2023 World Weightlifting Championships in Riyadh

Report of 2023 WWC in Riyadh

Andrew Charniga


Save weightlifting’s place in the Olympic program:

‘Pick a weight and lift it; pick another weight and lift it……

The competitions organized by the Saudi organizing committee were excellent. The auditorium was spacious; not too large for weightlifting; seating maybe a couple of thousand. The digital scoreboards are excellent. You can easily follow the competition without having to resort to binoculars.

The volunteer staff at the hotels, busses, competition sites were all top notch: extremely courteous and helpful. These circumstances reflect very positively on the orderliness of this society.

Most everyone spoke English. One aspect an athlete/coach who attends one of these events; may forget, or, are simply not cognizant; is the scope and breadth of the painstaking work and diligence required to stage an event of this size and complexity; given the number of countries participating; different cultures, and languages comprising a complex melting pot.

One should never forget, whether it be athlete, coach, official; that you are a guest in their country; the organizers are your hosts. A heartfelt thanks for their hospitality is always in order.

The annoying practice of athletes in the ‘A’ Sessions lifters pulling out after introductions; which occurred in Havana was almost eliminated here; a positive development.

The bulk of those who were here for testing are entered in ‘C’ or ‘B’ sessions. Furthermore, KUO (TPE) set an example for others to follow here. She lifted in the ‘B’ session of the 59 kg making six good lifts; ending with around 85 – 90%. A perfect tune up for the Asian Games next month. Why show up for just testing and training when most everyone at this level need practice at competition conditions?

The results of the 73 kg class was a good example of the need for relatively new competition tactics and training methodics for the specific conditions of competition. The rash of reds on the scoreboard is a confirmation many lifters are just nor prepared for competition conditions.

The number of B&C session lifters who placed, or, moved into the top ten shows a convergence of totals at the international level and ineptitude of some ‘A’ session lifters. Some may even have opted to lift in less competitive sessions; others benefited from the exaggerated totals submitted by ‘A’ session lifters.

Unfortunately, back to square one on turning down elbow wobbles; after talk of eliminating this rule. Eliminating this debilitating rule will take a lot of political will; it is slowly killing the sport.

Instead of torturing lifters and coaches with elbow wobble rules; significant will is needed to improve the competition conditions for lifters; to facilitate the lifter’s potential to make as many attempts on the platform as possible. Unfortunately, the opposite circumstances prevail; a lifter is never quite certain his/her lifts are acceptable.

There is far more that is unknown about this sport than is known.

Figure. Gasparyan (ARM) 102 kg. Charniga photo.

Adaptations to straining while holding breath (reflexively) can result in specific, different; not pathological alterations of heart rhythm. There are all sorts of data on weightlifters originating from  Soviet times. For instance: in the Russian book To help the coach; specialists observed weightlifters feet typically swell for some time after training – normal; not an aberration. Are there long term, not pathological, changes of this sort from years of weightlifting? Probably. It is a question of distinguishing medically perceived normal from adaptations to specific stresses on the body from sport; such as an enlarged heart from endurance training which remains after an athlete stops training.

One rule change which may help the weightlifting sport in need of relevance from the threat of expulsion from the Olympic program in lieu of playground sports (such as parkour) is to create a database of weight/height profiles of everyone competing at all levels. It is a matter of simply having two scales at the weigh – in. One scale is the required kilogram scale the other a centimeter height scale. An additional 15 seconds to record height along with weight will allow researchers across the globe to access a profile of modern weightlifters for specialized research. There is a definite trend for taller athletes entering the sport; and, along with their appearance an altering of what actually constitutes weightlifting strength. It is no longer a simple matter of muscle fiber type and density of muscle cross sectional area.

For instance, one reason there is so much mayhem in pre – competition training at this level; so many misses in competition is that coaches and athletes fail distinguish “style”  from technique. For example, two females lifting from the same country in the same weight class: one a splitter the other a push jerker. The push jerker missed two of three. Why would one do that when the correct technique has long since been invented? It is her style.

