There is No System: Part VI


There is No System: Part VI

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Sportivny press©



It is safe to say that the most ubiquitous excuse during the current era of weightlifting, characterized by a growing sophistication of testing for banned substances, is that the other guy, the members of the 25 to 30+ teams which routinely place ahead of the USA at major international competitions, cheats. It is a convenient excuse today, but the origins of excuse making are at least 40 to 50 years old as some of the references to them have shown.

In August of 2008, LONG Qinquan (CHN 56 kg) became Olympic champion. In October of 2009 he won the Chinese National Games, barely  second in prestige to the Olympic Games. He clean and jerked 169 kg at this championships, a weight in excess of 300% of his bodyweight. He became the only non European, the only non Bulgarian, or “Bulgarianized” Turk ever to lift 300% of bodyweight.

One month later in November of 2009, he became world champion. Nothing left to prove. There were no more mountains to climb. It was time for a rest.

However, LONG, wearing the same tee shirt and weightlifting suit he wore in winning the 2009 World Weightlifting Championships, was back in the training hall in Goyang, Korea, training, two days after his competition.


LONG Qinquan (CHN 56 kg) training two days after winning 2009 World Weightlifting Championships. Charniga photo

LONG, like a wolf who has just eaten a meal, uncertain as to if or when he will be able to eat again, returned to hunting for food.  

By way of contrast to LONG the wolf, many members of US international teams pass on the training hall after their competitions and go shopping.

Just how far is the USA behind the rest of the world?

The reader is asked to consider the data presented in tables 1 to 4. The first attempt weights in the clean and jerk of the gold medalists of the 2008 Olympics and the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships were analyzed. There is not much out of the ordinary in tables 1, 3, and 4 except that CHEN (48 kg CHN) began her clean and jerks {table 1} with a weight of 13 kilos and Rybakau (BLR) with 14 kilos {table 3} more than necessary to safely secure victory at the 2007 World Championships.

However, the data in table 2 is without question out of the ordinary. Five of the seven Olympic gold medalists began the clean and jerk with weights from 9 to 38 kg more than necessary to secure first place. Rather than take much smaller, “safe” weights to secure the gold medal on the first attempt, these women began the clean and jerk with much bigger weights, regardless of the risk if they were to fail three times or be injured with such big weights and as a result lose a sure gold medal.

JANG Mi – Ran (+75 kg KOR) began the clean and jerk with 175 kg (table 2), some 38 kilos more than needed to secure the gold medal. She needed only 137 kg, or three kilos less than her 140 kg snatch result to ensure the most prestigious achievement in sport.

Nevertheless, she and her coach opted to open with 175 kg, which was designed to set her on track for the world record of 186 kg third attempt which she succeeded with.



JANG Mi – Ran (KOR) seco9nbd attempt clean and jerk with 180 kg at the 2008 Olympics. Charniga photo

What has this got to do with American weightlifting? Without question were JANG an American lifter, she would have opened with a much lighter weight to play it safe. She would have then probably passed one or both of her final attempts to “save it” for the next time.

For instance, in Part I of the 2008 Olympics report, “Controversies Contrasted” ( much ado was made about an American lifter who was unable to lift in Beijing. The International Weightlifting Federation was accused of preventing him from competing, which was not true. In point of fact, he passed his third attempt clean and jerk at the US Olympic trials even though he had not achieved a result to qualify for a place at the Olympics, apparently to “save it” for the next competition.

On the other hand, JANG, a female, opted to begin the clean and jerk with such a big weight, at the most important competition of her life, as if there was no tomorrow. This decision is indicative of at least two things: 1) she came to the Olympics physically and psychologically prepared to achieve maximum results in both exercises, regardless of her competition; 2) she had such highly developed physical and psychological stability that the selection of such a big weight for a first attempt was not a risky maneuver; it was normal.  

 Charniga photo 

Table1. First attempt clean and jerk weights of 2007 female World champions relative to the minimum weight necessary to secure a gold medal.



Notations for tables: Diff. over 2nd/kg – the lead or lack thereof, of the eventual gold medalist over silver medalist after snatch; Min. kg jerk for 1st – the minimum weight the gold medalist needed to secure first place on the first attempt in the clean and jerk; 1st, kg – the weight selected for the first attempt in the clean and jerk.


  Table 2. First attempt clean and jerk weights of 2008 female Olympic champions relative to the minimum weight necessary to secure a gold medal.

Athlete/Nation Class Snatch Diff. Over 2nd Jerk for 1st 1st jerk Difference, kg Result
CHEN Xiexia/CHN 48 95 7 104 113 9 117
J Praw/THA   53 95 1 118 120 2 126
CHEN Yanqing/CHN   58 106 8 121 130 9 138
PAK Hyon Suk/PRK 63 106 -4 135 135 0 135
LIU Chunhong/CHN   69 128 13 128 145 17 158
CAO Lei/CHN 75 128 9 138 147 9 154
JANG Mi-Ran/KOR +75 140 16 137 175 38 186


Table 3. First attempt clean and jerk weights of 2007 male world champions relative to the minimum weight necessary to secure a gold medal.

