The 2009 Chinese National Games Weightlifting

The 2009 Chinese National Games Weightlifting
Andrew Charniga, Jr.

The 2009 Chinese National Games weightlifting competitions were held from October 17 – 27, 2009 in the city of Jinan, Shandong Province, China.

These games have been modeled after the Spartakiade of the old Soviet Union. It is an Olympics of China with teams from all provinces represented.

Held every four years, this had grown to such a prestigious event for the Chinese athletes that it had to be moved to the year following the Olympics instead of the originally planned for the year preceding the Olympics. The reason being that many results achieved at this event exceeded those of the Chinese athletes who competed the following year at the Olympic Games.

The organization of the championships was outstanding. An all female crew of officials ran the women’s sessions. There was a two day break between men and women’s classes during which time the male officials rehearsed. There were no major glitches.

Doping controls were conducted for all events at the Games according to the established WADA protocols, including out of competition testing. For instance, a rower whom tested positive for a banned substance from an out of competition test forced the rest of her crew to drop out because they would have been subjected to further scrutiny and if another athlete would have come up positive the entire provincial rowing team would have been dismissed from the Games.

The Chinese Weightlifting association announced that the first eight place winners in each weight class would earn a position on the national team. So the stakes were very high. The results typically exceed those of the Chinese national championships which in the past have averaged as much as 20% higher for the Chinese women than comparable results of the world championships.

The Astounding Women

A number of scholars have studied Chinese sport. All have observed that the Chinese females, as a rule, do better than the Chinese men as far as medals won in international competitions. And this has been the case practically since the Chinese decided to seriously participate in elite sport during the 1950s. Weightlifting is no exception. The women were the highlight of this year’s event.

Data collected for as yet to be completed paper “An analysis of world’s strongest men and women” by A. Charniga shows that the results at this event, especially the results of the women, have been higher at each Games. Consequently, it has become the most important weightlifting event in the world over the past twenty or so years in terms of the development of human strength potential in general, and the strength of women in particular.

This year’s weightlifting competition was no exception. The results of the women exceeded those of the men. The excitement surrounding these competitions was centered on who would be the rising stars to emerge to replace the top lifters on the national team.

Depicted in table 1 is a list of most the outstanding teenagers at the competition.

Table 1. Outstanding performances by teenage females at 2009 Chinese National Games:

Athlete Age Wt. cl. Snatch C& J total Place
TIAN Yuan 16 48 93 117 210 4th
Zhou Jun 14 53 93 123*
Xue-Ying 19 58 111 140 251 1st
Tang Meisin 16 58 110 130 240 4th
Sweet 16 58 105 133 238 5th
Guan Xinlei 18 63 118 147 265 1st
Kang Yue 18 69 120 145 265 3rd
Ban Wuyue 18 69 113 143 256 5th
Xiang Yanmei 17 75 115 146** 261 2nd

*Cleaned 123 kg only, missed jerk        

**Cleaned 160 kg.

Table 1. Outstanding performances by teenage females at 2009 Chinese National Games
Athlete Age Wt. cl. Snatch C& J total Place
TIAN Yuan 16 48 93 117 210 4th
Zhou Jun 14 53 93 123* – –
Xue-Ying 19 58 111 140 251 1st
Tang Meisin 16 58 110 130 240 4th
DENG Wei 16 58 110 133 238 5th
Guan Xinlei 18 63 118 147 265 1st
Kang Yue 18 69 120 145 265 3rd
Ban Wuyue 18 69 113 143 256 5th
Xiang Yanmei 17 75 115 146** 261 2nd
*Cleaned 123 kg
**Cleaned 160 kg.
The Teenagers

Sixteen year old TIAN Yuan (48 kg) totaled only three kilos from the junior world record. She unsuccessfully tried to move into third place with a 123 kg clean and jerk (3 kg over the current senior world record and 5 kg over the junior world record). She cleaned this colossal weight twice only to miss the jerk. Fourteen year old ZHOU Jun (53 kg) easily cleaned 118 and 123 kg only to miss the jerk.

