Faster, Higher, Stronger

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

What are the Olympics? What does it mean to be an Olympian? How do you become an Olympian, and who decides which sports get to compete for a spot in history?

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The Olympic Spirit – Jeff Stevens (used under the Creative Commons Licence)

The Olympics

The Olympics was one of the Panhellenic sporting events of Ancient Greece. Every four years, a holy truce was called, and athletes and spectators from all over Greece would travel to Olympia to participate. The Games were a huge event, much like today. They were political, religious, cultural… if you were an athlete, they were the pinnacle. If you were a social climber, any one who was anyone would be at the games. If you were an artist, you would visit the games to show off the quality of your work. It’s commonly believed that only men could compete in the original Olympics and that it was a hugely misogynistic event, but women could actually compete as charioteers. Other sports included various running races (including one version where the runners would compete in armor), discus, long/broad jump, wrestling, boxing and many others (oddly, if you died during a boxing match, you were declared the winner.)

The modern Olympics began in 1896, and have grown and grown in the years since. Like the Ancient Games, the modern Olympics are huge events – being selected as a host is a huge honour, and countries compete for years to be selected. As a spectator, the Olympics is the greatest show on Earth (sorry, Dawkins.) Over 10,000 athletes competed at the London Olympics in 2012: 10,000 of the most highly trained athletes in the world, competing for the glory of their countries, glory for themselves, and to be remembered into the future. It doesn’t matter what sports you’re interested in, if you have even a shred of competitive spirit, seeing the eight fastest men in the world racing, or the top pole vaulters in the world battle to add just a single centimetre to one another’s best jump is going to excite you.

What does it mean to be an Olympian? I don’t know that I can tell you that, but I know that for most, it is their entire life coming together at one moment.

The Olympics is simultaneously the culmination of hundreds of thousands of hours of practice, decades of sports science research, and 3000 year old traditions (the Olympic Flame is still lit from the sun in Olympia by a priestess, then carried by foot across several countries before reaching the Olympic Stadium.) Excuse me for getting soppy, but I truly believe that the Olympic Games are one of the wonders of humanity.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

The Olympic Creed

So I guess that brings us to the Olympic Motto.

Citius, Altius, Fortius; Higher, Faster, Stronger

What does it mean to be an Olympian? It means you go the highest, move the fastest, you are the strongest. It makes you one of the smartest, best prepared, and most dedicated athletes on the planet.

If you’re still not excited for the Olympics, you probably aren’t a competitive athlete.

Powerlifting and the Olympics

Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, however is included as a Paralympic sport. We are also in the odd position where the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships is overseen by the Commonwealth Games, but is not actually included in the games.

Recently, AIMS (an organisation affiliated with the IPF) signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Olympic Committee, allowing all affiliates to be included in the Olympic Movement Directory. This is not, as many people have claimed, the same as IOC recognition, however it is an important step towards becoming an Olympic Sport.

Becoming an Olympic Sport would be the best thing for the growth of powerlifting. Powerlifters (in most countries, at least) receive nothing from the governments, not for training, not for competitions, nothing. It’s hard to promote yourself in your community when you first need to explain what it is that your sport is. The first question I get asked when I tell someone I compete in powerlifting is usually “Oh, you put it over your head, like at the Olympics?” Everyone knows what weightlifting is, even if they can’t name it, but the average person has never even heard of powerlifting. It would be a long road to being a “household name” sport, and simply being an Olympic sport would not be the be all and end all of it, but it would certainly help.

When there is a chance at a medal at the Olympics, there is much more on the line than for a “hobby sport” (I hate that term) like powerlifting. In some countries, there are financial rewards for medalling ($800,000 for a gold in Singapore!) however the real financial incentives come from corporate sponsorships. You know who sponsors powerlifters? Not Nike, that’s for sure.

updatednike

from moneyramblings.com

It’s not all about the money though. I think that the growth of powerlifting does nothing but good. When you put athletes on TV in front on young children, it influences them; why do you think New Zealand persists as a rugby power house? It’s because (among a number of other things) little kids watch the Mighty All Blacks play on TV when they’re young, and grow up wanting to be Dan Carter, or Jonah Lomu.

Why should we be recognised?

The process to being included as an Olympic Sport is not exactly straight forward. There are a number of criteria which should be met –  added value; youth appeal; attractiveness for TV, media and the general public; gender equality; minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas, infrastructure and operational costs and complexity.

Starting with the last criterion; minimal impact on the number of events/quotas, infrastructure, operational costs and complexity. Powerlifting is one of the simplest sports in existence, behind perhaps running events. Derived directly from the old caveman sport of “who can lift the largest rock”, operational complexity should not be an issue. Given the existing infrastructure for weightlifting, the marginal cost of adding powerlifting is minimal. The same event hall can be used, most of the equipment is the same. Additional costs (personnel aside) would be getting some powerbars, metal plates, and suitable racks. Although adding powerlifting would add a large number of events (each weight class would be considered a separate event), the weightlifting hall usually goes unused after the weightlifting is finished, and so wouldn’t slow down the overall operation of the Games (it wouldn’t lengthen the critical path).