There is only one possible arbiter of style versus technique: do you make attempts in competition? Consequently, if one finds oneself stumbling and bumbling around on the competition platform; lucky to make one of three; just what is style? A form of expressed narcissism?

One team completely lacking in expressed narcissism is the PRK. This team is essentially out of the Olympics. There are seven events of which you need to attend four; which they have missed; so that is the end of them. The teams, the coaches who cannot spell discipline with a stack of dictionaries; do not realize how much of the success of the PRK team was due to that single word: discipline.

An overview of the results

With so many misses competitive struggles take a back seat to those left standing. 

Wichuma’s (73 kg. INA) world record from the ‘C’ session is good example of planning for uncertainty. Possibly learning from the experience in Havana when he went for the world record in an ‘A’ session which began with 7 and quickly dropped to two. Here he at least had more people to warmup with.

In that context, the 89 kg class; and the unanticipated victory of Javaldi (IRI) was very noteworthy. First, the performance of CHN were rather mediocre. LI’s huge muscle mass (especially in upper body) is a testimonial to time wasted on bodybuilding; likewise TIAN. These two typically can be seen hopping, strutting around shirtless in the training halls showing off big muscles with simple exercises like big squats and so forth. The Chinese have the numbers and the money; the high ground for results in international competitions. The technique? The training methods? However, an important factor missing is the discipline; formerly a hallmark of socialist and various totalitarian countries.

Figure. Jevaldi’s exciting come from behind C&J win captured the essence of the attraction of live sport. Charniga photo. 

By way of contrast, the Iranian team has all former lifters coaching; even the federation president is an Olympic +109 medalist in London. Coaches dress in fine slacks, leather shoes, dress shirts; even a tie. They are polite, even humble. Interestingly enough, they present a professional demeanor; a good, positive image for their country. The IRI lifters are not musclemen strutting about shirtless in training halls; posing for selfies and the like. The focus of the athletes and team as whole; is narrowed to achieve a good performance on the platform.

The 89 kg gold medalist who pulled out the winning lift was a classic example what appeared to be the ordinary; greatly exceeding expectations. It is doubtful anyone expected Javaldi (IRI) to beat the Chinese and the other members of this class. For the most part, onlookers forgot about him until he appeared to tackle the winning weight. His winning clean and jerk looked like he was lifting in mud; the bar moved so slow. Here was a prime example of the Soviet concept the most important skill in weightlifting is: the ability to lift a slow moving barbell.

The skill to lift a slow moving barbell does not crop up in videos of big muscles, bodybuilding physiques, muscle snatches and other non-descripts, unrelated to success on the platform.

Buried in sixth place after the snatch, Javaldi (IRI) demonstrated how a focused, disciplined approach can overcome what appeared to be China’s unbeatable products of a much bigger system; with much more money and many more athletes. In Riyadh, a disciplined mind and body overcame ‘strut’.  

The CHN lifters in the 89 kg class  employed the squat technique in the jerk. They made a collective 2 of six attempts; including a zero total.

Without getting into a lot of details; one overlooked aspect of the squat jerk; a technique designed  to make the exercise harder; is  the effect of aging on the lifter’s spinal mobility. In order to counterbalance the barbell, the lifter has to arch the lumbar/thoracic area in order to fix the weight. TIAN is a god example of too many squats, too much muscle and loss of mobility. He missed three jerks, after extremely easy cleans. He typically descends into the half squat with a flat spine with little ability to counterbalance and fix the weight. None of his attempts here were even close.

Consequently, he was pushed aside by an ordinary, nondescript guy ‘lifting in mud’.  In the future, CHN lifters should keep their shirts on and get with the program.