Nineteen year old XUE Ying (58 kg) exceeded the snatch, the jerk and blew out the Junior world record total with 251 compared to the present 110 + 139 = 241. She equaled the senior world record in the snatch, cleaned but missed the jerk with a 142 kg which would have exceeded the current senior world record. Sixteen year old TANG Meisin equaled the current Junior World record snatch with 110 kg.

The single outstanding performance of the entire championships, regardless of age or gender, was registered by 18 year old 63 kg GUAN Xinlei. She exceeded the current senior world record snatch of 116 kg with 118 kg but fell behind OUYANG Xiaofang who shattered the current world mark with 122. She was unable to stand up with her first attempt in the clean and jerk with 140 kg. However, she made it on her second attempt.

Guan then lifted an incredible 147 kg to secure the gold medal. This exceeded the current senior world record by 5 kg and shattered the current junior world record by 12 kg! After she dropped the weight she made an abrupt 180º turn, and without so much as a glance at the cheering audience walked off the stage.

Eighteen year old GUAN Xinlei exceeds senior WR by 5 kg and Junior WR by 12 kg with 147 kg Clean and Jerk

XIANG Yanmei (75 kg) was another outstanding junior. The recently turned 17 year old fell 10 kg behind Olympic Champion CAO Lei in the snatch. After making her opener with 146 kg she waited for CAO Lei. CAO made 148 and then waited as long as possible to take her third attempt with 150 kg. Despite the long wait and the 14 kg jump XIANG managed to clean what would have been a junior and senior world record 160 kg, jerked it to arms length but lost it in the split. She was unable to clean it on her final try.

Is it possible for female “children” to lift such phenomenal weights? Obviously it is possible because the evidence is before your eyes. Up until the mid – 1970s most Soviet sport scientists as well as the medical community in the USSR believed that a weightlifter could not lift maximum weights until at least the mid – 20s.

At the 1975 World Championships in Moscow, a 19 – year old Bulgarian 110 kg lifter Valentin Khristov broke the then world record in the 110 kg class with a lift of 237.5 kg. He then attempted to lift 245.5 kg to exceed the world record in the next weight class held by V. Alexseyev who was some 49 kg heavier and fourteen years older. That event combined with the unusual (for those days) low average age of the Bulgarian team, effectively dispelled those theories.

As was the case in 1975 with the Bulgarian teenage men, the Chinese juvenile female lifters of today are way ahead of current sport science.

As incredible as these Chinese teenage females are their results are not out of the ordinary for China. For instance, two time Olympic champion LIU Chunhong won the 69 kg class at the 2000 Chinese national championships with the following: 115 + 145 = 260 at age 15. The following year at age 16 she won the 69 kg class at the National Games with 125 + 155 = 280.

The “older” women

There were outstanding results from the “older” Chinese women. WANG Mingjuan won the 48 kg class exceeding all the current world records with 99 and 121 = 220 kg. She was the 2003 world champion whom injured her knee in the clean and jerk and was carried off the platform.

The importance of this competition, the high level required to become champion is obvious from WANG’s results over the years (table 2). She totaled 210 at age 16 in the 2001 version of this games. This was more than needed to win the world championships until the 2005 WWC in Doha. SUN Caiyan’s results have followed the same pattern. Her results are shown in table 3.

Table 2. Results of WANG Mingjuan in various international and domestic competitions
Wang Mingjuan/DOB 1985 Class Sn. C&J Total
2001 NG/16 48 97.5 112.5 210
2002/WC/17 48 92.5 115.5 207.5
2003/WC/18 48 90.0 110.0 200.0
2005/WC/20 48 95 118 213
2006/AG 1st /21 48 90 116 206
2007/Wcup 48 88 116 204
2008/test/23 48 92 113 204
2009/NG/24 48 99 121 220



 SUN 58 kg cleaned this world record 142 but could not jerk it. Charniga Photo

Table 3. Results of Sun Caiyan at world championships and the Chinese national games
Sun Caiyan/74 Wt. Cl. Sn. C&J Total
1991/WC/17 56 85.0 108.0 192.5
1992/WC/18 56 92.5 117.5 210
1993/WC/19 59 97.5 120 217.5
1993/NG 59 100 135 235
2003/WC/29 58 100.0 125.0 225
2005/NG 58 112.5 – –
2009/NG 58 110 135 245

There were five attempts in the clean and jerk with weights over the current world record in the 48 kg class, including the aforementioned two attempts at 123 kg by the 16 year old.

