but there will come a day when I can’t be at an event, and he will have to compete on his own. He needs to be okay with it. At the end of the day, your athlete must be able to make the lifts, with or without you.

To help Jerome prepare, Coach Duke began with a frank discussion:

Jerome and I went to a weightlifting camp in August. This was when I found out that there was only one weightlifting credential, and that I would not be getting it. I talked to Pyrros [Dimas], who had worked with Jerome several times in the past. Pyrros assured me that he would be there to coach Jerome. Before we left the camp, Pyrros and I sat down with Jerome and let him know what would be happening. I think this helped Jerome mentally prepare long before the competition.

Prepare Everything Before the Competition.

I wanted to mitigate as many issues as possible before the competition. I spent a lot of time before the competition going over things in my head to ensure that Jerome had all of the things he needed. Also, Jerome had already done all of his heavy training before we arrived. I gave David Brown [the team leader] and Pyrros the workouts, and they followed my plan in the training hall with Jerome.  Jerome competed on the fourth day of the games.

Get Credentialed!

For Coach Duke, credentialing was a major issue. Without it, he could not coach his athlete either in training or the competition. It was difficult for Duke to even get into the venue to watch Jerome compete because of long lines. Says Duke:

Getting the lowest level credential was almost impossible by the time the Games started. If someone had told me in advance, I would have volunteered just to get a credential. Interestingly, one man with a credential said that he would trade me his credential for my USA Weightlifting jacket. While it was an enticing offer, I declined.

Coach Duke advises coaches of potential 2020 Olympic athletes:

If you think you have someone eligible for Tokyo, fill out a volunteer application with the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. If you want to be in the back with your athlete, fill out the paperwork and take it seriously.

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t bother the IOC and don’t complain. If you are not willing to get credentialed by the IOC, expect to be disappointed.

Ultimately, Jerome pulled off a stellar performance, making five of his six lifts, and Coach Duke could not be prouder:

Even though I sat on the sidelines, it was a brilliant experience. Jerome competed great. He had some adversity in the warm up. He pushed hard, though, and did fantastic. I was so proud of him. At the end of it, Jerome was asked by an interviewer how he felt about placing higher than any American had ever placed in a Youth Olympic Games. Jerome responded, “I made 5 out of 6 lifts. I don’t really care how anyone else has done before me.” I gave the interviewer the same answer. It wasn’t about anyone else, it was about Jerome.

If you have done your best, you should be proud of your performance. Jerome understood that. As a coach, this made me very proud.

 

Building an Olympian: An Interview with Tim Swords

Tim Swords, coach of Sarah Robles, 2017 World Champion and bronze-medalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, shares what it takes to build an Olympian:

Pursue your Passion.  When Coach Swords was a young boy, he visited a drug store with his mother.  At the store, he spotted a fitness magazine with a man doing an Olympic lift, the snatch, on the cover.  Swords asked his mom if she would buy the magazine for him.  She did, and Swords, who was dyslexic and disliked reading, read the magazine three times before his father came home from work that evening.  On hearing that Swords had read the magazine multiple times, Swords’ father told his mother to subscribe to the magazine.  And thus began Swords’ lifetime passion for weightlifting.

As an adult, Swords had opportunities to work as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.  He chose another path, however–one that allowed him to pursue his passion for coaching weightlifting.  Swords opened a gym in his garage, where he now trains up to 65 athletes–sometimes 30 at a time–as the head coach of Team Houston.  Says Swords:

I have been in the sport since 1979 and watching the sport since 1973.  I have been offered collegiate strength and conditioning jobs, but my heart was in working with kids.  So, I turned down these jobs to follow my passion.

I have about 42,000 hours of coaching on the platform. I haven’t had much compensation, but God has been good to me. I recently retired.  Until then, I had a job that I loved, and it allowed me to get home at 2:00 to train kids. After more than 40 years of coaching weightlifting, I’m still excited about the sport. I chose to follow my passion, and I have lived a happy and prosperous life.

Love Your Athletes.  Coach Swords does not recruit.  However, he never has any problem finding athletes because he embraces his athletes, cares for them, and helps them become the best versions of themselves.

When Sarah Robles approached Coach Swords and asked him to coach her, Swords accepted immediately.  Swords recalls, “Sarah was not in a great place in her career.  She had just received a two-year sanction for taking an over the counter medication for PCOS, and she was having trouble finding someone to coach her.  However, I had seen her compete, and I knew that she was special.”

Coach Swords subsequently helped Robles relocate to Houston, find a job and settle into training.  Over the years, Swords has extended this same helping hand to other athletes.  He once helped two young drug dealers stop selling drugs, become athletes, and secure jobs as collegiate strength and conditioning coaches.  Swords firmly believes that a coach must care about his athletes–in and out of the gym–to achieve success:

I must make my athletes believe that I love them, and I will do everything I can to help them.  There must be a strong relationship between the coach and the athlete.  If the relationship is there, and the trust is there, then you can do amazing things together as a coach/athlete partnership.

 

Believe that YOUR Athletes are the BEST.  Coach Swords explains:

Even the best athletes have self-doubt.  I constantly strive to build up my athletes.  I want them to feel good about themselves and believe that they are the BEST.

When athletes believe they are the best, they will perform their best.

