The 2023 Grand Prix Tournament in Havana, Cuba

Andrew Charniga


The 2023 Olympic Qualification Competition in Havana, Cuba

Andrew Charniga

The competition in Havana is one of several events of the Olympic qualification system in the run up to the 2024 Paris Olympics. Lifters are required to make a designated number of appearances at these events; to establish as total under tested conditions in order to rank high enough to make it to the Games within the restricted range of weight classes and number of athletes allotted weightlifting for the Games.

That was the backdrop for this event. Although the Cuban economy was experiencing significant hardship; the Cuban organizing committee staged a professionally run, modern weightlifting competition. The Cubans were marvelous hosts. They went out their way to accommodate the athletes, coaches, officials. An unfortunate negative, for most all concerned was the number of no – show entries and even worse the ‘no – shows’ who showed up only to withdraw. It is doubtful the ‘no – show’ athletes who were introduced; only to decline to perform took stock as to  how inconsiderate, how callous, their behavior towards the host nation.    

The organizing committee went to great lengths and expense to stage a modern international event; encompassing a complex logistics of accommodation, multiple venues for training and competition, transportation, medical preparedness, loaders, officials, accreditation staff; a host of multi – lingual volunteers. The financial loss due to less revenue from athletes who did not show certainly had a negative impact.  

Part of the overall impact was the loss of PRK. In general, the lifting was disappointing because of it. There were rumors the reason the PRK did not show was the drug testing. However, a more reasonable guess; the expense may be the main reason. The entry fee for each athlete is 300 Euros; rooms are 140 – 170 Euros a night; add in air faire for flights from PRK (only through Beijing). Lack of funding from a country going through extremely difficult economic times translates into the expense had to be a big factor in the PRK’s absence.


Nonetheless, without the PRK, this competition was a disappointment from the get-go; stemming from several perspectives.

/ the IWF rule requiring athletes attend to be available for testing; to be introduced with the rest of the athletes for the session entered; but not required to lift.

/ the athletes and coaches who are predisposed to pass up the opportunity to practice a competition; an international competition at that;   

/ a callous disregard on the part of those athletes who pulled – out, for their fellow athletes and the fans who came to see them lift.

An IWF rule, which must be changed, irregardless; the athletes who are introduced only to withdraw; by doing so; thumb their noses at the audience; insulting the diehard weightlifting fans who come to see them perform; the organizing committee; as well as their fellow competitors.

However, the IWF’s rule is not the only culprit. The athletes who do not come to compete; who choose not take advantage of the opportunity to practice weightlifting competitions bear the brunt of the blame.

One need only look back at attempt boards full of reds from recent international competitions in Bogota and Yerevan to realize the international community of weightlifters is in need of more practice at competitions. In Havana the scoreboard was full of rojos; which only confirms what has been established in previous reports: thicker air; yet plenty of reds. This event in Havana was an opportunity to hone one’s skills to realize a high percentage of successful lifts under competition conditions.

The athletes and coaches who are introduced; only to pull out, do so with a callous disregard for their fellow competitors. If the shoe were on the other foot; undoubtedly they would have bemoaned.

One guy who came ready for big lifts is the poster child recipient of that disregard: Rahmat Erwin Abdullah (INA).

There were 7 – or so guys entered in his class. So many pulled out; only two guys remained. He went for the world record in the C&J having to follow himself on all his attempts. He actually jerked the world record 209; only to lose it behind. At least one of his ‘shadow competitors’ waited until about 15 attempts after competition began in the snatch had transpired before pulling out; how crass. So, how do you time your warmups when you don’t know who is actually competing? A good for the sport world record attempt juxtaposed against crass behavior.

The AIN (Belarus) lifters were very serious competitors fully utilizing the opportunity to practice an international competition. The 71 kg Valokzka Suizana in particular stood out; good technique; missing only her last attempt after five very good lifts. The men were good too. Unfortunate there were not more eastern European lifters, excepting TKM. That discipline is severely lacking in lifters from more affluent countries. Interesting, Beethoven’s ode to joy was chosen as the anthem of the AIN lifters; with the mascot character of the competition as their ‘flag’. All AIN lifters dressed in a nondescript grey clothing when in the competition hall. How bizarre is that?                  

The world record 121 kg snatch by Ecuador’s Dajomes Angie was the highlight of this competition. Not even the USA’s ‘national – weight – changer – time – waster’ could distract or otherwise negatively impact the young woman. The only lifters the USA’s national ‘weight – changer – time – waster’ psyches out are the USA lifters. Overall a poor performance by the USA. There were five no totals and an overall success rate of less than 50%. Pathetic, considering the money spent on bringing two full teams plus reserves; medical staff and coaches. Just ask Mr. quote; undoubtedly he will agree. 