At the last IPF Classic World Championships, 689 lifters competed, of whom 291 (42%) were women and 398 (58%) were men. While not perfect, that’s damn good. When you consider that some of the other sports under consideration are men-only, that’s a strong plus for powerlifting.

While not the most attractive sport in the world, powerlifting is popular. The IPF has 280,000 Facebook likes. The IWF, by comparison, has just 78,000. There were 250,000 live views of the 2016 IPF Classic Worlds, and if you factor in viewing parties that means something like half a million people endured the average streaming quality on Goodlift to watch powerlifting. That’s popular – that has to be good for TV and media.

Remember, the Olympic motto is “Higher, Faster, Stronger.” Stronger. Criteria aside, if we go back to what the Olympics is all about, it’s about going higher, going fast, and being stronger. What exemplifies strength better than powerlifting?

Wrapping Up

Despite not even being formally IOC recognised, powerlifting is the perfect fit for the Olympics. I am holding my breathe for Tokyo to elect to have powerlifting as a sport in 2020; Japan has always had a strong presence in powerlifting, so the time seems right. There’s not a lot we can do, but sit back and wait now.

I hope everyone’s training is going well, I’m two weeks out from the Auckland Benchpress Champs and feeling good! If you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments section below. See you on the platform!

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Gibbs vs Haack (vs Hubbard)

IPF Classic Worlds went down in Killeen, Texas last week, and if you have any kind of social media there is a good chance you’ve seen some of it. There were some incredible stories coming out of the week. You might have seen Jennifer Thompson bench 141.5 kg, Ray Williams squat 438.0 kg, or Jessica Buettner deadlift 202 kg (she’s only 21 – wow!)  Powerlifting even made it’s way into mainstream New Zealand media, possibly for the first time ever.

What I’m going to talk about here is what has been touted as the most watched session in powerlifting history, the Open 83 kg men. As I’m writing this, there’s been nearly 40,000 YouTube views, and there was apparently three times as many live watchers as any other session. If you haven’t watched it, here’s a link to the video (Bill Kazmaier and Johnny Candito do the commentating too, they do a pretty good job.)

Meet the Competitors

The reason this session was so hyped was because we had two absolute world-class athletes going head to head, Brett Gibbs and John Haack. Beyond that, my favourite lifter, Owen Hubbard, was competing in the Open 83 kg class for the first time ever (there will be a future post on why Owen Hubbard is one of the baddest MFs on the planet.)

Brett Gibbs

Brett Gibbs is in his second year in the Open age class, and going into this meet was the defending champion. In training, he’s totaled just shy of 830 kg, including a 300 kg squat, but has historically been inconsistent in his competition performances. He’s also a really cool guy, and would probably look quite at home on a Lord of the Rings set with a battle axe. I talk about Brett Gibbs a lot because he is a kiwi (like me!)

Brett’s Instagram, YouTube, and his website, Gold Signature Coaching.

gibbs vs gimli

Gibbs and Gimli

John “The Chemist” Haack

I don’t know much about Haack, other than

  1. He moved to the IPF from another federation
  2. He’s a chemist by trade
  3. He’s a junior, but decided he would rather go toe-to-toe with Brett Gibbs in the Open class than take the easy win as a junior
  4. He has huuuuge quads

Haack’s Instagram.

Owen Hubbard

#OHubbaHubba is a British powerlifter – if you know him, you probably know him as the guy who sets up for bench by driving his forehead into the bench. Although he has got a great bench, he is also one of the most passionate lifters on the platform. He’s an associate nutritionist by training (he gave a seminar on nutrition at the online powerlifting summit earlier in the year), but from looking at his social media, it looks kind of like he survives mostly on pizza.

Hubbard’s Instagram, and his website.

Squats

Owen Hubbard opened his squat at 255 kg, and began the day with what appeared to be a massive grind. Fortunately, Hubbard doesn’t give two fucks what any body thinks, because the commentators didn’t think he had much squat left in him. John Haack hits an incredibly easy and deep 270 kg, and Gibbs hits a relatively slow 277.5 kg. Owen Hubbard comes back and hits 265 kg at what appeared to be RPE 11. At this point, myself and the people I was watching with thought he might not take his third squat, because even for a person with a massive capacity to grind, that looked hard. Brett Gibbs and John Haack both took 285 for their second squat – Haack’s looked easy, locking in his first Junior World Record of the day. Unfortunately, Gibbs couldn’t give a strong lock-out and he made a double movement at the top of his range of motion, giving three red lights.