 

 Educate Yourself and Build Relationships.  In his early years, Swords recalls:

I read everything I could read about weightlifting.  I spoke to people who were in the sport.  I sought out mentors and built relationships within the sport. I put my energy into learning what other people did.  I visited sports schools in other countries.

Even after forty years of coaching, Swords seeks out opportunities to learn and grow from other coaches:

I always watch other coaches and athletes.  I observe everything.  I am continually learning.

Stick with What Works.  Coach Swords has used the same program with Sarah Robles for the past five years.

Why?  Because it works.

Swords explains:

We train six days a week with a simple program that involves high intensity–low reps, high weight.  It works, so we keep doing it.

 

Search for the Right Words.  Words have power.  Coach Swords prays each morning for the right words to deliver to his athletes:

I try to make my athletes feel good and charge them up.  I try to make them feel like they are alive.  They are special.  I am constantly motivating them.  I pray to have the right things to say when they need to be said.

Just before Sarah Robles went onto the platform for her winning clean and jerk at the 2017 IWF World Championships, Coach Swords asked her: “Can you give me the best 8 seconds of your life?  If you can, you will go down in weightlifting history.”  Sarah responded, “yes.” She made the lift and won the championship.

Pay Attention to the Little Things.

Winning is in the details.  Coach Swords likes to know the details of everything involving his athletes and their competition.

Swords explains:

Communication is key.  I want to know how my athletes are feeling, how they slept, their nutrition, even the drama that is going on in their lives.

Coach Swords also scrutinizes everything at the competition venue:

When we get to a competition, we walk around the training hall.  We look at the platform.  We recon the area.  We don’t want any surprises.  We familiarize ourselves with everything.  Athletes will have sensory bombardment when they are competing, but you can manage some of this stress by knowing what you are dealing with.

Even the slightest things can become major distractions in the heat of competition.   For instance, in the 2012 Olympics in London, Sarah was thrown off by a buzzing sound coming from a camera moving around on the lifting platform.  She had not been on the platform in advance, and she did not expect the noise.  Coach Swords explains, “At the Rio Olympics, they had that camera, too.  We learned from our experience.”

Coach Swords also observes other coaches and athletes at competitions.  During the 2017 World Championship, Swords constantly collected information:

While we were in the training hall, I was watching people.  I was taking notes on what people were doing–how long it took them to warm up, what lifts they were making and missing.  I had a Scouting report of where people were at.  I come from a background of professional team sports, and it is nice to know who you are dealing with.

 
With over 40 years of coaching experience, Coach Swords knows how to build champions and keep them performing at their best.  He has build a legacy through his athletes that will live on in their lives.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

Preparing for Youth Nationals

Youth Weightlifting Preparing for Youth Nationals - Pic 1

After preparing my son for five USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals, I have become an expert—not because I have done so many things right, but because I have done SO. MANY. THINGS. WRONG.  Let me spare you the agony of my mistakes—

Daytona Beach.  The mere mention of this city sends shivers down my spine.  Daytona Beach is home to beautiful beaches, a world-renowned race track, and one of my worst nightmares.

It all began when my son, Hutch, qualified for the 2014 Youth National Weightlifting competition.  Hutch had worked hard, and we were excited to travel to Daytona for his first big competition.  In planning the trip, I knew I would be traveling with all three of my children, so I wanted to make the trip as cost-effective as possible.  With the competition on Friday morning, I purchased tickets for a Thursday flight.  I didn’t want to arrive too early—that would mean more money spent on rental cars, hotel rooms, and food.

Due to a flight delay, our plane arrived in Daytona Beach at 9:00 PM.  By the time we got our rental car and drove to our hotel, it was 10:30 PM.  I arrived at the hotel to discover that our discount accommodations were shared by a number of partygoers loudly enjoying the beach outside the hotel.  We were exhausted, however, and attempted to sleep through the night.

Hutch’s weigh-in was from 7:00 to 8:00 AM.  To allow the kids to sleep as long as possible, I set the alarm for 6:00 AM.  At 6:30, we zipped through the hotel breakfast buffet, and left the hotel to drive to the venue, which was a mere 15 minutes away according to the Google Maps directions I had printed off.  Unfortunately, I turned the wrong direction out of the parking lot and didn’t realize my mistake until I had driven 30 minutes—in the wrong direction!

When I finally stopped to ask for directions, a kind man explained that I was about an hour away from my destination and that I could not possibly make it by 8:00.  I had an ungraceful panic attack, which was witnessed by my children, who then started crying because they were scared by my reaction.  I quickly turned the car around and sped to the venue, possibly breaking a few traffic laws along the way.

As I approached the venue, I still couldn’t locate it.  The competition was at a school that was tucked away in a residential setting.  After several frantic phone calls to Hutch’s coach, I located the venue.  I sped to the curb, yanked Hutch out of the car and ran to the weigh-in.  I then realized that we had left his identification documents in the car . . . back to the car.  Hutch made the weigh-in cut-off by SIXTY SECONDS.

I heaved a sigh of relief and handed Hutch his breakfast, which consisted of some muffins we had brought from the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  Minutes later, Hutch’s coach called him into the warm-up area to begin warming-up.  Breakfast would have to wait.

