Editorials

The state of US weightlifting: Part 2

Editorial:
The state of US weightlifting: Part 2
08/2013
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
www.sportivnypress.com

From Six to Three

rubberband

USAW Rubber band award for six for six performance at a national championships

This editorial revisits: “The Performance of the US Team at the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships and the State of US Weightlifting”, http://sportivnypress.com/ .

It is not our purpose to attack, demean any one individual, group or otherwise under – mine legitimate efforts to further the competitiveness of the weightlifters of the USA; but, given today’s unfortunate, even pathetic state of affairs, most of what appears here may lend credence to the appearance of such.

The opinions expressed here are just that, opinions, with as much as is necessary, accurate (to the best of our knowledge) information available, in order to support the opinions expressed herein.

The reader can refer to the previous editorial for our assessment of the deplorable state of affairs during that period. However, pathetic those events appear in hindsight, some pale in comparison with the present.

To begin with, it is necessary to establish the current state of the competitiveness of USA weightlifting at the international level.

The USA qualified six athletes for the 2008 Olympics: 4 women and 2 men. At the conclusion of the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships (a main qualifier competition for Olympic slots), the USA had qualified three males. However, this was reduced to two males after the results of the testing, some of which were unannounced, pre – competition controls; where athletes were selected from the training hall, days before the competition.

A team with fewer, but more competitive athletes, received an additional slot; in effect taken from the USA earned in the pre – testing results.
One can even say, that not long after this incident, a ‘USA’ rule was implemented. This rule stipulates that a country can enter a full eight man team at a qualification event but only six athletes’ points will count. Likewise the team can be composed of seven females, only four of which count for points.

This rule put a damper on the hopes of those countries who were reduced to out – spending their way to Olympics by sending full teams to qualifier events, even though most entries were in the ‘C’ and ‘D’ sessions at the senior world championships. The misguided, out –spending the other guy, strategy, was aimed at accumulating enough points by sheer numbers, even if an athlete placed only 16th.

However, the current strategy of the USAW, if not equally inane to out –spending, then more so; produced the sorry result in London of delivering an unjustified black eye to the image of female sport in the USA.

Analogous to the strategy: if you can’t beat ‘em, just outspend them; this strategy to “earn” Olympic berths is aimed at creating bogus standards where teams are composed of athletes whom are believed to be in a position to place higher not by virtue of their individual competitiveness; but, by a seriously flawed mathematical guessing game of sending athletes to compete in weight classes with traditionally fewer entries and/or where the quality of results drops off quickly after first two – three places.

For instance, the recent ranking list of females for the USA world team compiled on the basis of these standards (averaging third place over a period of years) produced the following:

Ranking of top female lifters for the 2013 Worlds Championships by total with only weight class noted:
• +75
• 63
• 69
• +75
• 69
• 69
• 58
• +75
• +75
• 48
• +75
• 75
Five of the top eleven (45%) were +75 kg and six (50%) of the top twelve were from the two heaviest female classes. This list also includes the 162 kg Olympian (ranked 9th) who totaled 15 kg less in London than at the Olympic trials in March of 2012; and, whose current ranking total would not win the 58 kg class, i.e., someone with three times the body mass of a 58 kg lifter, yet unable to lift more weight.

Furthermore, a team comprising two women was selected for London in early March (five months out from the Olympics) with no subsequent tryout to allow other female lifters bump onto the team.

This ranking system is a sham. It has to be changed to something simple, reasonable and equitable for all concerned. The architect of this nonsense should resign along with anyone on the USAW Board of Directors who have, or currently support it.

This system is based on a misguided assumption to exploit a loophole in the qualification system. It is very likely this loophole, similar to the outspending loophole, will be closed. Why? Other countries will see the same opportunity to exploit. The reader is referred to the report of the +75 class at the 2013 Asian championships (www.sportivnypress.com).

Beginning with the new Board of Directors (BOD), elected following the 2008 Olympics, the current BOD and current board chairman (BC) have hired a succession three CEOs to manage the affairs of the national office. The selection of the individuals in terms of qualifications and anticipated effectiveness ranges from questionable, highly questionable to the latest hire: abominable (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/brian_cazeneuve/06/25/fencing/).