Athlete/Nation class Snatch Diff. over 2nd Jerk for 1st 1st jerk Difference, Kg Result
CHA KC/PRK 56 128 -2 155 150 -5 155
YANG Fan/CHN 62 142 0 173 169 -4 173
ZHANG G/CHN 69 155 -3 184 184 0 192
Stoitsov I/BUL 77 158 -6 205 193 -12 205
Rybakau A/BLR   85 187 15 186 200 14 206
Knaostan R/RUS 94 177 4 217 211 -6 220
A.Aramnu/BLR 105 195 15 216 220 4 228
Scerbat V/LAT   +105 202 1 240 240 0 240


Table 4. First attempt clean and jerk weights of 2008 male Olympic champions relative to the minimum weight necessary to secure a gold medal.

Athlete/nation class Snatch Diff. Over 2nd Jerk for 1st 1st jerk Difference, kg Result
LONG Q/CHN  56 132 2 158 155 -3 160
ZHANG X/CHN 62 143 5 163 169 6 176
LIAO Hui/CHN 69 158 7 180 185 5 190
S. Jaehyuk/KOR 77 163 -5 203 201 -2 203
LU Yong/CHN 85 180 -5 214 208 -6 214
I. Ilyn/KAZ   94 180 1 223 223 0 226
A. Aramnau/BLR 105 200 7 224 225 1 236
M. Steiner/GER   +105 203 -7 258 246 -12 258


Like JANG, LIU Chunhong (69 kg CHN) succeeded with six attempts in Beijing; this included a first attempt in the clean and jerk with 17 kg more than needed to secure the gold medal. The activities of these two and the other five women who followed the same pattern indicates a massive psychological advantage over our lifters, some of whom won’t even put out maximum efforts even at team tryouts.

Another practical example may better illustrate the outmoded idea of “saving maximum efforts for the next meet.”

At the 2006 World Weightlifting Championships (WWC), JANG Mi – Ran (KOR) won the 75+ kg class on bodyweight with 179 kg clean and jerk.  At the 2007 WWC she again won by virtue of a tie in the total, with a lower bodyweight, with a clean and jerk of 181 kg. She won the gold medal in Beijing at the Olympics with virtually no competition. Once again in Goyang, Korea she needed only a 168 kg clean and jerk to clinch the gold medal. Her progressions in the clean and jerk to win the four gold medals were:  

Table 5. Competition attempts in the clean and jerk of JANG Mi – Ran +75 kg (KOR) at selected international competitions:

Competition 1st 2nd 3rd % world record
2006 WWC 170 175 179 95.0 182
2007 WWC 171 178 181 94.5 182
2008 OG 175 180 186 94.1 186
2009 WWC 174 174 187 93.1 187

% ratio of 1st attempt to maximum result achieved.

In this example, two championships (2006, 2207 WWC) required maximum, near world record lifts to win and two did not, but, nonetheless, the athlete followed the same game plan. JANG opened with 93 to 95% of her maximum result achieved at each competition. Maximum results were planned, regardless of other competitors. Big lifts were not “saved” for another day.

In 1968, Bob Bednarski competing in the superheavyweight class at USA National Weightlifting Championships executed the following total number of warm up and competition lifts during the course of his competition:  

Press: 92.5/1, 125/1, 147.5/1, 170/1: 190, 200, 206 (4 warm up lifts, 3 competition attempts)

Snatch: 92.5/1, 115/1, 135/1: 147.5, 155 (3 warm ups, 2 competition attempts)

C & J: 147.5/1: 192.5, 221 (1 warm up, 2 competition attempts).

Widely regarded as the most talented American weightlifter of his day, he was expected to be the first man to clean and jerk 500 lbs (227 kg) and was a sure thing for a medal at the Olympic Games of Mexico City. Having broken two world records on this day, lifting in his home town of York, Pennsylvania, it would have been the perfect opportunity to go for the 500 lb clean and jerk. But, he passed his final attempt in the clean and jerk and a possible fourth attempt should he have chosen to take two tries at this historic weight.

The decision to forego the 500 lb attempt probably was a decision governed more by the York team handlers such as Bob Hoffman than the athlete himself. The obvious rational would have been to “save it” for the upcoming Olympic Trials and the Olympics in Mexico City. This was the decision, even though the lifter had only performed a grand total of 15 warm up and competition lifts. Unfortunately, Bednarski did not make the Olympic team even though the York team handlers were “saving” him for this effort and he never approached 500 lbs in competition again.

The aforementioned prevailing opinion on this side of the Atlantic at that time, as expressed by Strength and Health, to refute the recommendations of the Hungarian national coaches {S&H 07:85:1971} of the day that a top lifter need only participate in 2 to 4 competitions per year was reflected in this decision to forego 1 to 2 attempts at a history making 500 lb clean and jerk. The idea of “saving it” reflects an unjustified fear of injury and a greatly exaggerated fear that such attempts would be so fatiguing as to have a long lasting negative effect.