As Hutch walked back to the warm-up area, he asked me to get his gym bag out of the car.  I looked.  I couldn’t find it.  In our haste to leave the hotel, we had left his bag—complete with singlet and shoes—in the breakfast room at the hotel.  Hutch entered the warm-up area wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and Crocs.  I sped back to the hotel for his bag.

Fortunately, the story ended well.  I was able to retrieve the bag, and Hutch strapped on his weightlifting shoes just moments before walking onto the platform for introductions.

From this experience, I learned a few things that will make your experience much less stressful:

 

  • Arrive 24 hours early. Arriving 24-hours early—not the night before—will give you time to acclimate to the city and find the things you need.

 

  • Stay in one of the event hotels. USAW contracts with hotels to provide a discount rate and transportation, when necessary, to the venue.  You’ll be less likely to get lost traveling to the venue if you stay in one of the event hotels.  Plus, you’ll be more likely to have considerate neighbors when it is time to sleep.
  •  Visit the venue the day prior. Actually travel to the venue so that you know exactly where everything is located—the weigh-ins, the warm-up area, and the platforms.

 

  • Check weight on the scales. You might be surprised to learn that your home bathroom scale is not that accurate.  Do a pre-weigh on the official “check scales” the day prior to avoid unpleasant surprises on competition day.

 

  • Put your important documents where you’ll remember them.  You will need identification at weigh-ins (a passport or birth certificate).  Don’t leave home without one of these!

 

  • Pack extra everything: socks, underwear, singlets, shoes . . . okay, I realize most people don’t own extra weightlifting shoes, but pack extra of everything else if you have them.

 

  • Know your child. Bring any comfort items your child needs in competition.  For instance, your child may have a favorite pair of socks or a favorite candy bar or he may need headphones to block out the noise of the other competitors.  Make advance preparations for these things.

 

  • Plan your meals. Before you arrive at Nationals, have a plan for the food your child will eat.  You don’t want to spoil your child’s hard work by sending him onto the platform fueled with greasy pizza from dinner and “whatever was on the hotel breakfast buffet.”  Bring foods that will help your child perform well.

 

  • Arrive early to the weigh-in. Weigh-in times are an exact component of the competition.  If weigh-ins begin at 8:00 and end at 9:00, with lifting beginning at 10:00, you will not be allowed to compete if you show up to weigh in at 9:01.

NOTE: Arriving early will ease your stress levels, but it will not put you at the front of the line for weigh-ins.  Names are called from a list.  However, if you are not present when your name is called, you will go to the “back of the line” and weigh-in after the rest of the lifters who were present.

 

  • Feed your child as soon as the weigh-in is complete. There are only two hours between the beginning of the weigh-in and the start of the weightlifting session.  Eating early allows food to settle before warm-ups begin.

 

  • Don’t  feed your child too much. Your child will be hungry after potentially skipping a meal before weigh-ins.  Provide some healthy foods that your child likes, but resist the urge to “make up” for the lost meal.  There will be time for a big meal after the competition.

 

  • Bring some sugar.   I said it.  Normally I’m not a fan of sugary drinks and candy.  However, they do offer an energy boost during a competition.  Just don’t overdo it.  One sports drink and two or three miniature candy bars are plenty.

 

  • Relax! Children can sense your emotions and will mirror them.  If you are anxious, your child will get stressed, too.

 

 

  • Turn your child over to the coach and take a seat. You child and coach have worked hard to get to this point.  Don’t send confusing signals by trying to co-coach your child during the competition—unless you are also your child’s coach!

 

  • Be proud. Your child has worked hard to get to this competition.  Regardless  of the results, take lots of pictures and let your child know you are proud of them.

Finally, don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  As hard as you prepare, something unexpected will always arise.  Fortunately, kids are resilient and can perform well, even in adverse circumstances.  After all of the mayhem in Daytona Beach, Hutch still pulled out an outstanding performance and managed three national records and a first place finish.  Thank goodness for good coaching (Boris Urman) and miracles!

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Representing in South America

In December 2017, Team USA sent four Under 15 lifters to Lima, Peru to compete in the South American Junior & Youth Championships & Tamas Ajan Cup on December 13-17:

Haley Trinh – 53kg
Abby Raymond – 58kg
Dean Goad – 69kg
Julia Yun – +75kg

All four lifters represented Team USA admirably bringing home multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals and a Best Lifter award.

Dean Goad brought home six medals: 3 Gold for 15 & Under and a Bronze/Silver/Bronze for 17 & Under. Goad also won the Male 15 & Under Best Lifter Award.

I spoke to event coach, Ben Hwa, of Hasslefree Barbell Club, about Team USA’s trip to Lima:

Why did you attend this competition?

There are levels that lifters go through.  When you lift in a gym, it’s one thing.  When you go to an international meet and win a medal, you are motivated to work even harder and you want to experience it again.

When I saw the invitation to this competition, I immediately recognized it as a good opportunity for our kids.  When kids go to these meets, they come back so motivated.  I took two of our 13-year old lifters, Julia and Haley.  I wanted to show them how good they are in this sport to really help them commit.

Lima is located in west central Peru between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains.

Did the competition meet your expectations?

Abby Raymond brought home nine medals: 3 Gold medals for 15 & Under, 3 Gold medals for 17 & Under, and a Bronze/Silver/Bronze for 20 & Under.