The first hire essentially occupied the better part of his tenure racking up frequent flier millage; attending national meets; sorting the medals and such; before moving across campus in Colorado to the Olympic committee. The questionable competence of this body can be best be illustrated by the fact they (the USOC) now have at least four former USAW employees (one intern) inclusive of one whom was dismissed from the 1976 Olympics for being the first ever out of competition positive for banned drugs.

The next CEO embarked on the basically the same path as the first; only to be dismissed for undisclosed reasons. The third, the abominable choice for CEO (http://texasfencing.proboards.com/thread/2097) (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/brian_cazeneuve/06/25/fencing/; is a perfect example of the BOD chairman and the BOD’s incompetence. The BOD chairman along with everyone involved should do the honorable thing; do the sport a favor: resign.

A few notable events and common practices of the current BOD and especially the chairman will help elucidate why deplorable, and pathetic appear so often in this editorial.

• A long time, more than qualified, experienced female employee of the USAW national office was either passed over and/or not encouraged, or simply felt she had no chance and did not apply for the CEO position. Instead the BOD hired a questionable succession of bald, middle aged white males (BMAWM).
• the USA lone slot for the 2012 Olympics was garnered at the last possible chance in the 2012 Pan American championships at the same competition where Guatemala earned its lone slot; putting the state of USA male weightlifting on the same level as Guatemala;
• the lone male USA lifter in London lifted less than he did in 2008; performing below the lone lifter from civil war torn Syria (sixth place versus 10th); placing the competitiveness of USA male weightlifting lower than civil war torn Syria;
• creation of an Olympic tryouts qualification tome/document which reads like a life insurance policy for a terminally ill patient with double indemnity clauses; a bizarre obfusgation manifesto;
• a web site which is a best a quagmire of confusion for athletes and coaches alike;
• a lack of oversight; reasonable effort at discipline over national office employees {most notably the CEO, http://timmorehouse.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/usa-weight-lifting-hires-michael-massik-to-be-executive-director-proving-that-anything-is-possible/)}
• the hiring of a CEO whose job description seems to revolve around wasting money that could otherwise go to supporting the athletes and infrastructure by means of excessive, unnecessary absence from the office; purposeless, wasteful attendance at national competitions; unacceptable behavior, such as endeavoring to “shake down” a national competition sponsor and the like;
• permitting excessive, unjustified travel by national office employees;
• in – ability to create reasonable conditions to motivate the athletes to strive for medals in elite sport;
• creation of a highly questionable coaching accreditation system. Coaching diplomas are essentially sold to people whom have never engaged in Olympic lifting; essentially handed out like so many rolls of toilet paper (and of less actual value).
Mr. chairman, under your guidance, male weightlifting in the USA is below civil war torn Syria in international competitiveness and on par with Guatemala in terms of achieving Olympic slots; our female role models for recruiting young lifters are the two huge women whom lifted in London with results marginally or un – competitive with the 63 kg class.
Do the honorable thing: resign.

Of Incompetence, Bizarre Behavior, Rubber Bands and Such

If the conditions just described are not sufficient cause to dismiss, or otherwise sufficient justification for the current Chairman, the BOD and the CEO to hit the door, here are some more.

First, it is necessary to point out the infrastructure of US weightlifting is not the USAW BOD, or the national office.

The infrastructure is composed of the athletes, their families, coaches clubs and so forth. The time, the sacrifice on the part of the athlete, the family, the coach; the money spent training for the national and international platform; sacrifices of family and friends to train; the expense of travel and accommodation at competitions; even time and expense spent going to the doctor or therapist for injuries has virtually no dependence on elected officials or employees.

Maybe, there so many to choose from, the single best example of incompetence was the selection procedures established for the female 2012 Olympic team; a new low in moral depravity. The tryouts for the women were held, the team picked five months in advance; the criteria skewed to the +75 kg class on the assumption of fewer entries (a less competitive class) in London.

