The 2022 World Weightlifting Championships

Andrew Charniga

The 2022 World Weightlifting Championships in Bogota, Colombia

“Kangasniemi (90 kg), the Finnish superman, put on the finest display of lifting of the entire meet. He made his first eight attempts. He power cleaned 380 (172.5 kgs) for his press and caught his 155 snatch at parallel”. Bob Hoffman, Strength and Health magazine, 12/1968.  {reporting on the results of the 1968 Olympic weightlifting competition held in Mexico City, Mexico: 2,195 meters above sea level}

Congratulations and many thanks to the Colombian weightlifting federation. They were excellent hosts for this crucial event. The volunteers were especially helpful and courteous. Accommodations, food, training, transportation: all were high level.

An unfortunate circumstance connected with this event were some, not just unjustified; but, pathetic excuses; founded in ignorance; by some athletes and coaches; to place blame for a sea of reds on Bogota’s above sea level location. Consequently, with so many rojos; there was not as much in the way of good weightlifting; as in past; to write home about. Therefore, a good bit of this report will deal with logical, reasonable reasons for the most part, abject failure of some coaches and athletes to prepare adequately for high level competition in an era of digitized ignorance of weightlifting sport. 

Furthermore, unjustifiably attributing athletes’ poor performances on the platform to the host country’s location is, to say the least, rude; even crass; because it is not true.

  ‘The Knowledge of Now’

‘The Knowledge of Now’ is an expression of beliefs of the present; precluding foresight and especially hindsight; that is to say an Orwellian concept of the sole existence of a present tense.  ‘The Knowledge of Now’ was the foundation of belief for the excuses manifesting a sea of red lifts, which plagued the competitions in Bogota. That is to say, the 8,000 feet above sea level location of Bogota caused so much distress; lifters were missing lifts right and left. There were so many misses; it was more than noticeable; it morphed into a disease; a red menace. For example, the 61 kg mens’ ‘A’ session made 3 of 10 each on 1st and 2nd attempts (30% success rate) snatch; and, had LI Fabin not made his 3rd C&J for the world record; the class would have recorded a 10 for 10 missed 3rd attempts in the clean and jerk.

Figure1. The world’s strongest man showed his metal by winning over a tough field of competitors. The heart of a champion shown through. Charniga photo. 

Conditions predisposing to rojos

There were about 50 platforms in the training hall. What was missing; for instance, were the number of disciplined teams from communist or post communist countries. In the well – lit training hall in Thailand, for example, the PRK team separated the female team from the men; likewise the Chinese, i.e., for the people who were there to do well; this is a very serious business. Why would it be a problem intermingling the sexes? I don’t know; with young fit girls stretching and twisting about in tights and halter tops; no distractions there?

A boom box playing music while a team trained?

Loredana (ROM) who did very well at 71; typically went through a no laughs, no music, non-jovial monotony of training for impending competition; indicative of the seriousness, of the intensity of which, were the palliatives for muscle and joint soreness that accompanies a severe training regimen.  The discomfit is obvious from across the room. Apparently, the thin air of Bogota did not have a physiological affect; as to negatively impact her setting a world record in snatch and besting two Chinese lifters for 1st place.

“Talts (USSR) salvaged some glory with a 197.5 kg world record in the clean and jerk. The Olympic snatch record was broken seven times in the course of the day.” Bob Hoffman, Strength and Health magazine, 12/1968.  {reporting on the results of the 1968 Olympic weightlifting competition held in Mexico City, Mexico: 2,195 meters above sea level}

A day or two after competing two female lifters engaged in a tandem clean jerk display (and risk of injury) to lift up to 200 kgs in a clean and jerk; with coach watching. These two made only one clean and jerk each in their respective competitions.

Logical cause – effect explanations for the avalanche of rojos at the 2022 WWC

For the record, weightlifting training by its very nature is hypoxic: straining while breath holding, i.e., intense exercise with no air. Moreover, according to Vorobeyev, weightlifting training: straining while holding the breath stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells. So, weightlifters already have some built in adaptations to exercise in no air; let alone thin air.  

1/ lack of concentration, focus, discipline; especially in the final workouts before the competition in the training hall;

Young people are forever posting videos to be famous; muscle snatches, big squat and so forth: psychological distractions for concentration and physiological detriments for coordination; anti – preparedness activities for those specific instants that matter the most: on the platform.