I asked Polish coach and Olympic champion Zigmunt Smalcerz about Kolecki’s slip, twisting his ankle, trying to clean 227.5 kgs at the 2000 Olympics. He landed forward in a classic disposition precipitating a high ankle sprain with a good possibility of a fractured fibula. Ziggi said he did not need any surgery; in fact, he was walking on it the next day. Such is the resilience of a weightlifter’s elastic tendons and ligaments. 

This is a live sport event which has a special appeal from a spectator’s viewpoint. Watch a replay of the women’s 400 meter relay at the 2023 world athletics championships. The announcer was raving this is what live sport is all about; the race was very exciting: a tall, skinny Dutch girl who anchored the team, Femke Bol blew past, i.e., glided like a gazelle, past the Jamaican runner at the finish line. All in all, a positive experience.

By contrast the finish of the 89 kg class was exciting; a big positive for weightlifting; nonetheless, the spectators, the fans had to wade through a sea of depressing reds to get to it. Not the best testimonial for a live sport event.

The 89s were interesting in that 4 of the top five were from this neighborhood: EGY, IRI, IRQ. The Armenians did very well back in April in Yerevan at the EWC; the home team advantage. Here the Arab nations have done disproportionately well; this site being essentially their home turf. This circumstance shows in the overall results and the success rate. That being said; a lack of focus; team discipline and the other factors which have been noted in the past reports such as dumb exercises close to competition are still at work.

After another night of reds and relatively poor performances other than the CHN; some observations to put this in perspective.

Figure. LIANG Xiaomei CHN put up big numbers with big calves.Charniga photo.

For instance, just consider one case. There is a Youtube video of an interview with a male lifter at this competition. In this interview/video he can be seen doing above the knee deadlift(?)/1/4 shrugs from high boxes with 250 kgs or so in the training hall. He said these are for second pull (tractor pulls?). He mentions he does no jerks from stands as he always makes his jerks; but, large muscle mass in upper extremities indicates he does some kind of pressing. His anticipated results in the meet were off by about 20 kgs; succeeding with only two good lifts.

He missed the jerk on his second attempt and failed to rack the weight in clean on his 3rd. A psychological conundrum arises when  one suddenly misses a jerk when one “never” misses jerks; typically the lifter will fail to clean the weight on the next attempt; which is precisely what happened in this case.

Confidence in the final effort (the jerk portion) translates into enabling the lifter to focus solely on the clean; in effect, to separate the exercise into two distinct parts. A sense of doubt from a missed jerk; can negatively impact this assurance in one’s ability to complete the jerk on the next; and, in this case the final attempt.  The end result, the lifter fails to clean the 3rd because uncertainty in his ability to jerk the weight weighs on the back of his mind. Which is probably what happened to this lifter. The high box 250+ kg 2nd pull shrugs in the training hall were just a waste of time. An illusion of control.

There appears a growing deterioration of the performances of several top teams from affluent western countries (GER,USA, ITA). The USA had an excessive number no totals; and, a less than 50% success rate. There were 5 in Cuba. This despite the fact the team has some very good athletes with plenty of travel money behind them. How is a training camp in France in the run up to the competition in the desert justified?

One factor which may contributing to low discipline and lack of focus on the teams supported with big spender federations is the effect of athletes’ expressed ‘digital narcissism’; which can translate into, in some cases, grossly overestimating one’s abilities and/or the one’s ability to control uncontrollable outcomes.

There were several tall, leaner females in the 87 kg class; a positive. Their height is not an impediment; with more work they can do well. However, a female; maybe 5’2” was a good example of someone who put on too much mass for her height; a lot of which was fat mass and that is a negative; the coaches need to address this. Over time it may present a problem to return to a normal body mass after several years of forced increase in mass and/or a combination of forced weight loss.

The 109 kg class was one of the best classes of the competition with the two UZB lifters going at it. Djuraev’s miss with 189 on his 2nd attempt is a perfect example of a lift rushed without taking enough time to make sure he is able to lift with balance. Neither lifter looked as sharp as in the past and both missed the crucial final effort with missed jerks. Djuraev who did not lift at last year’s worlds, looked rusty whereas Nuridinov is showing his age with difficulty fixing the weight overhead with elbows that don’t lock well and tight shoulders.