However, part of the fear of injury in the minds of the coaches of that day has some justification because of the American emphasis on strength development and the low overall volume of loading would produce athletes with less flexibility and with significantly less endurance specific to weightlifting.

Unfortunately, “saving it” (maximum lifts) for the next time is an old idea, long since outmoded, but still very much alive today.  

Participation and Team Placing at International Events

”I remember when all of the members of the American team tried not to be last. I hope we never reach that point again”. Bob Hoffman { S&H 02:17:1966}

Stockholm 1958

In his report of the 1958 World Weightlifting Championships in Strength and Health, Bob Hoffman noted: “As soon as we returned from Stockholm and the 1958 World Championships, people on every side wanted to know what happened to us over there. ‘You took an awful licking’” { S&H 01:6:1959}. Further on Hoffman pointed out: “It’s true that the record shows that the Soviets won five first places, the USA only two. We were outscored 45 to 34. Let’s not forget, however, that we had only a six-man team. With a full complement our score would have been higher.”

The reason the USA entered six men in Stockholm instead of seven was the fact that the technical rules of the day did not permit a country to enter two men in the same weight class. Consequently, if you wanted to enter a full team of seven as the Soviets did, for instance, you had no choice but to enter a guy in each of the seven weight classes. The USA did not have the depth in each weight class, so selected only six guys who had a chance to medal.

Bob Hoffman and future International Weightlifting president Clarence Johnson attended the International Weightlifting Federation conference held in conjunction with the championships.

According to Hoffman, “We were interested in just one proposal, our own, which called for a change in the rules to allow each country to be represented by a seven man team, two men to be permitted to lift in one class if a man is omitted from another class. Last year the rule was passed by a single vote which permitted only one man to a class, and that prevented us from taking a lifter such as Jim Bradford, Clyde Emerich, or Norbert Schemansky to Stockholm, any one of whom could have made a creditable showing and won some points by placing among the first six. Every point counts. There have been times in the past when we won because two men were permitted to lift in one class…. Now we have a chance for the future, particularly for the Rome Olympics in 1960.”  

It would seem from the statement, “Now we have a chance for the future…” that the rule change made at the 1957 World Championships was some sort of communist plot to subjugate the free world from fielding a competitive team at the world championships. After all, the Russians entered a full team of seven lifters, one in each weight class at the 1958 Championships.

The overturning of the rule of 1957 in 1958 notwithstanding, the following year at the 1959 World Championships in Warsaw, the USA, once again, only entered a six man team and placed third behind the USSR and Poland. The change in rules to permit a country to enter two men in one weight class, which Hoffman believed would help the USA in the team standings in the future, was a rule change that any country could take advantage of.

Consequently, lest the reader think the communists were behind the rule change of 1957, the following countries entered full teams with two men in at least one weight class in 1959: USSR, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria. The rule change of 1958, overturning the new rule of 1957, did not produce the desired effect. The USA team slipped to third place from second and for the first time placed behind an East European country (Poland) other than the Soviet Union.  

In his report of the 1959 championships Hoffman wrote: “Circumstance prevented the United States from being represented by a full team…. This unbalanced team faced stronger competition than ever before.” Ostensibly, Hoffman’s unbalanced team referred to our two entries in the superheavyweight class. The first place (the USSR) and second place (Poland) teams at this championships were “unbalanced” as well.

Clueless in Beijing

A lifting journal in Austria bluntly stated, “Take away the American champions and what is left could be beaten by practically every country in Europe.” Ray Van Cleef, {S & H 04:55:1959}

Fast forward from 1958 to the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships in Thailand. This competition was one of the two major qualifying events for the 2008 Olympics. The USA sent a full team of both men and women. The initial team placing of the USA men’s team earned the USA the right to enter three men at the 2008 Olympics.

The usual doping controls were performed at this particular championships, with one exception. In addition to the stipulated three medalists and a random in each weight class, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), at the behest of the International Weightlifting Federation, performed unannounced controls of athletes in the training hall and the athletes’ quarters. These measures resulted in some 6 to 7 positive cases which may not have occurred with the usual testing protocols.


WADA official looks for athletes for no notice – out – of – competition testing in training hall at 2007 world championships in Chang Mai, Thailand. Charniga photo

The “clean” American men’s team dropped one place from its initial ranking in the team standings when all of the positives were factored in to the team scoring. This bizarre circumstance was hard to understand from the American standpoint because the propaganda justifying a team ranking of 34th stipulates the other teams all cheat and the international federation does not conduct testing.

Some published, ignorant remarks may shed some light as to why a lack of comprehension for the drop in team ranking: “The U.S. appeared to have qualified for three slots after a good performance at the 2007 World Championships. However, those slots were lost when the U.S. dropped in the team rankings after the IWF reshuffled the grid to account for positive doping tests. Snethen criticized the recalculation, saying it was unfair that the U.S. team fell in the rankings, even though it didn’t have any positive tests. ‘It just seems the U.S. could not get a break. I don’t know what it is,’ he said.”

