Editorial Opinion: The Performance of the US Team at the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships and the State of US Weightlifting
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
This editorial on the performance of the US team in Chang Mai reflecting our own opinions and conclusions are based first hand on observations and the experiences of some 40 years of continuous participation in the sport.
The quotations presented were taken directly from the USA Weightlifting web site.
The Traveling Board of Directors
The then president of USA Weightlifting was present in Chang Mai at the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships wearing two hats: head coach of the women’s team and president of the federation. Unfortunately, for him and most importantly for weightlifting in the USA, neither hat fit. Four of the five member staff of coaches were also members of the USA Weightlifting board of directors (BOD).
The president and his fellow board members, who are in charge of overseeing the business of the weightlifting federation, i.e., the hiring, firing, and evaluation of the employees that includes the coaching staffs for international competitions, decided (as they have many times in the past) to hire themselves.
The board of directors is responsible for the weightlifting federation’s budget, most of which comes from sponsors and donations. Once again a select few of these self same BOD members decided to spend a portion on themselves. This has occurred, repeatedly, to the point abuse, to the point of absurdity.
This situation constitutes self serving abuse of authority; a flagrant conflict of interest carried to extremes. However, without getting into the legalities, let us focus on simple accountability.
Let us consider accountability for the money spent on the very same people elected to make sure it is spent properly.
The president and the (BOD) oversee the resident training program in Colorado Springs where the USA’s professional weightlifters live and train, receive medical care, and housing. The BOD is responsible to hire and evaluate the coaches and ostensibly make sure the athletes improve to reach the goals the USAW touts on its website.
In Chang Mai, Melanie Roach, a working, 33 year old mother of three made the best overall showing of the full team (7 athletes) of USA women. That is to say, a working a mother of three, burdened with all of the obligations and psychological distractions that go with the territory, performed better than five younger (with an average age of 26 yeas), full time professional women weightlifters were able to muster.
The president and the BOD bear the responsibility for the results produced in Colorado Springs. They hired the coaches and confirm the selection of the resident athletes. Are they responsible for the disappointing performance of the US women? Of course they are.
Then again, maybe the USA coaches in Chang Mai should be held accountable for the team’s performance. Who are they accountable to? The USAW BOD and the president. How is that supposed to work? They are the same people.
Will the president, as the head women’s coach in Chang Mai, give himself a poor evaluation for the team’s performance? What about his management of the resident program which produced five young professionals unable to perform as well as a 33 year old working mother of three children? Will he fire himself from the next assignment he has already, no doubt, lined up? We should hope so. That would be the proper step to take; this would be the honorable action to take.
What about the other BOD member/coaches in Chang Mai? What about their accountability? What are they to be held accountable for, managing of the progress of the Colorado Springs professionals, or as coaches of these same athletes in Chang Mai? In both cases they did a lousy job and set a deplorable example to volunteer members of the federation.
One may say the performance of one woman at the worlds is no way to measure the performance of the whole team, not to mention the performance of coaches/BOD/president.
The Men’s Team in Chang Mai
Let us look at the men. The USA men’s team placed 34th in the team rankings. With a full team of eight lifters, they scored less than 1/7 of the points of the top three men’s teams. They had a dismal 40% rate of successful attempts and two bomb outs.
Were it not for Casey Burgener, who put in an excellent performance in the 105+, the performance of the US men’s team would have been far more humiliating to say the least, considering all the money spent to send a full team much of which, of course, was spent on the BOD members/coaching staff.
According to the USAW website the mission statement of the USA Weightlifting is “for our athletes to win gold medals in the Olympic, Pan American and World Championships through the development of Weightlifting in the United States.”
Dear Mr. President and BOD, there are no gold medals awarded for 34th place. Who is accountable for this result? Is it the president and his BOD members? What about the national coach? He was not there. Should the president and BOD go home and fire him? After all, he is accountable to the BOD because they hired him.
The coaches in Chang Mai should be held accountable for the pathetic performance of the men’s team. In that case they need to fire themselves first from the BOD and second from coaching. That would be appropriate.
The president needs to step down and go away. It is unimaginable that anyone who has presided over this mess would ever consider becoming an employee (as he apparently has already done) of the weightlifting federation, i.e., to move from two positions where he displayed profound incompetence (president and coach) to get paid full time to be incompetent and irresponsible.
The long and the short of it is this; the president and BOD select the resident athletes, hire the coaches to train them, decide which competitions to attend, and who will attend the competitions. Then they select themselves to be coaches, hire friends to be coaches, managers, and others to act in an “official” capacity. They decide on how the weightlifting federation’s funds are to be managed and are careful to make sure they get their share of this money that they have not earned. And where is the accountability for the results?