Dadasbayli (AZE) is tall and lean lacking the heavy muscle mass of the CHN lifters. He put up some impressive numbers; almost power snatching 180. He is another example, of a trend towards more tall and lean athletes in the sport.

Figure. Dadasbayli (AZE) tall and lean yet able to put up big numbers. Charniga photo

The +87 Chinese lifter who dislocated her elbow was at least the 2nd female of the competition to suffer this injury; there may have been more. One thing the IWF should consider is to ask for some type of oscillation figures from each of the category ‘A’ bar manufacturers; to see if the already determined excessive flexibility of the 15 kg bar is asymmetrical by model.

The +87 class was particularly bad with an injury, a bomb out and a lot of misses. The number of misses is particularly significant because the weights the +87 kgs are lifting are either less than bodyweight or close to it (the C&J). Some recommendations (suggestions) about fat mass are in order; especially for the women who tend to be shorter. A number of the lifters in this class are too rotund to squat down low. Technique adversely affected by body mass is in additional to the long term health issue of adding so much unnecessary body mass.

It is interesting that poor performances and excessive misses in weightlifting are typically attributable to extraneous factors; the altitude in Bogota for instance; likewise the injuries in American sport such as Aaron Rogers recent Achilles tear (the turf, the shoes, weak hamstrings); a natural inclination to deflect blame, to absolve oneself of personal responsibility.

 Help keep weightlifting in the Olympic program: pick a weight and lift it, pick a weight and lift it…….

Figure. Lasha Talakhadze’s ability to realize six of six good lifts is an overlooked secret of his exceptional strength. Charniga photo. 

One aspect of Lasha Talakhadze’s extraordinary talent is his  exceptional reliability in competitions. He has a habit of consistently making six; rarely five attempts at each and every competition. A psychology strength is often overlooked (see Charniga, “Psychology of strength in weightlifting”). Most attribute his prowess to training lifts from videos of squats, dead-lifts, muscle snatch, and so forth. No matter how strong one is (and, Talakhadze may not even be the strongest man in his class) the skill, the exceptional psychological strength needed to make six attempts with near and maximum weights is overlooked and/or simply outside the ability of coaches to grasp. Talakhadze is a perfect example of success breeding success with each good lift; with each competition of six for six good lifts propelling him forward over a long period to increase results in competition with far more certainty than merely adding weight in squats and other training exercises.

Probably the most common misconception of the day is that big training lifts, low in specificity training exercises with big weights will translate into good competition results. That fallacy is proven time and time again at international competitions with scoreboards filled with red numbers. 

Consequently, a simple system of ascertaining the effectiveness of the weightlifter’s and the team’s  training and de facto relative success in competition is in order.

Irregardless the weights lifted;  a rating system of a single lifter’s and/or a team’s performance in competition is applicable; and, should be regarded the single most important indicator of a weightlifter’s/team’s level of competence in competitions:

0 – 1 good lifts: ineffective/unsatisfactory

2 – 3 good lifts: poor to mediocre

4 – good lifts: average

5 – good lifts: excellent

6 – good lifts: exceptional

Four good lifts should be considered a minimum; with five and six good lifts per competition as necessary for progress over the long term. What should seem an obvious for every coach, athlete; even every team: pick a weight – lift the weight; pick the next weight lift that weight and so on. The level of tactical skill; consisting of habitually executing 5 – successful lifts in each and every competition; is sorely lacking inweightlifting; which in its turn hurts the attraction of weightlifting as a live sport event. Rating a lifter’s and even a team’s performance with the above suggested system is not a radical idea it is a rational one.

Furthermore, a simple ratio of dollars spent per success rate of platform attempts is in order for a realistic assessment of money spent to compete at the international level.