2/  too many lifters doing too many non – specific, dumb exercises, in the lead up to and close proximity to the competition; which have no bearing on coordination in the classic exercises; with the possibility of deleterious affects on success in the competition with maximum weights. Two of the most popular exercises having no proven or even suspected positive influence on the classic exercises: push press (for the snatch???) and muscle snatch.

For instance: last year’s world champion who purportedly increased his assistance exercise weights in muscle snatch and push press; showed the following results:

2021 WWC: 187 (miss world record 190) + 213 = 400

2022 WWC: 185   (no attempt at WR) + 212 = 397

His total receded by 3 kilos over the course of a year along with improved results in muscle snatch.

Since many are looking to the Chinese women for training inspiration;  some Chinese women were doing set after set of repetition push press; the other, muscle snatch upon muscle snatch upon muscle snatch; 1-2 days out from their competition. None of these females made as much as 4 of 6 attempts in their respective competitions. While one of the girls were push pressing; the coach would stand behind her with his hands on her lumbar area???? The coach looked to be performing some functional training voodoo; endeavoring to make sure she ‘activated’ those small, special, hard to reach muscles. The two Chinese push pressers, did not perform that well; even though they are elite athletes from a country with plenty of money and 1.5 billion people.

Another Chinese coach, piled 25, 20, 15 kg discs on a male lifter’s lumbar area as he was stretched out between two benches: a static hold in preparation for dynamic work? A dumb exercise for dynamic sport. Why do isometric back exercise this close to competition when lifters are already doing the lifts, squats, pulls and so forth? Like the females on the team; the Chinese males did not perform very well.

3/ extraneous distractions: too many people (who don’t know what they think they know) wandering about the training hall with cameras. Lifters think they are going to be on the internet and want to show off with big squat, big pull, push press; for all the world to see; that is besides already so many playing with cell phones;

Night after night of rojos, it has becoming more and more evident the digital video influence has a negative affect; in addition to coaches who are not very knowledgeable of the actual nuts and bolts of training weightlifters for competitions; especially the error of copying what the Chinese do; and or, the machinations of Youtube gurus. These are the main culprits behind the avalanche of reds.

4/ not enough time spent practicing the skills requisite to lift maximum weights on the platform; especially balance and equilibrium;

Figure 2. Frequently, even at this level of competition, lifters rush to the bar, grip and begin lifting without first getting set, without feeling balanced, without a kinesthetic awareness of the body and barbell in the large open space in front of their viewpoint. Invariably the attempts are lost not for lack of strength; just simply poor mechanics stemming  from a rush to lift without first establishing balance.  By the way, this circumstance happens quite often. Many misses were not for lack of strength; but due to poor balance; a lack of kinesthetic awareness. Experienced coaches should be able to recognize this; most don’t. Charniga photo.

Without a doubt the majority of misses in competition, at any elevation above sea level, are connected with a lack of skill. This circumstance is  especially true, the heavier the weight relative to the lifter’s bodyweight. There are far more lifts missed for inability to balance the athlete-barbell unit; and/or the ability to control and utilize the oscillation of the barbell; than for lack of strength. Yet, the majority of lifters are practice strength exercises incessantly in the lead up to the competitions.

5/ excuses with potentially negative psychological impact spread by word of mouth:

1/ psychological suggestion for failure):  “Everyone” is talking about the negative effect of the altitude; how it is causing all the misses, i.e.,  spreading a psychological disease by word of mouth. An extraneous reason for failure. It is not me, ‘I’m ok, your ok’; it’s the thin air.

“I remember years ago Dave Sheppard talking about competing in the Pan Am Games at high altitude. He was telling everybody how great it was and it really helped his lifting. So much for the excuse of the air..”, Lou Demarco, USA international weightlifting coach

2/ official {psychological} detriment: excessive, psychologically damaging; oversight by the jury; unnecessarily turning down lifts with elbow flicker; even though realistic expectation precludes the possibility of flicker-less elbows in raising maximum weights with barbells possessing elastic properties.   