According to the USAW website created for fund raising, “Every year USA Weightlifting faces the situation of having to make decisions on which programs can be funded and which programs must ‘wait.’ These are never easy decisions…”
Mr. Ex-president and BOD, apparently, it is not that difficult a decision to make yourselves “international coaches,” with air faire paid, meals and room paid, and receive per diem when it is someone’s else’s money you are spending. The funding for those “programs” where you vote yourself vacations at someone else’s expense always seem to remain intact. This is besides the fact that the “election” to international coach provides you Mr. Ex-president and BOD members with bogus credentials to market to the unsuspecting.
So, what are the difficult decisions for USA weightlifting?
The USAW’s solicitation of support, monetary and the like, is a farce. It is an insult to the many volunteers who support the sport at the grass roots levels, to the federation’s well meaning sponsors, and to the USOC’s sponsors. All of whom are giving their time or money with the false assumption that the money will budgeted responsibly to produce results at the international level “to win gold medals.”
The USAW is a farce. It is a travel/employment agency whose real mission is a self serving, self sustaining waste of money, a waste of human resources, and a waste of athletic talent. The USOC, as the principle sponsor of this madness, needs to take action to dismantle this farcical travel/employment agency.
The Canadian Girls.
“It takes a tremendous amount of resources to conduct our current programs; however, USAW does have a mechanism in place that allows you to have an impact on our ability to conduct all of USAW programs. This exciting opportunity to assist USAW is through the ‘Lift the Bar’ program.”
“Our sights are focused on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. We are striving to raise $200,000 and have 2,000 people helping with ‘Lift the Bar.’ “
“USA Weightlifting is working to become an international power competitively,…”
The USAW’s propaganda always seems to have a positive spin. They accomplished their mission to qualify athletes for Beijing. This means all is well for American weightlifting. Why, because this means the BOD can select themselves to staff the Olympic team for the Olympics. And, no doubt, one or more employees can go also. Another free trip. More bogus credentials. Do not forget that their “sights are focused on the 2008 Olympic Games.”
But what about the claim of “working to become an international power.” It is hard to see how this is to be achieved with the men in 34th place in Chang Mai and the women’s hopes hanging on the shoulders of a working, 33 year old mother of three to win gold medals.
Without question the federation spin machine has innumerable reasons for the USA’s dismal level of international competitiveness. It has nothing to do with the fact that there are too many employees, too many paid coaches with no accountability, and too many international trips which are thinly disguised joy rides, i.e., vacations for athletes and coaches disguised as competitions. This is flagrant conflict of interest among the federation’s officers and a complete lack of accountability for the results obtained from the vast amount of money wasted.
This is a harsh accusation about the “not for profit” USAW, you say?
Consider this for a moment. The USAW has a yearly budget of around 1.5 million dollars. A, relatively speaking, huge percentage of this annual budget is spent on administration and salaries for fulltime employees which includes full time coaches. There is a full time paid executive director, a national office, two training centers with the biggest being in Colorado Springs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent annually on international trips, previously mentioned, where the BOD and even the employees are always found to be in attendance.
How well does all of this money spent produce the desired goal of “our athletes to win gold medals in the Olympic, Pan American and World Championships?”
Why should anyone in his or her right mind jump at, “This exciting opportunity to assist USAW is through the ‘Lift the Bar’ program?”
At the 2007 world championships in Chang Mai, two Canadian girls, Jean Lassen (69 kg) and Christine Gerard (63 kg), placed 6th and 8th respectively. The highest USA placing among the fifteen member team was 11th in the 105+ kg class, which, although laudable, is not a true measure of overall competitiveness because there are far fewer athletes in this division.
The Canadians present in Chang Mai paid approximately 20% of their own traveling and housing expense. Of course, the USA team’s expenses were fully funded.
The Canadian weightlifting federation has an annual budget of approximately $100,000.00, i.e., about 1/15th that of the USAW. There is no national office. There are no employees. There is no national coach. There is no national training center. There are no real sponsors.
So, apparently, the Canadians are doing better at the USAW’s mission than the USAW, “for our athletes to win gold medals in the Olympic, Pan American and World Championships.”
Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that the grotesque waste and mismanagement that is the USAW is the real reason we cannot even compete with our neighbors to the north who have around 1/15th the resources and about 1/6 the population of the USA.
Can this be true? Those Canadians must be cheating. This is the favorite USAW spin to explain the continual decline in US competitiveness in international competition.
Ok. There is a way to find out. The executive director needs to get some urine sample cups and go up there and test those girls in person. Not to worry. The USAW always has plenty of money for travel. No doubt the USOC head Peter Ubberroth would be happy for the USOC to fund such a “fact finding” mission. He was a former owner of a travel agency. He knows how hard it is to run a travel business.
We cannot wait to hear the news about those darn Canadian cheats. Then the USAW can get back to the really important business of USA Weightlifting: deciding the staff for Beijing.