Exacerbating of the boredom the high rate of failed attempts which negatively impacts the international appeal of the sport; is the dead time with no one on the platform and the overt effort to waste everyone’s time. The number of changes of weight allowed is excessive and tactically unnecessary. In many instances, excessive weight changes had a negative impact on the success rate.

For example, in several instances, a lifter will miss a snatch attempt (an effort encompassing a little over a second); only to have the USA national – ‘weight – changer’ jump one kilo; ostensibly to give the more time to recover from the one second effort. Consequently, the lifter is given unnecessary rest time; cooling down in the process; sitting cooling off for a heavier weight, than that, he/she already failed to lift? That is in addition to the issue of wasting everyone’s time by waiting to jump until some long seconds have passed after the lifter was called. 

Now what is to be done after the 2nd attempt miss at the heavier (1 kilo) weight? Increase the weight again for more time to rest??? The NWCTW has exhausted all the changes allotted; so the lifter in question has no choice but to take the 1 kg heavier weight within the regular time allotted; usually missing the 3rd attempt to boot.

In some cases a lifter declined to continue in the C&J after missing all three snatches. Such is the errant psychology of today. Neither the athletes, nor the coaches recognize they are missing an opportunity to end on positive note. Even if it means doing something like 85 – 88 – 90% for three good lifts in the C&J. The single most important psychological fortifier in weightlifting has to be making lifts on the platform. So, the opportunity exists to turn a negative into a positive, to foster a belief, the more lifts you make the more you will make in the next competition.   

The AIN (Belarus) team present a good example of a disciplined psychological toughness. They were forced to compete in Cuba under a nondescript title; the meet mascot for a flag; listen to a gold medal ceremony music, which is, not only, not their national anthem; it is music written by a foreign composer. Furthermore, they get to be present in the competition hall to watch, or otherwise root for their teammates only if they are dressed in prison garb.

Contrast that problematic, with the heavily tattooed, insta-grammed, Youtube, digitized lifters from the affluent western countries. 

It is easy to attribute injury in competition to the psychological/physical strain of the conditions.The point to be made; the competition conditions are not that risky; it is more more likely the training/preparation which can be nonsensically risky.   

Konda from Norway set a positive example for others to follow. She competed and won in Bogota; as well as in Armenia in April; where she did 151 or so maximum C&J. Here, she missed her 2nd jerk; jumped and really strained to make her 3rd. Since December 2022, she has gone pretty much all out in three international meets. She would be expected to do well in Riyadh, in September. Practice competitions to get good at competitions. That is what weightlifting training should be about.

The reader should be mindful to keep track of those who (in the immortal words of Tennessee Williams character  Big Daddy) had the “mendacity” to come to Cuba; only to pull out; and in so doing, insult their hosts. That is beside wasting an opportunity to practice an international competition. Those lifters would not be expected to do as well at the worlds; especially when compared with someone like Koanda.

The Russian TV/journalist who broadcast the Russian feed for Eurosport interviewed Abadzhjiev at the 2005 Europeans. He told me he asked him if Mutlu had a chance to win his fourth Olympic gold (in Beijing).

Abadzhjiev said yes; only if he competes at all European and world championships in the lead up to the Games. What about big squats, big deadlifts?

Old ideas of increasing muscle mass and in the process raise body mass in general; are just that, old ideas. A better practice, a rational training methodology  is probably to limit body mass to within a reasonable height to body weight ratio; while emphasizing in training the important qualities an overly strong and/or aging lifter needs the most: coordination, speed, flexibility, muscle relaxation. Constantly, emphasizing strength sooner or later reaches the point of diminishing returns. A theoretical optimum bodyweight needs to be considered. Two of the top women here have made at best marginal improvement over a number of years despite significant gain in body mass. For instance, one went from less than 69 kg to 81 with less improvement than bodyweight.

With five zeros and a overall success rate of less than  50%; the event’s largest team; undoubtedly, having spent the most money; team USA did not do very well. This is the same organization that rakes in many hundreds of thousands annually through certification courses for weightlifting coaches. The obvious question is what exactly are they selling? Knowledge? Expertise?

How ironic; the last day was the first real competition day where almost all who were introduced lifted. Still nothing changes: a lot of reds; even though most of the female supers were snatching less than body weight.

Often one will see lifters with huge muscle mass flounder in the clean and jerk. The fact of the matter; it is not that difficult to muscle a fairly heavy snatch if you have big muscles; and, clean a big weight. Unfortunately, it takes genuine skill to jerk a heavy weight; most often the critical quality in short supply. Most lifters and coaches don’t realize it takes less power to jerk a weight than to clean  it. Increasing the width of the hand spacing (to make the jerk easier); in effect, a snatch grip to push press for a jerk is not going to get you very far. Over time, miss after missed jerks in international competitions has to become a psychologically debilitating experience. A famous Russian coach once said “the clean and jerk is leg strength”. These days, so many big squats and so many missed jerks from the chest. So much for that.