Obviously, I’m cheering for Brett here, and with that double movement he might have cost himself the World Championship. What a grim start to the meet.

Owen Hubbard comes back for his third squat, putting 270 kg on the bar. I honestly didn’t think he was going to get this, but he went Super Saiyan or something in the waiting area, and his third squat looked easier than his second – he might have even left a little in the tank.

John Haack had nominated his third squat at 298 kg, and Brett submitted his third as 288, presumably to clinch the World Record in the event that Haack missed his third. Unfortunately, Brett didn’t have the gas to take the the 288. John Haack’s attempt selection was on-point (on fleek?) though, nailing a deep 298.

At the end of the squats, John Haack was in the lead, with Gibbs trailing by 20.5 kg, and Hubbard 7.5 kg behind that.

Bench Press

John Haack started the bench press out with 185 kg, which confused me a little, as he has apparently hit 215 in the gym. A couple of things went wrong with Brett’s 190 kg opener – he received an oddly long press command, which he jumped (I assume that he thought he had missed it, and just went, but I’m not entirely sure.) Missing the command earned him three red lights, despite an easy lift. Brett’s handler, JP Cauchi, tried to appeal the lift but was turned away by the jury. Before the next lifter approached the platform, JP had a “quiet talk” with the head referee (I would love to know exactly what he said.) Owen Hubbard hit an easy 195 kg opener.

For the second attempt, John Haack jumped 10 kg to 195 kg, and Brett Gibbs matched him, with Owen Hubbard finishing off with 202.5 kg. Brett’s press command was much shorter this time – whatever JP said made a difference.

On the final attempt, Haack elected 200 kg, which seemed conservative. He/his coaching team knew what they were doing though, as it looked like an absolutely limit lift. Brett Gibbs elected to take 208 kg to snatch the World Record, making it look like an opener. Hubbard chose 208.5 kg to try and take the WR on the very next attempt, but missed it just off his chest.

All in, the bench press was relatively uneventful. Brett managed to make back 8 kg, but was still 12.5 off the lead. I was slightly disappointed that Owen didn’t take the World Record, and I’m still hoping to see him hit 220 kg in competition.

Deadlifts

I guess this is the business end of the meet – medals are won or lost, and legends are made. Going into the final discipline, Brett needs 12.5 kg to catch John (and thus win on body weight). John Haack has a great deadlift, but Brett wants it more than anyone, ever, and so if anyone can make it up, it would be him.

Owen Hubbard opens his deadlift at 255 kg (by the way, if you’ve never watch Hubbard deadlift, you should find a video). Brett opens with a very speedy 285, and John at 292.5. Owen comes back to pull 265 kg for his second.

John Haack has called for 310 kg, and Brett for 305. For Brett to have any chance at taking the Championship now, he needs 305 kg to move like an Opener. Fortunately, it’s probably the fasted > 300 kg deadlift I’ve ever seen. Coach JP submits 322.5 for a third. Haack comes in to pull 310 kg, but he almost fails to get it past his knees! At this point, it looks like Brett might just snatch victory back from the jaws of defeat. John submits 317.5 kg for this third.

Owen Hubbard comes back for his third attempt like a man possessed – what a pull.Much yelling and intensity on the platform, and a great grind to finish off a good 8/9 day, giving him a 745 kg total and 501.09 wilks.

Someone made the call to drop Haack’s third deadlift, bringing it down to 315 kg. It was one of his sloppier lifts of the day, but his attempt selection was perfect again – there probably wasn’t another kilo in him. Personally, I thought he hitched, but I might be biased and he got three white lights to finish off a perfect 9/9 day, giving him an 813 kg total and 543.49 wilks.

The world championship came right down to the last deadlift – Coach JP submits 327.5 kg for the gold. Brett Gibbs managed to get the bar past his knees, but could finish the lock-out, and with that, missed out on his second Open World Championship. That left Brett with a 790.5 kg total, and 529.32 wilks.

Wrap Up

I was in a bit of shock after that session. The ups, the downs, everything coming down to the last deadlift. While it wasn’t the result I wanted to see, there was a fantastic battle, great intensity, strategy and, of course, fantastic lifting. As a spectator, you can’t ask for more.

Owen Hubbard gave it his true 100%, and didn’t leave anything on the platform. Coming third behind Gibbs and Haack is amazing, and he probably had the best day of the three of them.

It wasn’t Brett Gibbs’ best performance ever, but, like the professional he was, he made all the right decisions and came back strong. John Haack deserves a massive amount of respect following that performance. Going a perfect 9 for 9, the quality of decision making, stepping up to lift as an Open at just 23… Next year is going to be another great fight, and I’m already looking forward to watching it.

So, that’s all folks. Hope everyone’s training is going well, and see you on the platform soon (I’m three weeks from the Auckland Bench-Press Championships!)