A 102 kg lifter was a poster child example of this detriment. His 1st attempt jerk was over-turned by the jury; for no good reason. An abomination. He was unable to clean the weight on his next attempt.

What can go through a lifter’s mind in the interim after a perfectly valid lift to make a correction: of what?; how to please the officials? Maybe he would have thought: “I did everything right; now how do I please these people”?

The poor guy, finally made the weight on his 3rd; with excessive effort to lock his elbows; an inherent risk of injury. A potential predisposing risk of injury, added to insult of unjustified reds.

Psychologically detrimental circumstances such as this one were repeated numerous times throughout the competitions. One can say with confidence an unjustified officials’ reds; predisposes the victim to miss lifts; possibly even other lifters in the same session can be affected. How many lifts were missed due to this unquantified, ‘officials’ psychological detriment; who knows?

Figure 3. World record holder in the clean and jerk Nasar Karlos May (BUL) had to overcome jet lag to set a world record in the Clean and jerk. Charniga photo 

A valid argument could be made that between the actual physics of a bending/recoiling bar at the instant of lockout in snatch and jerk; kinesthetic illusions from vibration of the bar at lockout could frequently trigger muscle antagonists (biceps for instance)  to fire reflexively as the lifter is trying to hold arms locked; causing a small flex in the elbow joint. This is a logical assumption as when most lifts are turned down; the lifter has fully extended the arms; then a slight elbow flex occurs. The physiological effects of vibration on the body are a known unknown; especially the vibration induced reactions of muscle antagonists in weightlifting.

Figure 4. Flexibility and balance are critical components of success with 90 – 100%  weights; often overlooked in the lead up to competitions. Charniga photo

It is likely the excessive oscillations created by lifting a barbell (the 15 kg lady bar) with the elasticity of a fishing rod can trigger who knows what physiological effects. As predicted in several articles, the women of the lightest classes 45 – 64 experience the most problems controlling the barbell; especially as the weight approaches 200% of body weight. Officials do not consider these issues when adjudicating elbow flickers.

‘The Knowledge of Now’ can foster a debilitating atmosphere false beliefs; sans history, common sense is completely lacking. Weightlifters have competed at altitude in the past with good results:

“Nassiri (56 kgs) provided the thrills on the first day. “.. after trailing by 10 kgs… the minature microbe, clean and jerked the Olympic and world record 150 kgs on his 2nd attempt to overtake Foeldi.” Bob Hoffman, Strength and Health magazine, 12/1968.  {reporting on the results of the 1968 Olympic weightlifting competition held in Mexico City, Mexico: 2,195 meters above sea level}

 The women

There were some very talented excellent athletes in the 49 kg class; most notably:Reichardt, Cambei, Jiang; and others. Most of the misses started in clean and jerk; with most misses coming in  the jerk. This is typical; there was nothing unusual about that. Those who had the least problems with bar oscillation made the most lifts; with less extra effort to control the shaking. Dropping fast an low without visible constraint JIANG Huihua (CHN) easily outdistanced the field with her modern technique. The Olympic champion HOU Zhihui (CHN) was not in top form after what was apparently back problems at the 2021 Olympics; consequently, Mirabai Chanu slipped by her here for 2nd. 

These two were the only Chinese female lifters from the group which competed in 2018 – 2021. One wonders what happened to the others? 

The men

The +109 class was probably the best class of the mens competitions. Talakhadze Lasha overcame a groups of very strong lifters to win another title. This class is the diametric opposite the lightest women and men since the weights lifted are a much smaller percentage of bodyweight there is less skill involved; especially balance.

This is not to take away from the impressive weights lifted but point out another reason for the distribution of failed lifts: the heavier the weight, relative to body weight; the greater the requisite skill; especially the skill to balance; the less benefit derived from strength exercises in training will have on results. And, vice versa, the heavier the weight, but nonetheless lighter relative to body weight the less skill to lift; as well as balance the athlete – barbell. This is a truism irregardless of elevation.

“Kurentsov (75 kgs) had some anxious moments in the snatch but came through to smash everyone. His 187.5 kg C &J was fantastic.”  Bob Hoffman, Strength and Health magazine, 12/1968.  {reporting on the results of the 1968 Olympic weightlifting competition held in Mexico City, Mexico: 2,195 meters above sea level}