Big Numbers at National Championships: Do We Really Need Them?

Rip Van Winkle awakening today would be quick to conclude that USA weightlifting has greatly increased in popularity. One need only look at recent national championship events to see the previously unheard of number of competitors.

There are pros and cons to this latest development. Some longtime practitioners of the sport complain meets are too large. Knowing no difference, newcomers may think such huge events are great. Reluctantly, I think large entry lists are our new normal. Time will tell.

I didn't attend this year's American Open, but heard some interesting stories:

  • Apparently some people didn't make weight due to an overcrowded sauna.
  • Some 950+ registrants (at $75 each) were announced days out from the start, yet the final results show “only” 808 lifters competing. (Note: USAW January 4, 2016 post - December 2015 Re-Cap states “… over 850.” I've counted USAW posted results twice and come up with 274 females, 534 males, 808 total.) Presuming entry fees were not refunded, that's a nice chunk of change for somebody's treasury.
  • Numerous lifters reportedly gave their opening attempts in pounds, rather than kilograms. Many novices seem to have little clue as to how our sport is actually conducted. Makes you wonder under what conditions they “qualified” for a national championship event?
  • One lifter reportedly walked out to the platform in shorts and t-shirt, thinking this was an acceptable uniform.
  • One lifter, due to start with 90kg in the snatch, nearly cleared out a portion of the warm-up room running off his platform with this weight before the class introduction. Here's an example of Bob Takano recent writings about how ineffective many new coaches are in properly warming up their charges.

A large number of lifters, especially inexperienced lifters, in a session can greatly impact another lifter's performance. Adding last-minute qualifier events, such as a youth category in the American Open, into an existing mostly adult event also seems a questionable practice.

At the recent American Open the 85kg class had a total of 152 lifters weigh-in. True, the number of participants per session (A-H!) was kept to a reasonable number.

Of 152 lifters, 27 who totaled failed to make the required minimum qualifying aggregate. Another 22 bombed out, with at least a handful obviously trying to get to the qualifying total.

That's nearly 1/3 of this class taking up lots of time but contributing little to the final results. Only two of this group were in the A session, the only group normally competing for places.

Failed lifts frequently result in a nearly two-minute break between efforts. Effective warm-up tempo for others is challenged when this happens. Depending on the incremental jumps planned, a lifter could be 15-20 minutes between appearances on the platform. This is fine if the coach and the lifter plan ahead. It can be very challenging otherwise, especially for novices.

Consider also that with today's one-kilo rule, adding an additional kilo or two on the total can easily bump a lifter up in the final standings. Of course, one does not go into a national meet expecting to miss any lifts, but the reality is something else (see chart below).

A developing coach I know worked with a lifter aiming to break state records at the AO. The lifter took a five-kilo jump between her first and second snatch attempts that kept her off the platform for only five attempts. But her second and third attempts were unsuccessful. This set a less-than-positive psychological state for the lifter going into the C&J, where the first and third attempts also were failed lifts.

In the final standings one kilo more would have moved the lifter up three places. A three-kilo increase in total would have placed her six notches higher.

In my opinion, novices belong in novice meets. National events are for showcasing our best athletes. Start novices at the local level, let them progress up through an LWC championship, and then possibly consider the American Open.

The National Championship should be reserved for our top lifters, those fighting for titles and chances to compete overseas. We have 15 bodyweight categories in the Olympic program. Why not limit Nationals to the top 20 lifters in each class?

This would provide a total of 300 lifters and include all of those likely to place or make a team. Do we really need to have a larger competition with lesser-qualified lifers?

True, this would have a negative financial impact on certain parties. But it seems the highest-level meets should be about the athletes, period.

Category

< QT

DNT

   

   

Category

<QT

>DNT

   

   

48

2

3

 

 

48

4

2

 

 

53

3

5

 

 

53

8

10

 

 

58

8

6

 

 

58

14

8

 

 

63

10

8

 

 

63

5

10

 

 

69

4

3

 

 

69

8

7

 

 

75

4

3

 

 

75

7

1

 

 

+75

6

1

 

 

+75

4

1

 

 

 

23%

18%

 

 

 

18%

14%

 

 

56

1

1

 

 

56

3

0

 

 

62

3

2

 

 

62

3

0

 

 

69

7

4

 

 

69

6

12

 

 

77

14

10

 

 

77

17

19

 

 

85

7

8

 

 

85

27

22

 

 

94

7

7

 

 

94

22

9

 

 

105

4

8

 

 

105

12

15

 

 

+105

2

3

 

 

+105

5

4

 

 

 

19%

18%

 

 

18%

15%

 

 

Table 1. The number of athletes at 2015 USAW Nationals or American Open that either failed to make the minimum qualifying total at the meet (<QT) or did not total (DNT).

Harvey Newton’s blog appears at OLift Magazine here: www.theoliftmag.com/2016/02/23/big-numbers-at-national-championships.