My expectations of the competition were low.  I had gone to Columbia a few months before, and I was not expecting much.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Lima was very nice.  It is right by the ocean.  The food was really good.  The people were friendly.  And the meet was well organized for a South American event.

More importantly, though, it was great to see all of the 15 & Under kids–kids who I could see at the next Youth Worlds or Junior Worlds or even the Olympics.  Even in other countries, everyone starts at the same place.

What lessons did you learn from this competition?

Julia Yun competed against the European Under 15 record holder, Irene Blanco of Spain. Yun earned nine medals: 3 Silver medals in 15 & Under, 3 Bronze medals in 17 & Under, and 3 Bronze medals in 30 & Under.

Being in Peru gave me full faith in my reason for coaching.  I like being able to guide kids into a path that is full of success and growth and opportunity.  I saw the Peruvian coaches and the Columbian coaches.  They were all so supportive of the kids.

It also made me want to be a better coach.  My athletes invest their time training with me, and I always want to be there for them.  Sure, these competitions cost money–a lot of money sometimes–but as a coach, you have to be willing to give back to your athletes, even if it means taking time off work and spending money to travel.  As a coach, you can preach all you want, but when it comes down to it, are you willing to sacrifice your money to be there for your athletes?

Why are competitions like this so important for youth weightlifters?

Weightlifting offers travel opportunities like no other sport.  When kids get to see the world, they mature.

They see that the world is bigger than their neighborhood.  They see others who are in true poverty.  It helps them appreciate the things they have.

They understand how lucky they are.  This perspective helps these lifters focus better in practice.

When you give kids opportunities to learn and grow, they become more mature, and their weightlifting comes along with it.

Hayley Trinh brought home 9 medals for Team USA: 3 Silver medals in 15 & Under, 3 Bronze medals in 17 & Under, and 3 Bronze medals in 20 & Under.

Do you want to see more opportunities like this in the future?

Absolutely.  This is how we invest in the future of weightlifting.  Something that we can do as a governing body is invest in trips.  These kids come back different lifters.  The more kids we can give this opportunity, the better.

 

Will Team USA return to this competition in 2018?

According to Phil Andrews, C.E.O. of USA Weightlifting, “We plan to go again this year if we are invited to do so.  I thought it was a great competition, and Ben did really well in his coaching position.”

Photo Credit: Amy Yun

 

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New Predictions for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games

In early October, we made predictions for who would represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games in Who will Go to the 2018 Youth Olympic Games?

At the time of these predictions, however, only one of the three qualifying events had occurred.  Now, after the second qualifying event–the Pan American Youth Championships in Columbia (October 21-28, 2017)–new athletes are eligible.

There are now 3 female and 4 male athletes who are eligible to represent the United States at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

Who is in the Lead?

Currently, Taylor Babb is the most eligible female, with a 95% of chance of securing a 4th place finish at the Youth Olympic Games.  However, Emma Nye and Athena Schrijver are not far behind, with a 98% and 95% chance respectively of a 6th place finish.

Jerome Smith is the most eligible male athlete, with a 98% chance of placing fourth at the competition.  The other male candidates, however, remain serious contenders.  Stephen Short (98.5% chance of finishing 6th), Antwan Kilbert (97.7% chance of finishing 7th), and Seth Tom (92.8% chance of finishing 10th) will be working hard to go the Games.

It’s Not Over Yet!

The final qualifying event–the 2018 Youth Pan American Championships–will identify a fresh new wave of talent.  Most of the athletes who participated in the first two qualifying events will age out of the Youth Division on December 31, 2017, making room for new talented weightlifters.

There are two qualification events for the 2018 Youth Pan American Championship: the American Open Final (December 2017) and the Junior National Championship (February 2018).

To read more about the selection process for the Youth Olympic Games, read Who will Go to the 2018 Youth Olympic Games?

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For full details on qualification and selection for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, see USA Weightlifting’s Selection Procedures for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

If you can’t find the answer to your question there, contact Phil Andrews at phil.andrews@usaweightlifting.org.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

Who will go to the 2018 Youth Olympic Games?

The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of the sport of weightlifting.  It is the opportunity for weightlifters to own a piece of glory, to forever commemorate their dedication to the sport.  Being an Olympian is the most exclusive title within the sport.  Plenty of weightlifters can claim participation in world championship events, but very few become Olympians.

Youth athletes now have the opportunity to participate in the Youth Olympic Games.  The Youth Olympics is a relatively new event.  It was first held in 2010 and has taken place only twice (2010 and 2014).  This sporting event occurs every four years in the even-numbered gap years between the Olympic Games.

 

The next Youth Olympics will be held in Buenos Aires in 2018.  The United States will bring four athletes to the event–two male and two female.  Depending on the number of spots allocated to the United States, it is possible that only one male and one female will compete at the Games, with the other two serving as alternates.

Who will the lucky athletes be?