In point of fact, the “weak” entry class in London was the 63 kg. The final start list of July listed only seven 63 kg lifters. By contrast, there were 14 +75 kg lifters. To put this into perspective, note that there were only five (5) +75 kg lifters entered in both the 2011 Asian and European championships. This means there were a total of ten lifters representing the entire continental federations of Europe and Asia.

Three 58 kg women, all of whom could have been bested by our top two 58s, moved up after the final start list was posted in London. They competed in the 63 kg class making a total of ten lifters in this class. So, the mathematical guess was wrong. Our two top 58 kg females, whom by any reasonable qualification criteria, should have gone to London; instead they paid the ultimate penalty. For these two, who dedicated all that time and effort into training, all that sacrifice, all that emotional toil, time, money and effort, for not.

And, what of the person who dreamed up, i.e., implemented this qualification mess? He got a ticket to London. Two athletes paid the ultimate price: the opportunity lost forever to compete in the Olympic Games. What about the BOD and especially the bumbling chairman’s role in this so – called system; no accountability for them? Why no penalty for them?

In effect, to cover up the abject stupidity of picking a team five months in advance of the Olympic Games; the reason offered as to why the 162 kg athlete lifted 15 kg less in August than in March of 2012 was due to injury.

Let’s put that exercise in semantics into its proper perspective. The people who decided how this was going down do not have a functional grasp of elite sport; do not have an adequate understanding of weightlifting training; of weightlifting biomechanics.

If you happen to weigh 162 kg; and, a gross, excessive proportion of your body mass is adipose tissue – you don’t happen to get injured in training; you are injured.

Grossly excessive body mass, even if the excessive mass is mostly muscle, is an injury for weightlifting training.

Grossly excessive body mass prevents reasonably efficient use of leverage. Someone of such dimension is unable to lift the barbell to the chest without an excessive shift in hand spacing because the arms are way too big; the excess adipose tissue of the waist, trunk and thighs is just too much of an impediment to perform the exercises with any reasonable semblance of mechanical efficiency. Someone with such excess mass is injured, because injury is not a happenstance, it is inevitable.

Since an injured (our semantics versus the USAW) athlete was selected for the Olympics five months in advance the necessity for additional tryouts or selection camps close to the Games or a world championships should be obvious.

In contrast, the two lifters who realized the best performances of the Russian team in London were the 75 kg and the 85 kg lifters, respectively. Both were moved onto the team either after (Zabolotnaya) the final start list was published; or in the case of the 85 kg, made the team in a tryouts six weeks before the games (both tied for gold in total, but earned silver because of bodyweight).

That is why this particular incident, in our opinion, is a new low in moral depravity. Everyone involved still on the BOD and/or employees involved, must do the honorable thing: resign.

Presumably, solicitation of potential sponsors is for the expressed purpose of supporting the weightlifting infrastructure: athletes and the athletes’ support structure of family, coach, training facility, travel and accommodation at competitions, and so forth. And, presumably, that is supposed to be one of the qualifications of the CEO, to have some expertise at fund raising, solicitation of potential sponsors.

And, of course the end result of which should be to distribute whatever funds are obtained to the weightlifting infrastructure: athletes and the athletes’ support structure of family, coach, training facility, travel and accommodation at competitions, and so forth.

That is why it may come as a surprise, although not a shock, the approach to secure funds for the weightlifting infrastructure in the USA are not as one would hope.

For example, in one notable instance a multi – national company received a proposal from the USAW for donation of cash and apparel. The initial $100,000.00 cash donation sought from this corporation came with an asterisk and small print. The small print stated that 5% of these monies would go to athletes. Where and or how the other 95% was to be allotted was not specified. Suffice to say the company turned done this wonderful opportunity, to dump 95% of their potential donation to lord knows what.

That being the case, no one should donate money to the USAW on the assumption it will go those who need it most: the athletes and the athletes’ support structure.

A number the pathetic, nonsensical attempts at awarding success at the national competitions have occurred and/or are common practice.

For instance, on a number of occasions at national competitions the BOD chairman hobbled up to the PA system to ask a weight class winner to address the audience after receiving his/her medal.