First, 34th place in the team rankings at the world championships for a full team of eight men is not “a good performance.”

Second, obviously the American official did not understand or did not bother to do the math for the IWF’s predetermined method of tallying the points scored by each team’s athletes, for the two world championships qualifying events.

Third, the USA did not deserve a break after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to send two full teams to two qualifying championships and placing only a lowly 34th.

Fourth, and most importantly, the current tactic of US weightlifting to circumvent a lack of competitiveness by outspending the other countries with a full team of lifters, none of whom have a shot at even sixth place, analogous to Hoffman’s idea to change the rules in 1958, likewise backfires, because more competitive teams, even ones with fewer athletes, will prevail.

Genny Pagliarullo (ITA) selected for no notice – out – of – competition testing in the training hall of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Charniga Photo

Endeavoring to achieve a favorable team placing at the major international events, regardless of the team’s depth and competiveness, is not a viable strategy. This is obvious from the history of the rise and fall of American weightlifting beginning in the 1930s. Our team of 2007 could not even dream of Hoffman’s complaint of 1958, where he lamented the second place finish of the USA’s six man team.

For instance, consider the data in tables 5 and 6.

At the 1937 World Weightlifting Championships the USA team placed third behind the prewar powers Germany and Austria. A total of 50 lifters participated, 43 of whom were Europeans.

The USA placed second in the 1938 world championships in Vienna, Austria pushing the home team Austria into third place. However, there were only 38 competitors at this competition, only 26 of whom were Europeans. Of no small consequence to the decline in numbers and the lower placing of Austria was the fact that the Nazis were in the process of occupying the country at the same time as the championships were being held by absorbing it into the Third Reich.    

At the 1958 World Championships in Stockholm, Hoffman pushed for the rule change allowing a team to enter two men in a weight class because the USA had dropped further behind the USSR in team points from the 1957 competition (but still in second place). However, there were 96 competitors in 1958 versus only 76 at the 1957 championships in Tehran (table 5).

Furthermore, in 1957 there were only 39 Europeans in the competition as opposed to 73 in 1958. By the 1959 championships, even though the number of entrants slipped, the USA team dropped to third.

At the present time when the number of male entrants of the World Championships approaches 300 (3 to 4 times the participants of the 1950s), the USA is ten times further behind the lowest team placing of the 1950s (3rd in 1959) to 30th or 34th place.

Table 5. Participants at select World Weightlifting Championships from various continents (G. Schodl, IWF annual book, 2009 supplement)

City Year Athletes Nations Africa America Asia Europe Oceana
Vienna 1898 11 3 0 0 0 11 0
Vienna 1908 23 2 0 0 0 23 0
Vienna 1920 74 4 0 0 0 74 0
Vienna 1923 76 7 0 0 0 76 0
Paris 1937 50 10 0 7 0 43 0
Vienna 1938 38 11 6 6 0 26 0
Paris 1946 79 13 5 6 0 68 0
Philadelphia 1947 39 12 0 26 3 10 0
Teheran 1957 76 21 0 6 31 39 0
Stockholm 1958 96 27 2 11 8 73 2
Warsaw 1959 85 19 1 6 10 68 0
Warsaw 1969 166 37 2 22 27 113 2
Thessalonkiki 1979 189 39 6 23 31 122 7
Athens 1989 220 37 8 22 44 136 10
Athens 1999 395 79 26 50 79 224 16
Goyang 2009 196 57 17 29 60 82 8

A similar picture emerges from a review of participation rates at the Olympic Games in table 6. The apex of American power in Olympic weightlifting occurred at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. However, there were fifteen fewer total participants in Melbourne compared with London in 1948 which also happened to have fifteen fewer (34 as opposed to 49) Europeans. By 1960, when the USA won its last gold medal in the Olympics, the start list had ballooned to 173 athletes, with more than twice the number of European lifters of 79.

Table 6. Participants at Select Olympic Games from various continents (G. Schodl, IWF annual book, 2009 supplement)

City Year Athletes Nations Africa America Asia Europe Oceana
Paris 1924 16 16 1 3 0 103 0
Los Angeles 1932 29 8 0 11 0 18 0
berlin 1936 80 15 8 10 4 58 0
London 1948 120 30 10 39 19 49 0
Melbourne 1956 105 34 3 21 39 34 8
Rome 1960 173 53 16 28 42 79 8
Mexico City 1968 160 55 3 47 37 70 3
Montreal 1976 173 45 2 35 27 103 6
Seoul 1988 228 62 25 35 52 101 15
Atlanta 1996 246 77 12 35 55 127 17
Beijing 2008 167 68 11 24 47 75 10


So, What About Drugs?

As has already mentioned repeatedly, for some time the all  purpose, all  encompassing  excuse for American mediocrity in weightlifting is the issue of performance enhancing substances, i.e., the winners use them, the losers don’t. However, to be fair, this excuse is not peculiar to the USA, by any means.

