I had the amazing opportunity to attend and compete in my first national level Olympic Weightlifting meet on Sunday. The 2011 American Open Weightlifting Championship was held in Mobile, Alabama over the course of the weekend. It was an exciting and proud day for me. Less than a year ago I had never put a barbell over my head, and yesterday I shared a lifting platform with Olympians, World Championship Team members and National Champions in the sport. What an honor. I feel fortunate that I also got a good taste of the spectator experience without interfering with my lifting. I only stayed in Mobile for about 24 hours, but in that time I was able to compete and watch three weight classes lift. When I arrived on Saturday the Women’s 69kg was in full swing at the Outlaw Convention Center. These girls were moving impressive amounts of weight. The 85kg men followed, and featured multiple international level competitors including Olympian Kendrick Farris. This man did not fail to provide some excitement, particularly on his final Snatch attempt. It appeared he might lose it, but sitting in what had to be one of the deepest squats I’ve ever seen, he stabilized the 159kg overhead and stood it up. I literally got choked up watching it. It’s phenomenal what the human body can be trained to do. Farris has the highest qualifying total coming into the event, but did not walk away with the title. That distinction went to a lifter named Matt Bruce who Snatched 148kg and Clean and Jerked 187kg. Matt was amazing to watch, little did I know he would become an integral part of my competition the following day.
Just prior to warming up on competition morning I was chatting with one of the other competitors, and she was pretty shocked that I was there by myself. She called over some people from her training facility over and recruited them to help me load my bar for warm ups, count lifters before my turn, and time my warm up reps. The interesting part of the story is that the “some people” were folks from an Olympic lifting program of EPIC status. Matt Bruce, the lifter who won the men’s 85kg, and also happens to have been on every Senior World Team since 2005, stood with me, advised me, announced my lifts, and coached me through my first national Olympic lifting meet. He trains under Senior U.S. International Coach, 2004 Athens men’s Coach and USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame member Gayle Hatch- legendary status! I had the opportunity to meet Coach Hatch which was awesome. I just can’t get over how kind Matt’s actions were, he jumped in without hesitation. There was no incentive for him to do what he did, it was just plain and simple good will. I was so fortunate that he stepped up, I don’t know that I would have successfully navigated the terrain without his expertise and support. Matt is the man, that is some southern hospitality for you!
As a Crossfitter competing at this level I felt a world away from the small local weightlifting competition through which I qualified for the event. Olympic weightlifting is an incredibly strategic and calculated sport. You can’t just show up with your “Lift Big or Go Home” t-shirt, lift some weight and expect a successful result. Athletes and coaches at this level are very specific about what warm up reps to take, when to take them, counting the competitors before your lift (which changes constantly), what weights they want to take their competition lifts at. You absolutely need a knowledgeable and experienced Olympic lifting coach with you at this level of competition. People at this level are really pushing the limit of how much weight they can lift and testing their ability to perform under the immense pressure of the competition. I was somewhat surprised to see how few lifters went six for six on their lifts. In fact there’s an award given to athletes who lift six for six at a national meet. I think this recognition is a testament to how close to their upper limits athletes are lifting, and also the challenges involved in performing on a national platform.
My final Clean & Jerk, you can see and hear my buddy Matt in the background:
In terms of the actual lifting, it was a roller coaster of a day for me. I underperformed on the snatch (70kg), making only my second of three attempts, and I was quite embarrassed by finding new and exciting ways to drop a barbell on myself. I went three for three on the Clean & Jerk, reaching 91kg. Watching the culmination of our weight class gave me chills as the top two women went after 112kg and 114kg, looking for the win. What a compelling and exciting sport, I gained an entirely new level of respect this weekend. I am completely honored to have competed with this group of women. In the end, I got what I asked for in competing at the American Open. I wanted to put myself in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar setting and test my ability to perform under those conditions. This definitely met the criteria of being uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but it by far exceeded my expectations with regard to meeting some fantastic people and growing as a weightlifter.