These athletes were asked “to tell us about yourself”. The “us” of course being those in attendance at the end of a session: a handful of officials and of course the audience, which typically consists of about eight people, two playing with their phones one or two asleep, the rest with nowhere else to go. Apparently, telling such an assemblage about oneself was supposed to be worth the all the time, the toil, the expense to win a national championships.

In the aftermath of several weight class competitions at the 2011 national championships the board chairman hobbled up the PA system and gurgled into the microphone to the winner that he/she was “in Disneyland and now you get to go to “Euro Disney”. Subsequent to those astonishingly bizarre pronouncements, our team moved on to the world championships, a qualification event for the London Olympics, went to Euro Disney; earned no slots for London.

However, strange those examples of bizarreness, they pale in comparison to the “celebrated” USAW rubber band award ceremony.

An important staple of the USAW, with an annual budget approaching $2,000,000.00, is their unique approach at supporting the infrastructure of the sport with the “six for six” award. If an athlete manages to make all six lifts in a national competition, whether it be youth, under 20 or senior championships he/she receives a rubber band for this achievement, regardless of race, creed, sex or place of national origin.

This pathetic ceremony is carried out by adults; not as one would guess, by someone who slipped through the cracks of a local asylum. If, an only if, a lifter makes six lifts at a national competition he/she is awarded the “six for six” rubber band. The cost to supply these valuable baubles don’t even come out of the approaching $2,000,000.00 USAW budget; but, from a donor whose name is affixed to the “award”.

This begs to be put into a rational context.

Let’s say a junior lifter, for instance, has to fly to a national competition on the west coast, from the east coast or mid – west. The weekend could cost some $1,500.00. Mom and/or dad will probably have to be there (another $2,000.00 – $3,000.00) with the additional caveat mom and/or dad had to re-arrange their vacation to attend. Then there is the coach and his/her expenses.

These financial expenditures would be similar for a senior athlete; maybe more so, because a senior athlete would have a job and may have to miss work or use vacation time, in addition to the aforementioned expenses, not to mention the uncounted toil, time and a host of personal sacrifices.

Who has the gall, the mendacity, to hand someone a rubber band for making six lifts after all of the sacrifice, time, toil and expense involved?

Someone who is:
a/ out of touch with reality;
b/ senile;
c/ brain dead;
d/ all of the above.
(hint: all of the above)

On the other hand, what could be worse, the people who carry out this pathetic ceremony, or the person who donates the rubber bands and whose name is linked with this award?

Here is a thought. These rubber bands must be worth something. Mister BOD chairman, try this as a change of pace.

Why not compensate the CEO and the office staff with these invaluable rubber bands for their attendance at the national championships? Eliminate their free room and board, their comp pay, and travel expenses wasted on a joy ride out of the national office. Take those unjustified perks and give it to those athletes who would otherwise be unable to attend a national championship despite all the sacrifice involved to qualify; because they and/or their families lack the finances.

The CEO and the traveling staff would no doubt be tickled pink to get their hands on those bands. And, just think the money normally wasted on them would go to where it is needed most.

A Simple, Appropriate, Equitable Qualification system for International Team Selection

The best outcome for the weightlifting infrastructure is of course for the chairman, the high performance director and the BOD to hit the door. However, the mess left behind must be cleaned up.

One of the most important changes which must be implemented is the qualification procedures for international teams, especially the World championships and the Olympic Games.

The standards have to be reasonable, simple for everyone to understand, even someone from outside the sport. Furthermore, these procedures have to be established such that they are as free as humanly possible from political manipulation. The current ranking system is not only irrational and inequitable; it is designed to be manipulated.

Here is our proposal.
Two figures should be employed to rank the lifters for international teams, financial support and so forth:
• the first place total in each weight class for a given year at the senior, junior or under 17 world championships;

• the current world record total in each weight class, appropriately updated if altered in a given year.
These two figures are determined by and can be only altered by the IWF. Each athlete’s ranking is determined by averaging his/her percentage of each figure.