Twenty two year old former world champion LI Ping won the 53 kg class with all three lifts exceeding the current senior world records. Eighteen year old CHEN Xiao Ting missed a world record snatch attempt with 103 kg.

Nineteen year old XUE Ying won the 58 kg class bettering all the junior world records and her 111 kg snatch was one kilo over the senior world record. Her total of 251 kg equaled the senior world record. In all there were five unsuccessful attempts including four at 142 kg in the clean and jerk to exceed the world records.

The average age of the 130 – odd females entered was around 21 years, nevertheless, 35 – year old 58 kg SUN Caiyun, whom was old enough to be the mother of the two sixteen year olds in 4th and 5th place respectively, did some incredible lifting. A world champion at ages 17, 18 and 19, her career has spanned all three eras of women’s weightlifting.

SUN missed her opening snatch with 110 kg, made it easily on her second and narrowly missed a 113 kg world record on her third. She cleaned a world record 142 in an effort to move from third to first, but started to pass out in the jerk and had to drop the barbell. This incredible athlete announced her retirement immediately following the competition. Like the fantastic results of the teenagers, this woman’s performance and her career gives sport scientists something to think about.

The current world record in the snatch of the 63 kg class is 116 kg. There were nine attempts to exceed this weight during the course of this competition, five attempts were successful.

Twenty six year old OUYANG Xiaofang who had exemplary technique in both lifts, bested all the existing world records only to place 2nd to 18 – year old GUAN Xinlei, whose performance has already been described. OUYANG Xiaofang was the 63 kg National Games champion four years ago with the following lifts: 120 = 140 = 260. Like all of the women’s classes this one was full of talented athletes, some of whom were unfortunately, underachievers.

For instance, LI Liying who won the 69 kg class at the 2005 national games with 125 + 150 = 275 kg made only one clean and jerk at this competition. She was second after snatching 121 kg which was 5 kg more than the current world record. However, she then missed the jerk on her first two attempts with 136 kg. She finally made it on her third. The misses were not a function of strength, but complexity.

LI pulled with a snatch hand spacing, then made a lightning like switch to a shoulder width grip as she descended under the bar to receive it at the chest. Not yet done with the hands, after recovering from the deep squat, she then moved her grip out beyond shoulder width for the jerk.

Li Liying jerking with 3rd grip.

Although interesting for the spectators to watch these acrobatics, when all was said and done it took this great athlete three tries to make one good lift. So, instead of a good shot at first or second, she placed third. You have to wonder what she could do if she applied all of this athletic skill to simply grasping the barbell with a standard, shoulder width clean grip and just clean it and jerk it with one hand spacing.

The gold and silver medalists of this class clean and jerked the barbell with a normal clean hand spacing of just wider than shoulder width. Both of them beat LI by 8 kilos.

LIU Chunhong the two time Olympic champion whom has been troubled by back and a knee problem was not at her best. She gave up five kilos in the snatch, plus she was heavier than CHEN Ling. But, she needed only her opener with 147 kg to win and retired.

CAO Lei the two time world and 2008 Olympic champion won the 75 kg class but dodged two bullets in the process. She missed 125 in the snatch. But, realizing she had to make this weight, she made a supreme effort to make it on her third attempt. The performance of one of “bullets”, teenager Xiang Yanmei has already been described.

Another 75 kg competitor was perhaps the most interesting athlete of the entire championships. Her name is Li Xia. This 22 – year old ripped 127 kg to arms length three times in the snatch only to lose each one.

 LI Xia 75 kg (CHN) loses 127 first attempt snatch. Charniga photo

That was a real shame because she is one of if not the most talented females of the entire competition. With some minor alterations of technique she could conceivably do 140 kg and 165 kg at 75 kg.