Although something about this issue with regards to Strength and Health magazine has already been covered, particularly as it pertains to the initial euphoria over the introduction of the power rack; just how this issue was handled in the pages of the magazine was to have an impact beyond the pages of the magazine.

Unfortunately, the aura of drugs in sport, of doping in sport, creates a climate that is  an unsavory combination of “enlightened ignorance” and a mind  numbing psychological hysteria.

We have already discredited the mathematical speculation of Dr. J. Fair that the USA fell behind the Russians in the 1950s because they supposedly were using anabolic steroids and we were not. So this issue need not be revisited. However, episodically, the topic of anabolics was covered in Strength and Health.

Escorts wait off stage during awards ceremony, following LI Liying (63 kg) and LI Ping (53 kg)for doping control at the 2009 Chinese national games in J’inan, Shandong providence, China. Charniga photos



For instance in 1966 and again in 1967 Dr. John Ziegler wrote two articles about the dangers of abusing these substances {S&H 08:34:1966}. One of these articles {S&H 1:23:1967} discussed the dangers of anabolics and teenagers. There is a great deal of irony surrounding these articles. Because, in point of fact, the man who has been widely credited, and, he was proud to take credit, with letting the genie out of the bottle in American weightlifting, endeavored to put the top back on that very same bottle.

By the time Ziegler’s second article was published in 1967, any doubts as to the efficacy of these substances were put to rest with the publication of a scientific research article by Johnson and O’ Shea {S&H 08:36:1969}. Their study proved that anabolics were effective in increasing strength. The research of Johnson and O’Shea was ground breaking and very controversial. At that time, the medical community wanted the public to believe these substances were ineffective.

However, this dichotomy of “they work but don’t use them” was to be repeated in the pages of Strength and Health and has some bearing on the current state of affairs in American weightlifting.

Assistant editor of Strength and Health George Lugrin wrote an article entitled “Anabolics and the Teenager” {S&H 10:58:1970}. The gist of the article was the author advised teens not to use these drugs.

However, the advice also reflected the prevailing dichotomy of that day. “As I said let your body adjust metabolically; let it mature. Then anabolic steroids, if needed as an ergogenic aid, can be considered. They should be the last artificial aid used by an athlete.”

The phrase “anabolic steroids, if needed as an ergogenic aid” really required volumes of explanation, but no explanation was forthcoming. Since the issue of drug use and teenagers was being addressed in the pages of a magazine devoted to promoting good health, use of anabolics by teenagers, apparently, was already becoming widespread.

Nonetheless, there was no dichotomy in a subsequent article by Strength and Health managing editor Bill Starr published in 1971 “Anabolics and Amphetamines” {S&H 02:54:1971}. Although he repeated the same advice as Lugrin, “One should not even consider using anabolics until he’s out of his teens,” this is the same advice many smoking parents gave their kids about smoking of “don’t do what I do.”

Starr’s article caused a bit of an uproar and he departed York not long after. Some of the information and attitudes presented in this article are pertinent to the American training system and the prolonged decline of American weightlifting. Here are the most poignant comments that need to be addressed:

1)”Anabolics are being used by just about everyone in the sport. I seriously doubt if there were over two lifters at this year’s Senior Nationals who were not using anabolics in one form or another.”

2) “You can chart any lifter in this country and tell almost to the month when he started using anabolics. Generally the lifter moved up a class and at the same time his total started to climb.”

3) “I see no immorality in the use of anabolics….I believe it is also the view of the vast majority of the lifters in this country.”

4) “There is as much evidence in at this stage of the game to show that you will live longer if you use anabolics than if you do not.”

5) “There are also powerfully positive effects that should be considered. I saw one lifter’s hand heal so rapidly after taking 14 stitches that even the doctor was amazed.”

6) “Once again, I believe the only thing unfair about the use of amphetamines is to have them and not let your opponent have the same advantage.”

7) “I do believe that anabolics are safe when used properly and that they do result in substantial strength gain. I believe that amphetamines do bring positive results to some lifters and are not harmful when used properly….”

If statement number one is to be believed, at least 45 of the 47 lifters who competed in the 1970 USA National Weightlifting Championships {S & H 08:34:1970} were using anabolics. And, taking the statement a step further, since the claim is that “just about everyone in the sport” is using these drugs, this means either everyone in this country or abroad use them, which would make this practice about as common in the weightlifting community as drinking coffee.

This statement was extremely irresponsible. The reader is lead to believe if you are not using these drugs, you are out of touch. It had to have created some sort of pressure to use these agents or be left out.

The minds of the athletes, who would read and believe this statement, were being set up for a psychological pratfall. What if they were to discover they were defeated in competition by someone who does not use drugs or they are beaten soundly by someone who presumably is using drugs?

Obviously, these substances would not have been the difference between their results and those of their competitors. This is the only truism about performance enhancing substances in elite sport: before they existed in sport, after they were introduced, and after the introduction of testing and its continued evolution in sophistication, the best athletes and those among the best athletes who train harder prevail.  