The Selection Process

Eligibility for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games is straightforward.  An athlete must:

  • Be a national of the United States.
  • Be born in 2001, 2002, or 2003.
  • Compete at the Youth National Championships/Youth Olympic Games Trials (June 14-17, 2018)
  • Have participated in one of the following events:
    • 2017 IWF Youth World Championships – Bangkok, Thailand (April 6-10, 2017)
    • 2017 Pan American Youth Championships – Cali, Columbia (October 21-28, 2017)
    • 2018 Pan American Youth Championships – Guadalajara, Mexico (March 10-17, 2018)

There are currently only five athletes that fit the selection requirements: Seth Tom, Emma Nye, Antwan Kilbert, Taylor Babb and Athena Schrijver.

This is because only one of the three qualifying events has taken place, and almost all of the participants in that qualifying event–2017 Youth Worlds–are too old to participate in the Youth Olympic Games.

So, who will represent the U.S. at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games?!

From the pool of eligible athletes, USA Weightlifting will select the top male and female athletes based on their likelihood of winning a medal at the Games.  The calculation method is detailed in USA Weightlifting’s Selection Procedures for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

Based on USAW’s criteria, the two athletes who are currently most eligible to represent the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games are:

Taylor Babb

Taylor Babb is a 16 year-old lifter from Tennessee.  She holds 6 current Youth American Records. Based on Taylor’s performance at Youth Worlds, she has an 85% chance of bringing home a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games.  Taylor would make an excellent choice to represent the USA because she is a very consistent lifter–often going 6-for-6 in competitions.

 

Antwan Kilbert

Antwan Kilbert holds the Youth American Record for the snatch in the 56 kg weight class (14-15 age group).  He is coached by Jimmy Duke at Lift for Life in St. Louis, Missouri.  Based on Antwan’s performance at Youth Worlds, he has a 74% chance of bringing home a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games.  Antwan has shown an impressive amount of growth in a short period of time and is a focused, driven lifter.

Two more qualifying events remain before the Youth Olympic Games Trials.  Stay tuned to hear about more promising athletes!

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To qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, athletes must also comply with IWF Special Anti-Doping Regulations and be a member in good standing with USAW.  For full details on qualification and selection, see USA Weightlifting’s Selection Procedures for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

If you can’t find the answer to your question there, contact Phil Andrews at phil.andrews@usaweightlifting.org.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

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What Does it Take to Make Weight?

Almost all weightlifters have done it—some to a small extent, some to a large extent.  No one, however, wants to talk about it.  And those who do talk about it generally downplay or lie about the extent of their behavior.

You will hear weightlifters discussing the topic privately, trying to figure out the best strategies.  When it comes to publicly discussing the matter, however, the community is mute.

Run an internet search for the words “weightlifting” and “weight cutting.”  There are a couple dozen anecdotal articles–weightlifters telling stories about what worked for them.  However, there are few guidelines established by medical professionals and little organizational guidance.

Unfortunately, silence is not the best way to address this matter.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen—or that the sport doesn’t encourage it—can be harmful, especially to youth weightlifters.

What is weight cutting?

Weight cutting involves losing weight quickly to fit into a lower weight class for a sports competition.

Weight cutting is typically accomplished through food restriction or water manipulation—forcing water out of the body prior to a weigh-in and then rehydrating as quickly as possible.

About 65% of the human body is made of water, which makes it a popular source of temporary weight loss.  Studies have shown that dehydration of 2-3% has little effect on strength or anaerobic power.  Reduced water can be regained by hydrating after weigh-ins.  According to a study by the University of Montreal, it takes only about 5 minutes for water to enter the bloodstream from the stomach.  And, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the body can go from moderately dehydrated to fully rehydrated within 45 minutes with only 600 mL of water.  (This study was performed on subjects age 25, so age could affect the timing of water absorption.)

Doctors and nutritionists generally recommend against weight cutting.  However, many athletes in weight class sports do it to gain an advantage.

 

Is weight cutting dangerous? 

Weight cutting, also referred to as rapid weight loss, came into the spotlight in the fall of 1997 when three collegiate wrestlers died within a 5-week period from complications of weight cutting.  All three wrestlers were attempting to lose weight rapidly by inducing severe dehydration (exercise and heat-induced sweating and fluid depravation).  After these deaths, weight cutting was no longer considered a harmless exercise in discipline and self-control.

In 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine published a journal article entitled “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.”  Of interest, the article noted:

  • Rapid dehydration by more than 5% of the total body weight can result in muscle cramps, muscle injuries, heat stroke, and even death.
  • No matter which strategies are used, weight loss that occurs in less than 7 days has potential negative health and performance effects.
  • Athletes who are competing at an appropriate body composition achieved with scientifically sound training and nutrition principles will maximize their performance without needing to engage in rapid weight loss prior to the competition.

Why is there not more medical guidance on weight cutting?

When asked about weight cutting, Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, acknowledged that numerous athletes regularly cut weight without any adverse side effects.  He explained, however, that he could not give general recommendations on weight cutting because what is safe and perfectly fine for a healthy athlete with no medical conditions could be detrimental to another athlete.

Dr. Lavallee pointed out that an athlete’s age, physical maturity, body composition and associated medical conditions all factor into the equation.  He gave two examples to illustrate his point:

  • A 12-year old female who is borderline anemic because she has heavy periods. A simple 1-2% weight cut could greatly decrease her strength and predispose her to passing out.
  • An 11-year old male with sickle cell trait.  During physically stressful times, such as dehydration, heat stress, or high altitude, his red blood cells could “sickle” or change shape, which would decrease oxygen carrying capacity and increase risk of hypoxia, clots, severe joint pain, and even death.  This athlete should not dehydrate even 2-3%.