For example:
a/ a senior level 58 kg female lifts 180 kg in total at a specified qualification event in 2013. Her ranking would be determined in the following manner:
180/251 (WR total) = 71.71%
180/246 (1st place 2012 Olympics) = 73.17%
The resulting figure for ranking: 71.71 + 73.17/2 = 72.44%

b/ a junior level 85 kg lifter with a 300 kg total at a specified qualification event in 2013. His ranking would be:
300/386 (WR total) = 77.72%
300/360 (1st place 2012 Junior WWC) = 83.33%
The resulting figure would be: 77.72% + 83.33%/2 = 80.525%

In addition to the obvious stipulations for testing, being part of the testing pool inclusive, the athletes must have multiple opportunities to bump onto the teams or even a higher ranking on the teams; up to at least as late as four to six weeks before the international event.

The world records in total are either stagnant, move marginally and at that, episodically; or, are relatively new like the under 17. Consequently, these records are relatively stable and of course reasonable indicators of how an athlete measures up to the best achievements in the sport. This procedure is a stark contrast to the current mathematical guessing game.

It should be clear to everyone in the weightlifting infrastructure the aim is to strive to be the best and the best lifters are to be rewarded accordingly.
The winning total in the corresponding championship (senior worlds, junior worlds, under 17 or Olympic Games in place of the senior world championships) of the year would be valid from one year from the date of the gold medal until the date it is next awarded in the following year’s competition.

The table of data below demonstrates how the proposed system could (should) have been implemented for 2012.

Qualification results for 2012 USA Olympic berth revealing averaging of totals favors the heavier weight class.
Competition Date Bdywt Snatch C&J Total WR % 1st2011 %
H.M.
US Nat 7/17/2011 149.85 107 130 237 328 72.3 328 72.3
AM. Open 12/1/2011 155.64 114 135 259 328 79.0 328 79.0
FDU Open 1/14/2012 158.35 110 140 250 328 76.2 328 76.2
US Nat 3/5/2012 161.96 110 145 255 328 77.7 328 77.7
WWC 2011 75% 80% 77.5% 255.0
2012 OG 8/3/12 157.04 105 135 240 333
A. S.
WWC 2010 57.85 87 109 196 251 78.0 237 82.7
WWC 2011 57.16 89 107 196 251 78.0 237 82.7
US Nat 2011 58.0 86 100 186 251 74.1 237 78.5
US Nat 2012 57.69 89 108 197 251 78.5 237 83.1
102/135 87% 81% 83.1% 259.84

In this example, athlete A.S. is better across the board: relative to the best results in total, the individual lifts and relative to the world record.

The table also illustrates the single most glaring example of the inequity of the USAW system. The +75 kg athlete gained 12 kgs of body mass from the 2011 national championships to the date of the Olympic trials. The 237 kg total @ 149.85 kg bodyweight made at the nationals improved along with the weight gain to 255 kg; i.e., enough by the standards applied to earn a slot at the Olympics.

On the hand the 58 kg athlete as are all the others in classes with weight limits, vying for an Olympic slot are unable to gain additional mass within the confines of the given weight class; this against fixed standards.

Collectively, the two +75 kg Olympians gained approximately 16 kg of body mass between the nationals and the Olympic trials.

With such a simple system the deplorable spectacle of the board chairman’s obfuscation filled pronouncements to those in attendance at the 2012 Olympic trials as to why the 58 kg athlete of this competition is the best lifter but not selected for the Olympic Games, could have been avoided.

If this method, based on how one compares, objectively, to the best in his/her weight class, produces a disproportionate number of +75, or +105
lifters for international teams, so be it. It is not designed to be skewed to classes with typically fewer entries, lower overall standards and especially the +75 kg class, where few women want to gain excess body mass; especially unhealthy adipose tissue. The point here is to select and appropriately reward the best lifter for being just that – the best lifter.

Anyone from outside the sport can understand this simple concept, we encourage our lifters to strive to be the best and accordingly, we rank them against the best.

The current administration has created conditions for an influx of overweight, obese female lifters with a resultant terrible public image as a sport of unhealthy athletes. We all cringe when we see a +75 female at the Olympics wearing a suit which cannot be fully zipped up the back despite enough material to cover a king size bed. Or, comments published in a national magazine: “I’m not afraid of food, I embrace it”.

It is time for the current administration to hit the door.

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