The +75 kg class was arguably the best class of the entire competition. Not very long ago Zhen Yu’s fifth place result of 305 kg was the world record of this class. There was a great battle between the three medal winners. Qi Xi Hui snatched 138 kg (2 kilos under the current world record) after missing her opener with 133 kg.

Twenty one year old ZHOU Lulu tossed up the current world record of 140 kg on her first attempt as if it were a light warm up weight. MU Shuangshuang lifted the same 140 on her third, but this was a normal lift with a maximum weight. ZHOU’s 2nd attempt with 145 kg flew up as if it was no heavier than her first. The third attempt of ZHOU (pronounced like the name Joe) with 148 was approximately the same as her 2nd with 145, but with some adjustment at the bottom. She looked good for at least 150 – 151 kg. It was an awesome display of power from a female weightlifter.

ZHOU began with 170 kg in the clean and jerk. Using a wide hand spacing the bar rolled of her clavicles during the recovery from the squat. She raised it back onto the clavicles then made a very powerful jerk.

MU and QI both started with 175 kg for easy successes. A slight inaccuracy caused by the wide hand spacing caused ZHOU to drop 175 from her chest during the recovery from the squat. She made this on her third with a struggle in the clean to hold the bar on her clavicles, but with a very powerful jerk. Qi made 180 and MU missed 184 needed to move ahead of ZHOU. MU injured her ankle on her third attempt with 184 and had to be carried off on stretcher. QI’s third was a nice world record equaling 186 kg to move into first place.

The women in this class were all good athletes and a larger proportion of them than the other classes, had good technique.
The Men

The highlight of the men’s lifting was the 56 kg class. Beijing Olympic champion LONG Qingquan made a shaky 160 kg on his first attempt in the clean and but the next two were stronger and stronger, including a 301% of bodyweight 169 kg. This was 1 – kilo over Mutlu’s current world record of 168 kg. LI Zhizhi cleaned 169 kg before LONG’s attempt; jerked the barbell to arms length but could not hold it. JI Guohua selected but did not make a credible attempt with 170.

LONG Qingquan 56 kg (CHN) jerks a triple bodyweight 169 kg. Charniga photo 

A triple bodyweight clean and jerk is such a rare event in weightlifting that the last one was Mutlu’s 168 kg at the 2001 European Championships and the one prior to that was Naim Suleymanoglu’s 190 kg at the Seoul Olympics. Only 19 years old, LONG is the first Asian to accomplish the feat and only the fifth lifter in history to lift three times bodyweight.

LONG totaled 304 kg only 1 kg shy of the current world record. He missed his third snatch with 135 kg which would have given him a total of 306.

Twenty two year old YANG Fan won the 62 kg class with a world record equaling total of 326 kg. The Olympic champion in this class ZHANG Xiangxiang was in attendance but has since retired.

LIAO Hui the Olympic champion of the 69 kg class in Beijing snatched 163 kg; 2 kg less than Georgie Markov’s 9 year old senior world record. He cleaned 198 but missed the jerk with what would have been a new senior world record. His 358 kg total exceeded the senior world record by 1 kg.

LI Qingfeng was the best junior male lifter after LONG Qingquan. The eighteen year old placed second in the 69 kg class with a 341 total only 5 kg shy of the junior world record. SU Dajin (22 years old) and lU Xiaojun (26 years old) both approached the senior total record of 377 kg with374 and 373 kg respectively in the 77 kg class, but Dajin’s jerk with 209 kg was questionable.

LU Yong won the 85 kg class with a rather low, for him, result of 376 kg, but this was due to a minor ankle injury. All in all this was the worst class. There were a lot of misses. A number of the lifters in this class looked like power lifters whom had taken up weightlifting, strong, but slow and uncoordinated.

Impressions of the training and Technique

The pre – competition training of many of the Chinese men may have a lot to do with the large number of misses observed, especially in the heavier weight classes. They performed the following exercises: heavy Russian style pulls, heavy back or front squats, dead lifts, bent over rows, upright barbell rows, presses, curls, hand stand presses for many repetitions per set, good mornings, quarter squats and others. It was surprising to see so many athletes doing so many assistance exercises so close to the competition and in many cases with such heavy weights.