Dr. Lavallee advised that any athlete wanting to engage in weight cutting practices should seek the advice of a sports physician for a personalized plan.

What about organizational guidance?

Weightlifting has not suffered the same tragedies as wrestling, and USA Weightlifting (USAW) does not regulate weight cutting practices.  USAW does prepare Competition Readiness plans for members of its international team, which monitor athletes’ bodyweight going into international competitions.  For all other athletes, however, USAW leaves the matter of weight management up to the individuals involved.

Wrestling, however, has developed some regulation following the deaths of the three collegiate wrestlers.  The National Federation of State High School Associations implemented rules in the 2006-2007 competition season that are intended to discourage high school wrestlers from last minute weight cutting.  Most notably, the regulations require:

  • A hydration level not to exceed 1.025

  • A body fat assessment no lower than 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls

  • A monitored, weekly weight loss plan limiting weekly weight loss to 1.5 percent of total body weight per week.

So, a wrestler who wants to “weight light” for a competition must plan in advance and cannot rely on last minute dehydration.

Why are the wrestling regulations of interest to weightlifters?

Both wrestling and weightlifting are weight class sports.  Wrestling has decided that a last minute bodyweight cut of 1.5% is acceptable for high school athletes, but anything more is not okay.  As a coach or parent of a youth weightlifter, this could serve as a helpful number if your athlete wants to cut weight before a competition.  

Keep in mind, however, Dr. Lavallee’s recommendation to seek advice from a sports doctor before undertaking any weight cutting measures.

What can the weightlifting community do to reduce weight cutting by youth weightlifters?

  • Education:  Youth athletes should be taught that rapid weight loss measures can be dangerous.  They should learn proper weight management techniques so that weight cutting does not become necessary.  Weight management is simply achieving a desired body weight through healthy food choices.  The process can be as simple as cutting out junk food prior to a competition or as complicated as a detailed diet plan.  Coaches can assist in this effort by encouraging their young athletes to make good food choices.  Parents can assist by keeping junk food out of the house and making healthy snacks readily available.  And USA Weightlifting can assist by making weight management and nutrition materials available to its athletes.
  • Rule Changes: According to the American College of Sports Medicine article referenced above, rule changes impact athletes’ behavior even more than educational programs.  The article points out that voluntary education programs in place between 1960 and 1997 had little impact on wrestlers’ weight cutting behavior.  After the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations implemented weight cutting regulations, however, the frequency and magnitude of weight cutting by wrestlers went down.

What rule changes would benefit youth weightlifters?

Allow 13 & Under weightlifters to compete regardless of their bodyweight.  Under the current rules, a youth weightlifter at a national USA Weightlifting competition, such as USAW’s Youth Nationals, must declare a weight class the evening before the competition begins.  Two hours before the athlete competes, he or she must weigh in.  If the athlete weighs in too heavy or light for the declared weight class, the athlete cannot compete.  This rule applies to all weightlifters in the competition, whether the lifters are age 9 or 17.  The rule puts pressure on athletes who are positioned on the borderline of a weight class.  The athletes’ parents have forked over a good amount of money in flights, hotel rooms, meals, and competition fees.  If the athlete does not make weight, he risks letting down his parents and wasting their time and money.  The rule often leads young athletes to take last minute weight cutting measures.

Coach Jimmy Duke, head coach of Lift for Life gym in St. Louis, Missouri proposes a very simple solution to this problem:

Allow the youngest lifters (13 & Under) to lift regardless of their bodyweight.  If an athlete weighs-in too heavy, just ask the athlete to return a couple of hours later when the next weight class weighs-in.  

Q: Why not extend this rule to all youth lifters?

A: Coach Duke points out that lifters 13+ can compete in International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) competitions.  IWF rules require athletes to compete within designated weight classes.  If the athletes do not make weight at the competitions, they cannot compete.  So, athletes 13+ should learn any weight management techniques necessary to compete within their weight classes.

But I want to move down a weight class!  Can I do this safely?

In weightlifting, it is not unusual for athletes to obsess about their weight classes—even to the detriment of building muscle or training hard.  All too often I hear a weightlifter say, “If I could only lose [a ridiculous amount of weight], while maintaining the same strength, I could be really competitive.”

A few thoughts on that . . .

  • Have patience.  This is not the sport of weight loss.  It is the sport of weightlifting.  It is easier to lose weight than to gain strength.  Building strength takes time!  Ultimately, however, you will be more satisfied if you train hard and lift heavy than if you are always hungry and performing below your potential.
  • Body Fat: If you have a lot of body fat to spare, losing weight likely will benefit you.  Shedding excess fat will make you lighter and healthier without affecting your strength.  After all, fat doesn’t lift weight—muscle does.  If you are currently at a healthy weight with a normal amount of body fat, however, losing weight probably won’t make you any more competitive because some of the weight you lose will be muscle.
  • Weight management: Healthy eating can lead you to the correct weight class.  There is nothing wrong with losing weight by cleaning up your diet.  Swap junk food for healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.  Substitute water for sugary beverages.  Eat a salad once in a while!  And if you are serious about losing weight while lifting heavy, consult a sports nutritionist for a personal weight loss plan.

