Olympic Weightlifting simply means “the style of weightlifting that you do at the Olympics.” According to Darren Turner, administrator and co-coach of the Olympic Weightlifting program, weightlifting evolved into four main categories of powerlifting, bodybuilding, strong-man events, and Olympic-style weightlifting. The Olympic Weightlifting lifts include snatch, clean and jerk. There used to also be a clean and press, but they removed this, says Turner.
There’s an Olympic Weightlifting club at UTM, as well as a program. The club was designed by the athletic departments as a way of engaging students to the sport of weightlifting. The program is open to other community members.
There have been successful athletes to come out of the program as well. Turner commends Amanda Braddock, alumni of the Olympic weightlifting program, for her success at the last World Champions. Braddock has been training in the sport for six years and this was her first World appearance.
Turner describes Olympic weightlifting as an individual sport. Each athlete trains on their own and enters competitions on their own. “To say that you are a part of the weightlifting team is, perhaps, slightly misleading to someone who is used to team-based sports,” he continues, “They are a team in that they support each other, they train together, and when it’s possible, they will compete together.”
As with any sport, Olympic Weightlifting does pose risks. It is important to both Turner and co-coach, Miel McGerrigle, that any newcomers are properly assessed for any injuries and that form is properly taught. Turner explains that while some people may be ready for weightlifting, there are certain people who have a large history of injury that should not be involved in Olympic weightlifting. He says, “Olympic lifting is dangerous. You’re not throwing pillows over your head. It is a form of exercise […] or sport […] that has a lot of risk if it’s not done correctly. Or, even if it is done correctly, you have certain risk factors that may predispose you to getting injured.”
As Turner mentioned, Olympic Weightlifting is an individual sport—entering athletes into competition can raise some challenges. “Each individual athlete has their own competition plan where we will select certain competitions based on the highest level of competition they could achieve within a year,” he says. Turner explains that the different tiers, from lowest to highest, are as follows—fall classic, winter lift, provincials, nationals, and then any other international competition after that.
Athletes are given three chances to lift the heaviest weight they can in each of the respective lifts. Turner explains that, it is not necessary to make all three attempts so long as you hit one of those attempts in each lift.
The weight that athletes choose to lift is entirely dependent on them. They have the ability to decide what weight is most attainable for them. Whoever lifts the most weight in their respective category, wins the competition. Turner explains that you first have something called an opener. If, for example, you decide to open with seventy kilos and you successfully complete the lift, Turner says that you will then proceed to go up in weight. If the lift is unsuccessful then you have the chance to lift that weight again. Turner states, “The only rule is that you can’t go down. So, if you miss a lift you can’t decrease the weight you want to put on the bar.”
When learning about the different rules involved with Olympic Weightlifting, it can be complicated. Unless you understand the rules and different regulations, it is difficult to attract many spectators to the events. “There are a lot of finer details to it that actually are what make it really exciting to watch. But unless you’ve been exposed to it, or know what they are, it’s harder to understand.”
The Olympic Weightlifting program currently has 16 athletes, six of whom are currently registered, or planning to register, in a competition, according to Turner. There are about two competitions coming up within the next couple of months. There is the OCAA Extramural Championship at Centennial College on January 27th and another two competitions in March that Turner and McGerrigle are still undecided on.
Olympic Weightlifting is a sport that trains throughout the year. There is no “off-season” like in soccer or hockey. These athletes are constantly training, even after they had a competition. Turner explains that if an athlete has a competition on a Saturday, for example, they will complete light training on Monday but then be back to training intensely on Wednesday. “It’s really hard to excel in the sport of Olympic Lifting. All the pieces of the puzzle really have to come together for someone to really excel. You have to have an incredible amount of physical strength, coordination, power, [and] mental skill,” says Turner.
With any sport, the ability to put your mind at ease and focus on the upcoming competition is a huge advantage. Mental focus is a key part to success in any sport. It is even more imperative in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. Turner states, “You don’t have time to think when you’re weightlifting. You lift it, a split second goes by, and you either get it or you don’t. It’s kind of the beauty and the curse of the sport. You work so hard for literally a maximum of a minute on the platform at any given lift.” The average amount of competitions that athletes compete in is about three or four per year. According to Turner, the athletes train three-to-four times per week, anywhere between three to three-and-a-half hours per training session.
Like Turner said, Olympic Weightlifting is difficult to excel at. This challenge, however, is also the reason why so many people love it. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to handle this type of pressure. In team-based sports, if an athlete is not performing up to their ability, they can rely on their teammates to pick up their slack. Turner explains that in an individual sport, you can’t have a bad day. There is no one who will lift the bar for you. It’s either you lift it, or you don’t—you can never be off your game. When athletes get to higher levels, there can be funding and sponsorships involved, so staying mentally focused is imperative.
In addition to handling the administrative side of the program, Turner is also responsible for creating a program that the athletes use to better their performance at each competition. This can be challenging in that individuals have their own needs and areas of improvements. “Basically, I make a framework of a program where I structure it in whichever way I feel gets the most amount of people where they want to be. And I make modifications to that program that addresses the individuals need,” Turner explains.
When asked what Turner wanted his athletes to take away from being members of the weightlifting team, he says, “From an athlete perspective, honestly, I think the skills of perseverance and resilience.” Turner explains that although there will always be hurdles and obstacles that you need to push through to achieve your goal, it’s your ability to persevere through adversity that makes you a stronger person. He believes this to be relevant beyond just the world of sports. Turner says, “There’s always something trying to derail us from what our overall actual objective is. It happens every day to every single person. There’s always something that tries to act as a bit of a roadblock to being able to achieve your end goal.” The process of attaining our respective goals is a skill Turner believes to be “transferrable to every different part of your life.”
The Olympic Weightlifting program is one that is filled with support, dedication, and resilience from both coaches and athletes. This is part of the reason why this program has been so successful at UTM.