The dead lifts and the heavy pulls in our opinion may have had the most detrimental carry over to the snatch and the clean and jerk in the competition for the men. You could see guys literally dragging the bar up like a dead lift in the pull for the clean and dropping under the weight slowly. They would then have to grind out of the deep squat, which in turn would significantly lessen the possibility of a successful jerk.

As a result of the large amount of bodybuilding movements (rows, presses and so forth) almost all Chinese lifters have heavily developed arm and shoulder girdle muscles. There have been Soviet studies which have shown that this type of development does not contribute to good technique in the jerk and this was obvious from the number of missed jerks of both sexes.

It is hard to argue with the success and the high results of this competition are more than sufficient testimonial to the efficacy of the Chinese system. But our overall impression of the competition and final training sessions was that the results could have been significantly higher than they were.

Probably the most widely accepted method of training for the final days leading up to an important competition is to concentrate on the competition lifts for speed, coordination, flexibility and use light to moderate weights for assistance exercises like squats. But the men employing this method at this at this competition were in the minority.

For instance, the final training of LIAO Hui the 69 kg champion was strange to say the least. He did a few light power snatches up to about 100 kg and a few clean and jerks up to about 120 kg. He followed this with multiple sets of multiple repetitions of quarter front squats with up to 240 kg. Then a set of about 20 repetitions in upright rows with 40 kg and a few behind the head presses. It was obvious how he got his big shoulder muscles.

Presumably the quarter squats are to strengthen the legs for the jerk from the chest. The value of this exercise and the manner in which the Chinese perform this movement make it highly questionable. For instance, LIAO cleaned a world record 198 kg very well but was unable to jerk it. You could say he left that lift in the gym.

Virtually all the Chinese do the 1960s version of Russian pulls. This exercise (especially with the snatch hand spacing) is performed by pulling the barbell until the trunk is approximately straight then re – bending the knees up to a half squat quickly to bring the bar higher up the chest.

This is all well and good if you are a superior athlete and this motor habit does not interfere with the performance of the snatch or the clean at the most inopportune time. But if you are not then it can be a problem. For instance, one female lifter did three Russian pulls on the platform. All three were performed in very good form, the problem was that she was supposed to be snatching the barbell.

In the women’s 69 kg class we arbitrarily designated twelve snatch attempts as high pulls, i.e., the athlete tried to high pull the weight up as high as possible and ended up passively dropping under the barbell to receive it. All were missed attempts.

The use of high pulls and heavy dead lifts in training may have had a negative carry over to the clean of many women as well. A number of lifters would begin the recovery from the deep squat in the clean after a pause because the prolonged effort in the pull resulted in a relatively passive, relatively slow descent under and receiving of the barbell. Some of young ladies had huge quadriceps development and yet had to struggle to rise from the deep squat of the clean. Typically the subsequent jerk from the chest was either very difficult or a miss.

Conversely, a those athletes who performed a quick descent under the barbell in the clean followed by an effective use of the recoil from the bottom of the squat were much more likely to be successful in the jerk.

The single most obvious technical flaw of the Chinese lifters, especially the females, was the jerk from the chest. The deficient element of this part of the exercise was the scissoring of the legs. Far more than half of the athletes seemed to have no concept of how to perform this crucial movement effectively.

In most cases the scissoring of the legs or the split under the barbell in the jerk was performed passively, uncoordinated, inaccurately and or all of the above.

Those athletes whom scissored the legs rather passively were more intent on driving the barbell vertically with the legs and including the arms by pressing upward. The barbell usually reached arms length; but the leg shifting forward into the split position did not travel forward far enough to place the athlete’s body far enough under the barbell for it to be situated within a manageable area of balance.

These athletes need to shift their attention away from fully extending the legs and pressing on the barbell and more towards scissoring the legs as fast as possible. This action will generate vertical force on the barbell and place the athlete in a more favorable position to receive it at arms length.

Another common mistake was to scissors the legs such that the feet would not end up equidistant from the mid – line of the body. The leg placed rearward appeared to be the problem.