Weight cutting should not be taboo in the weightlifting community.  As long as weightlifting remains a weight-class sport, weight cutting will occur.  However, as parents, coaches and advocates for youth weightlifters, we should do our best to encourage healthy weight management over last minute weight loss efforts.

References:

Khodaee, Morteza, Lucianne Olewinski, Babak Shadgan, and Robert R. Kiningham. “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.” Current Sports Medicine Reports 14, no. 6 (2015): 435-41.

Péronnet, F, et al. “Pharmacokinetic Analysis of Absorption, Distribution and Disappearance of Ingested Water Labeled with D₂O in Humans.” European Journal of Applied Physiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997675.

The Acute Effects of Fluid Intake on Urine Specific Gravity … : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2013/04000/The_Acute_Effects_of_Fluid_Intake_on_Urine.18.aspx.

Lambert, C., and B. Jones. “Alternatives to Rapid Weight Loss in US Wrestling.International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 31, no. 08, Nov. 2010, pp. 523–528., doi:10.1055/s-0030-1254177.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

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How Much Weight Would you Need to Lift to Earn an Olympic Medal?

  Male

 

 

Body Weight in Kilos

 

Data based on medals earned at the 2000-2016 Olympic Games and the 2010-2014 Youth Olympic Games.

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German Youth Weightlifting Competitions: Rules and Scoring

This article contains the specifications for Germany’s youth weightlifting competitions, as seen in “Youth Weightlifting in Germany.” For the original source of the rules and technical charts in German, see here and here.

Youth weightlifting competitions in Germany have two parts: (1) weightlifting and (2) athletics.

WEIGHTLIFTING
Youth weightlifting competitions in Germany emphasize the correct execution of the lifts by including a technique evaluation score for youth up to age 14.   

A maximum of 10 points can be achieved for technique.

This chart breaks down the technical score: Technical Scoring for Weightlifting in Germany

Points are calculated using the following formula:

Snatch—
[(Amount of weight lifted in kg x 50) ÷ Bodyweight] + (Technique Score x 10)

Clean & Jerk—
[(Amount of weight lifted in kg x 50) ÷ Bodyweight] + (Technique Score x 10)

Weightlifting Score = Best Snatch  + Best Clean & Jerk 

Best Snatch/Clean & Jerk = Attempt with the Highest Point Value

ATHLETICS
German youth weightlifting competitions also include an athletic portion to promote the general athleticism of children. The athletic portion includes three events: Ball Throw, Triple Jump, and Star Sprints. Sometimes other events are substituted for these events (e.g. a 30-m sprint may replace the Star Sprints). However, these are the usual exercises tested at the competitions.  Athletics are tested up to age 16.

Athletics Score = Ball Throw Score + Triple Jump Score + Sprint Score

Ball Throw Rules:

  1. Each athlete gets 3 attempts.
  2. The athlete begins with his back facing the throwing field.
  3. The athlete must throw the ball over his head backward with both hands.
  4. A starting line is established at the edge of the throwing field.
  5. Athletes may jump from any point behind the starting line.
  6. Athletes may not jump backward over the starting line. If an athlete lands over the starting line, the attempt is invalidated.
  7. A measuring tape is attached to the side of the throwing field.
  8. The first ball impression is measured, i.e. the distance from where the ball first lands.
  9. The throw is measured in centimeters.
  10. Measurement can be taken in two ways:
    * Right Angle Measurement: Follow a straight line from the first ball impression to the measuring tape.
    * Center Point Measurement: Attach the measuring tape to the center of the starting line. Measure from this point to the first ball impression.

Ball Weight:
Boys Age 16: 5 kg
Boys Age 14-15: 4 kg
Boys Under 13: 3 kg
All Girls: 3 kg

Recommendation: Establish a safe zone around the jumping area, and do not allow spectators or other athletes into this area for safety reasons.

Ball Throw Score = Distance of Best Throw (cm) ÷ Bodyweight

Triple Jump Rules:

  1. Each athlete gets three attempts.
  2. The jump begins from a standing position, i.e. no running-starts.
  3. A starting line is established at one end of the jumping area. The jumping area is about 2 meters wide. A measuring tape is attached to the side of the jumping area.
  4. Athletes must jump from behind the starting line. Touching the starting line invalidates the attempt.
  5. Athletes may not touch the floor with their hands or any other body parts—other than the feet—between jumps.
  6. Athletes must execute three consecutive jumps without noticeable stops between the individual jumps.
  7. The feet must be parallel and touch the ground at the same time during the first and second jumps.
  8. Taking steps between the jumps is not allowed.
  9. Falling forward on completion of the final jump is allowed. Supporting with the hands is also allowed on the final jump, provided it does not change the position of the feet.
  10. The impression closest to the starting line (feet, buttocks, hands) is measured. So, if an athlete falls backward onto his hands after the last jump, the measurement spans from the starting line to the hand impression.
  11. Measurement is taken by following a straight line from impression closest to the starting line to a measuring tape on the side of the jumping area (Right Angle Measurement)

Recommendation: Establish a safe zone around the jumping area, and do not allow spectators or other athletes into this area for safety reasons.