Statement number two has some credibility because this is what happened with the first group of American lifters who received anabolics from Dr. Ziegler. They gained weight, they moved up a weight class, and their results jumped. But it also lacks credibility because there was no American training system; no data accumulated from many years of training many weightlifters, i.e., precluding an objective evaluation of rate of progress over the long term, including the relative effectiveness of a rise in bodyweight, was documented.

The third statement about immorality is fine; he has a right to express his opinion, but it must be pointed out that the International Olympic Committee had banned the use of these performance enhancing substances already in the 1960s. Furthermore, although there was no reliable test for anabolics at this time, this article was published just after the first testing for amphetamines occurred at the 1970 World Weightlifting Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The positives at this championships caused an uproar, and, not too many years thereafter, the first test for anabolics was introduced at the Montreal Olympiad in 1976 with the same effect.

So, the question of immorality is rather moot, when there is no testing for the anabolics. No one could be guilty of breaking the rules unless he admitted using these drugs. Essentially the author wrote the use of these substances is acceptable because everybody is doing it; the issue as to whether it was against the rules was stated simply with “The policy has been to deny their use.”

The fourth statement is of course categorically false. Were there any shred of truth to it, the pharmaceutical companies could not possibly keep up with demand for “tablets.” Furthermore, the notion that use of these drugs would lead to a premature death has more truth to it than the idea you will live longer if you use anabolics.

Statement number five is of course a huge welcome mat for anyone not using these substances. They would feel they are missing out if they did not use anabolics.  

Number six about it not being “unfair” to use amphetamines leaves out the issue that amphetamine use was already banned and that testing for these drugs had already begun, in the USA no less. Some lifters lost their medals as a result of testing positive for amphetamines at the 1970 World Weightlifting Championships.  

The author was not qualified and probably no one else at that time was qualified to determine the safety of anabolics and amphetamines, especially since there are absolutely no specifics offered as to how one uses them “properly.” However, in our opinion the most damage inflicted on American weightlifting from this article is that the author advocates the use of these drugs without having a functional grasp as to how these substances should have been used. Adding a training aid to a system which was “no system” had a marginal effectiveness in the long term.

For instance, when he states, “they do result in substantial strength gain,” as has been already covered in this treatise, Americans were not lacking in strength in comparison with the Europeans; authorities such as Olympic champion Rudolf Plukfelder said as much. What they were lacking was an American training system; they were lacking in flexibility, speed, and endurance. The American lifters needed to employ more qualitative time in the gym, which is where the use of anabolics, euphemistically called restoratives, by Soviet sport scientists such as Alexei Medvedyev, would be most useful.

For instance, one of the preeminent Soviet sport scientists specializing in weightlifting Robert Roman (“Training of the Bulgarian Weightlifters”, Tiiazhelaya Atletika Yezhegodnik, 41-42 : 1974) noted that one of the principle reasons for the rise of the Bulgarian weightlifters of the late 1960s and early 1970s was, “Another factor is the significant increase in the volume of the training load which up until this time had not been employed by weightlifters at the international level.”  

Was the Bulgarian team of the early 1970s using essentially the same pharmaceuticals as the Americans and the Russians at this time, probably; even more likely the Bulgarians had fewer to choose from than the “just a few of the most common” Starr listed in his article: “Dianabol, Winstrol, Anavar, Nenavar, Durabolin, Methyltestosterone.” However, the Bulgarian team used the “restoratives” to execute a volume of training work which was, up until that time, unheard of.  




In referring back to the section entitled “No Warm Up, Six Sets of Presses and A Shower,” obviously, these substances were used by some of our athletes as toys for quick strength gain.  Statements from the Hungarian coaches published in Strength and Health such as: “Speed and strength combined will manifest themselves in flexibility…. The more flexible the lifter the more weight he can negotiate,” were just words devoid of any special meaning.

Lacking a domestic training system, drugs were just another training toy, much like the power rack, except they were not overtly for sale in the pages of Strength and Health. As the strength and conditioning profession evolved in the USA beginning in the early 1960s, those two toys, drugs and the power rack, became a part of the professional strength coach’s arsenal.

Consider for a moment the data presented in table 7. The top results in selected weight classes of the 1970 USA national championships are contrasted with the top results achieved by the US national team at the 1970 World Weightlifting Championships in Columbus, Ohio later that same year.