Most Soviet weightlifting textbooks recommend the feet be approximately hip width apart with the toes turned to the side in the starting position for the jerk. It goes without saying that this disposition of the feet is such that they are equidistant from the midline of the body and the weight of the body and barbell are evenly distributed over both legs.

From the just described starting position the weightlifter is to scissors the legs such that they are re – positioned at approximately the same distance apart as in the starting position and are of course equidistant from the mid – line of the body. Upon placing the feet in the fore – aft position of the split the athlete is advised to turn inward both feet slightly to optimize balance.

A good number of the lifters at this championships (at least 10 – 15) departed from the theoretical optimum scissoring of the legs by shifting the leg placed rearward closer to the mid – line of the body, while the forward placed leg remained essentially in the previous disposition. Consequently, the athlete’s area of balance was reduced enough to cause the lifter to lose the lift and in some cases almost topple over to the side of rearward placed leg.

This is an elementary error you just don’t expect to see with elite athletes.

There were two elbow dislocations in this competition. Although an elbow dislocation is not an uncommon injury in weightlifting, it is associated with the snatch. However, these two injuries were in the jerk, which is very rare. Both athletes were using a wide hand spacing for the jerk.

Just because someone uses a wide hand spacing in the jerk is not a definitive reason as to why the athletes injured their elbows, but a wide hand spacing does increase the risk for this exercise. The extremely few elbow dislocations in the clean and jerk we have witnessed in numerous international competitions over a period of many years have all occurred with athletes employing a wide hand spacing.

A. Charniga has presented convincing arguments against the use of a wide hand spacing for the jerk. It can be found at entitled “Something else about the jerk”.

Many years ago Soviet sport scientist N. I. Luchkin recommended that the weightlifter should push the body away from the barbell in the jerk as opposed to “pressing up” on the barbell during the performance of this exercise. In our opinion many of the Chinese lifters were “pressing” the barbell in the jerk and this is a probable reason for the passive scissoring of the legs.

However, it is likely that “pressing” the barbell in the jerk while using a wide hand spacing subjects the elbow joint to unjustifiably more strain. Furthermore, this action is also not effective with a wide hand spacing because
the leverage is poor.

A more rational procedure for executing the jerk with a wide hand spacing would be for the athlete to accentuate the scissoring of the legs as fast possible, while trying to stretch the bar with the hands to fix it overhead. There were several athletes at this competition whom jerked with a wide hand spacing successfully by employing this strategy, which apparently, went unnoticed.

However, instead of having to devise a special technique to perform this critical part of the clean and jerk with a awkward hand spacing, the athletes who do not need to place their hands wide because of lack of mobility in the arms or shoulders should head the example of most of the top lifters at this competition whom were successful in the clean and jerk, such as Wang Mingjuan, Yang Lian, Li Ping, Guan Xinlei, Ouyang Xiaofang, LIU Chunhong, CAO Li, LIAO Hui, MU Shuangshuang. These athletes clean and jerked with the same approximately shoulder width hand spacing and made their lifts with no special acrobatics required.

To repeat our overall impression that the results of this competition although in many cases, already fantastic, could have been higher, implies some secret training, technique or both. However, it is obvious there is no secret. In general the medalists have better overall technique. And, there were a number of non – medalists who could have won a medal had they possessed better technique.

First hand observations and analysis of results over the years indicate the Chinese lifters, especially the women, have an extraordinarily high level of motivation to succeed. High results force the athletes to achieve even higher results to move up to the national team and achieve a higher standard of living. The Chinese probably do more work in training than necessary and some of it is counterproductive, but that is their work ethic. Those lifters whom maximize their potential by learning and performing their exercises with good technique, do better, but that is the case anywhere.

Is there some underlying physiological secret to the success of the Chinese weightlifter? That is unlikely. Do they have a special body structure which could give them some biomechanical advantage? That is also unlikely. The first thing that comes to mind when a session of eighteen lifters line up on the platform for introductions at this competition is the fact that they all look different, and that includes their features. Some are tall, some short, some stocky, and so forth. The work ethic, the intensity of the Chinese motivation, the will to succeed are the secret characteristics.