Triple Jump Score = Distance of Best Jump (cm) x 0.2

Star Sprints:

  1. A sprint course is set up as follows:
    * One medicine ball (Ball 1) is positioned on the start line.
    * One medicine ball (Ball 3) is positioned in a straight line,10 meters from Ball 1.
    * Two medicine balls (Balls 2 and 4) are positioned 7 meters from the start line, and 2 meters from the direct line between Balls 1 and 3.
  2. An athlete begins either to the left or the right of Ball 1, with his hand on the ball and his feet behind the start line.
  3. At the command of “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go,” the athlete touches the balls in the following order: 1-2-1-3-1-4-1 or 1-4-1-3-1-2-1.
  4. The athlete’s hand must touch each ball.
  5. False starts are not allowed.
  6. The sprint is completed when the athlete touches Ball 1 for the final time.
  7. If Ball 1 is pushed out of position at any time, the athlete must return the ball to its original position before proceeding.
  8. Before each athlete begins, all balls should be aligned to their original positions.
  9. If an athlete trips or falls during the sprint, he may still complete the sprint.
  10. An attempt is invalid if an athlete does not touch all of the balls or does not otherwise complete the sprint.
  11. Up to 3 timekeepers may be used to record the time of the sprint. If multiple timekeepers are used, the middle time is used for scoring.
  12. Use of spikes or adhesive material on the shoes is not allowed.

Ball Sprint Score = 400 – (Sprint Time in Seconds x 20)

SCORING

An athlete receives two scores for the competition:

(1) A score for the weightlifting portion and

(2) A score for the athletic portion.

The athlete’s final score is the sum of the two scores.

Weightlifting Score = Best Snatch + Best Clean & Jerk

Athletics Score = Ball Throw Score + Triple Jump Score + Sprint Score

FINAL SCORE = WEIGHTLIFTING SCORE + ATHLETICS SCORE

 

 

Finding Youth Weightlifters: 8 Sources of New Athletes

One of the biggest challenges of running a youth weightlifting program is . . . finding youth weightlifters!  While competitive weightlifting is growing in popularity, many parents still regard weightlifting as conditioning for another sport.  Generally, these parents will sacrifice weightlifting training in favor of the other sport or activity.  And too often, coaches of the other sport will pressure athletes to give up weightlifting so they can focus solely on their sport.  So, how can a coach find serious, dedicated young athletes to mold into the next generation of weightlifters?!

Here are 8 possible sources of youth weightlifters:

1. Children of Adult Weightlifters:  If you currently train adult weightlifters, ask those weightlifters if they have kids!  This is, in fact, how my son entered the sport.  I began weightlifting with Coach Boris Urman in Kansas.  Boris knew that I had a 9 year-old son, and he asked me EVERY day for a month to bring my son to the gym.  My son was a competitive gymnast, and he had no interest in weightlifting.  However, because of Boris’s persistence, I brought Hutch to the gym.  Hutch enjoyed weightlifting, and Boris had a new lifter.

ADVANTAGE:  When you train the children of adult weightlifters, you won’t have to convince the parents that weightlifting is a real sport.  Plus, children are more likely to make it to practice when their parents are training alongside them.

2.  Gymnastics Clubs:  It is no secret that gymnasts make fantastic weightlifters.  Gymnasts have great flexibility and body awareness, which transfers well into the Olympic lifts.  Coach Kevin Simons, of Alpha Strength and Conditioning in Washington, offers strength and conditioning training for a gymnastics center.  Some of the gymnasts enjoy weightlifting so much that they begin to lift competitively on his team.

ADVANTAGE: Gymnasts are disciplined, fearless, and accustomed to long hours in the gym.  Getting them to train hard will be no problem!

3. Parks & Recreation Programs:  Consider partnering with your city’s Parks & Rec department to offer a strength and conditioning program for kids.  Coach Dennis Espinosa of Reps & Sets Weightlifting finds his many of his youth weightlifters this way.

ADVANTAGE: If you are in need of training space, the Parks & Rec department may offer you a space to train your competitive team in exchange for running a strength and conditioning program.   This is one of the benefits Coach Espinosa receives for running a Parks & Rec program in Salina, Kansas.

4. CrossFit Kids Programs:  With 1793 CrossFit Kids locations in the United States, there is sure to be an affiliate near you.  Make friends with an affiliate owner, and offer to teach a Kids’ Weightlifting class.

ADVANTAGES: The affiliate owner will probably let you use the CrossFit gym to train your youth athletes, which will give you a training space if you don’t have one.  The parents of your athletes are likely to be supportive, since they have seen the benefits of Olympic weightlifting first-hand.

5.  Middle School & High School Sports Teams:  If you know a middle school or high school sports coach, offer supplemental weightlifting training for team members.  Coach Boris Urman discovered some of his best lifters, including Ian Estopare, when he developed a relationship with Estopare’s father, a high school football coach.

ADVANTAGES: Working with a whole sports team will give you a large pool of athletes from which to identify talented, interested weightlifters.

6. Friends of Current Youth Lifters:  Host a “Bring Your Friend to Practice Day.”  Encourage your current youth weightlifters to bring their friends to the gym and introduce them to the sport.

ADVANTAGES:  Youth weightlifters are more likely to stick with the sport if they have friends on the team.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life