Table 7. Top results at USA 1970 National Weightlifting Championships compared with best results of USA lifters at 1970 World Weightlifting Championships and World records as of 12/31/1970

weight class exercise US nat. kg USA 1970 WWC result Difference, kg 1970 WWC best result 1970 world record*
60 kg Snatch 102.5 NE 115.0 125.5
60 kg C & J   134 NE 147.5 153.0
75 kg Snatch 127.5 0 142.5 145.0
75 kg C & J   172.5 0 180.0 187.5
82.5 kg Snatch 147.5 142.5 -5 150.0 152.5
82.5 kg C & J   186.0 182.5 -3.5 190.0 192.5
90 kg Snatch 139.0 140.0 +1 160.0 161.5
90 kg C & J   188.0 190.0 +2 202.5 202.5
110 kg Snatch 152.5 150.0 -2.5 160.0 165.5
110 kg C & J   202.5 200.0 -2.5 210.0 215.0
+110 kg Snatch 157.5 165.0 +7.5 172.5 177.0
+110 kg C & J   223.0 205.0 -18 227.0 229.5

Notations: US nat. kg: best result at US nationals 1970; USA 1970 WWC result: best USA result at 1970 world championships; Diff: Difference between best result at USA Nationals and best result of USA national team at 1970 World Weightlifting championships; 1970 WWC best result: best result at the 1970 World weightlifting championships

*World records on December 31, 1970; NE – no entry at world championships

According to the claims in the Starr article, no more than two lifters who competed at the 1970 nationals, were not using anabolic agents. The top results of the 1970 US nationals are substantially below the top results achieved by the USA national team at the world championships later that same year. Furthermore, in only three individual cases were the best results of the US nationals exceeded or even equaled by the US national team which competed in Columbus later that same year.

The US was the home team, with virtually no travel related issues such as strange food, major time zone shifts, prolonged overseas travel; according to Starr, they were on relatively equal footing as far as usage of performance enhancing agents was concerned. Yet, the overwhelming majority of the results of the national team in Columbus were lower than achieved earlier in the year at the USA Nationals; they were not very competitive with the international results in Columbus.

The disparity between international results and those of the USA are obvious. Several of the world records established at the 1970 European championships earlier in the year were exceeded in Columbus by these same athletes, who would be expected to have experienced travel related problems coming to Columbus, such as jet lag, and strange food.

The use of performance enhancing drugs was not the difference between the results of the USA and the rest of the world by the end of the 1950s. Based on what Mr. Starr indicates in the article, obviously  it was not in the 1970s and is certainly not the difference today. The drug excuse, with a minimum of analysis, is just another lame excuse laid to rest.

The aforementioned author of “Anabolics and Amphetamines” competed in the 110 kg class at the 1970 USA national championships where he claimed, “I seriously doubt if there were over two lifters at this year’s Senior Nationals who were not using anabolics in one form or another.” Three of the six men who made a total in this class, at this competition, snatched 137.5 kg or less, including the author Bill Starr.

At the 2009 Chinese National Games weightlifting competition a 21 year old female Chinese lifter Zhou Lulu, weighing about 130 kg, snatched 148 kg; two other females in this class made 138 and 140 kg respectively. There was no testing for performance enhancing agents at the USA national championships, where according to the author, a veritable pharmaceutical cornucopia of anabolic agents were known to be available, and that “just about everyone” was using these substances. The athletes who competed at the Chinese National Games were subjected to sophisticated out of competition and in competition testing for an extraordinary wide range of performance enhancing substances.

Obviously, it is a bit of a stretch to compare these results about 40 years apart, male and female. However, the point is that if the men who used the anabolic and stimulant drugs of the day to develop strength for weightlifting used them to improve results without significantly increasing the overall volume of work, and especially the time in the gym to improve all three lifts (not just twenty minutes some days on the military press), the benefits they obtained from their use was nothing to write home about.

For instance, the Chinese female who beat Zhou Lulu at this competition made a result of 186 kg in the clean and jerk. This weight would have been the third highest weight achieved in this exercise in the 110 kg class at the 1970 USA national championships and the seventh highest lift in the clean and jerk of the entire championships. This 186 kg was also 21 more than the 165 kg Doug Hepburn lifted in the clean and jerk at the 1953 World Weightlifting Championships to become the world’s strongest man.        

The article by Starr resulted in the publication of a number of letters to the editor, generally reflecting opinions diametrically opposed to those presented in the article. One letter in particular stands out. The letter from a C. Ameduri {S&H 05-6:8:1971} is full of moralistic platitudes. He soundly chastised the author for a lack of knowledge. However, one comment is poignant: “Can you imagine what possible harm you have done? Many youngsters are not going to read your single weak statement against their use. Many are going to take them without supervision and with bad results.”

There is a lot of truth to what Ameduri stated. The usage of these agents was promoted without a basic concept of how to integrate these “training aids” into some logical training system. In our opinion that is the most damage the article could inflict on the gullible reader.

There are no recommendations, for instance, to increase the number of workouts per week, increase the number of workouts in the press, the snatch, and the clean jerk, the number of lifts in these exercises with 90% and above weights, increase the frequency of competitions in conjunction with the use of anabolics. Basically, the reader is left with the impression to take drugs to get stronger.

Two papers by A.S. Medvedyev about the effect of performance enhancing substances on the spike in world weightlifting records in the late 1960s into the 1980s (reviewed at indicated the training volume of the Soviet national team increased by 40% with the use of these chemicals. Even though the increased loading came from mostly pulls and squats, exercises which do not have a direct bearing on improvement of the snatch and the clean and jerk, the fact of the matter was that the lifters increased the time spent in the gym.

This is in contrast to the Strength and Health article which in the context of the training methods of the day meant that the variety of drugs available were new toys that be could used along with the other toy, the power rack, to get stronger. The marginal effectiveness of these toys are evident from the data in table 7. In fact, George Lugrin {S&H 04:29:1971} made an indirect swipe at the team’s performance in Columbus when he wrote about weightlifter of the year Phil Grippaldi, “After pacing a choked up American team in Columbus.”

What could make a grown man cry on national television?

First you lie about it, eventually, you cry about it, and then it is OK!

“The forgiving fans in St. Louis greeted new Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire today with a standing ovation that dwarfed the reception for World Series winning manager Tony La Russa during ceremonies before the team’s home opener at Busch Stadium.” (USA Today, April 12, 2010)

The scope of the problem surrounding the use of banned substances, of doping in sport has been exacerbated by the testing for these agents by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the international governing bodies of the individual Olympic sports. It has complicated the issue; not because athletes can be suspended from competitions as a result of sophisticated testing to determine what an athlete has ingested or otherwise introduced into his/her body, but because of the sometimes pathetic circumstances the results of the testing bring to light. You have to wonder if the alternative of no testing could be worse.

For instance, some recent events serve to illustrate this point. Up until 1993 there was no ban on the use of anabolics and other agents like growth hormone in professional baseball. These agents were officially banned in 1993. However, professional baseball did not implement testing for these substances. Since no professional stepped forward and admitted breaking the rules and by doing so lost upwards of a multi – million dollar salary, baseball was squeaky clean. Officially, since there were no tests, there were no positives; therefore, there was  no proof there were drugs in baseball.

Professional baseball conducted the first tests for anabolics in 2003. The testing was non punitive and results were not made public, i.e., still no drugs in baseball.

Some of the baseball players who were tested in 2003 were asked publicly if they ever used anabolic steroids or growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs. Some denied ever using these drugs, a lie by commission, or basically evaded or refused to answer the question, a lie by omission. Still, there were no drugs in baseball.  

The results of the testing of 2003 eventually became known to the public. One high profile player, Mark McGwire, who previously had denied using the drugs or evaded answering the question, finally made a tearful admission on national television. The hypocrisy of such a pathetic spectacle was obvious. There was no crying in baseball during the times the athlete injected himself in various bathroom stalls, or was assisted by other players doing the same. No crying while lying. There certainly would have been no crying on TV were his use of banned drugs not exposed. So, there is crying in baseball after all, and it is OK.

Introduced into the Olympic program in 1984 by the USA, the IOC gave both baseball and softball the boot, in part for being second only to cycling as the sport with the most positive doping cases on the Olympic program.

That example is part of the ugly side of sport brought to light by testing. An even uglier side comes to light with today’s oft heard excuse that the Americans are light years behind in weightlifting because the rest of the world uses banned substances and we do not.  

The history of American weightlifting offers clear parallels with the history of performance enhancing substances in professional Baseball. Only a select few lifters used the drugs at first. No one else was actually aware they existed. Later when usage became widespread and the drugs were banned by the governing bodies, in the absence of testing, lifters simply ignored the rules. There was no real question of morality.

The advent of testing created proof positive these agents were being used in weightlifting which lead to denials (out and out lies) just as in baseball. And finally, the part worse than the crying in baseball is the argument that the “others,” the “others” being those lifters who are 12 to 20 places above in the final results of international competitions, use these agents and we don’t; that is why they do better.

Some final observations concerning the “era of old ideas”

At the beginning of Part V we noted Strength and Health reported that the world’s strongest man had challenged Floyd Patterson, then the current heavyweight champion of the world in boxing; and accordingly: “Patterson would be annihilated were he to come to grips against the strongest man on earth” in a free  for  all bout.” {S & H 02:05:1959}. This bravado is indicative of several things.

First, a gross overestimation of the versatility and practical applicability of absolute strength to dynamic sports such as boxing;

Second, absolute strength plays a very small part in the complexity of physical qualities which comprise the skill needed to be a champion boxer, an art practiced for thousands of years;

Third, the training of the world’s strongest man of the 1950s would have created an athlete who would have been a “sitting duck” for any skilled boxer, much less the heavyweight champion of the world.

For instance, when a boxer is still standing, even moving about the ring but has been pummeled enough times by his opponent that he becomes helpless to defend himself, he, in the special vernacular of boxing, is said to be “out on his feet.” The match is halted and the opponent is declared the winner.

So, in point of fact, it is fortunate that according to Strength and Health there was no chance Floyd Patterson would accept the challenge, because had this match been arranged, before the world’s strongest man realized he was on his feet to begin the bout, Floyd Patterson would have rendered him “out on his feet.”

The training methodology of the world’s strongest man of the 1950s was about as suitable preparation for this athlete to take on the heavyweight champion of the world in boxing as it would be today for the same athlete to challenge the world’s strongest man in Olympic weightlifting.