We knew this one would be different. I don’t think anyone knew just how different this one would be but we knew it would be different. Add 1600+ weightlifters to Las Vegas, a final World Championship qualifier, and the first time the new weight classes are introduced to National competition and you have the perfect mix for session after session of neck in neck competition. From Thursday to Sunday this is exactly what we saw. Session after session coming down to the final lift. Many of those lifts for a last ditch hail mary at the World Team. Never before has the sport of weightlifting enjoyed this kind of publicity and attention. In 15 years of competing, I’ve never seen crowds like that at 10:30 in the morning and I’ve never heard roars like that when bars are locked out overhead. This is what happens when you put previous Olympians stacked in the same session against Olympic hopefuls for the same spots on the same team to represent USA. Furthermore, this is what happens when you create the kind of environment conducive to high pressure lifting and gutsy attempts.
Power and Grace performance took four very different lifters chasing very different goals to Las Vegas. As a team, we went 20 for 24 with every lifter hitting a PR snatch, PR clean and jerk, and/or a PR total. A couple of those PR lifts came on third attempts in main sessions under high-pressure. I told myself I would not take an entire blog to brag on these women but I have to for just a second.
Cici, our lone 49 kg lifter, took the stage hoping to improve her total and take the opportunity to compete alongside the country’s best lifters. Literally all of them in her class were competing in one session on Thursday. She went three for three in the snatch with a 68 kg finisher and two for three in the clean and jerk with a 87 kg finisher. The two together gave her a 5 kg total PR good enough for a sixth place overall finish. If you watched the 49A session, you know this was by far the most deep class competitively. There were four maybe five girls all taking a shot at a World Team total in a class that came down to the very last lift. (More to come on that later)
In the 55 kg class, Jourdan Delacruz took the stage. She had what we thought was a pretty good World Team total but not one that we considered to be truly safe. Turns out we were right by the way (a testament to the status of women’s weightlifting in United States currently). Jourdan’s goal going into competition was to try and improve her current 193 total a couple kilograms in an effort to secure a more secure placing on the team list. She did just a little more than that in a performance that will be remembered by our team for a long time. Going six for six she had a PR snatch of 87 kg and a PR clean and jerk of 110 kg for a PR total of 197. All three of these lifts were new Junior American records breaking her old records set at the Junior World Championships in July. Jourdan, through her performance, locked in a spot on November’s Senior World Championship team with seven weeks left to train.
Our newest lifter, Shayla Moore, took her first step onto a national platform in the 59 kg C session. Shayla came to us via USA Weightlifting’s recruiting program right out of Baylor’s acrobatics and tumbling program. After winning four National Championships at Baylor, she decided weightlifting would be her next adventure. I could go on and on about this girl’s commitment to the sport and commitment to training each day. There’s literally a list a page long of things she had to give up and sacrifice to make training happen each day. She did it and she did it with a smile. The American Open 3 was proof that we reap what we sow. She did everything I asked and sometimes repeated things when she felt like they were not perfect. As a reward for her efforts she walked away with a 24 kg PR total of 174 kg. A 78 kg PR snatch and a 96 kg PR clean and jerk. Her final ranking landed 10th after only training in the sport for three months. She will be prepping for the American Open Final in Milwaukee this December. I have no doubt that very soon I will not be the only one writing about her.
Finally, Kaija Bramwell took the stage in an uberly competitive 59 kg A session. Kaija and I went back-and-forth in prep for this competition on whether to peak for the American Open 3 or peak for the World Universities a week later. We ultimately landed on peaking in Las Vegas so she will get a chance to truly measure up against some of the nation’s best competition. Kaija did precisely that. She stepped on a platform in session full of competition and full of girls chasing World Team qualifying Robi points. We all knew they were going to go big. Kaija stepped up to the challenge. She walked away Friday night with a PR snatch of 85 kg, a PR clean and jerk of 106 kg, a near miss after a very strong clean at 109 kg and a PR total of 191 kg. She has more in the tank and we will set our eyes on a bigger total after she gets back from Poland.
Power & Grace Weightlifters aside there were four critically memorable moments for the weekend that stand out in my mind. I’m sure many of you have far more than four or have four different moments. However, for each of these moments there is a story I will refer back to throughout the rest of my history as a coach. Each of these moments carried with them inspiration and a lesson about training worth taking note of.
4: Sarah Robles’ clean and jerk of 162 kg on Sunday afternoon. The number by itself is worth noting. What makes it more impressive is that she broke the long-standing record of 161kg held by one of our nation’s greatest lifters in Cheryl Hayworth. However, these two truths alone aren’t enough for me to store this memory away. For anybody who was in the room, the true moment happened when Sarah walked off the stage to an applauding and gracious Cheryl Haworth who watched every lift of that session. They exchanged a hug and Cheryl held Sara‘s hand high for the crowd to cheer on our current World Champion. Cheryl’s sportsmanship and love for weightlifting will be a moment I remember for a long time as she made sure to honor the country’s newest, greatest female weightlifter.
3: The third moment I remember sketching in my brain occurred Friday night. However, for this memory there has to be some context. It wasn’t 10 years ago that I was competing in an empty ballroom in Mobile or Birmingham at the American Open as a tiny 62. I like to brag that I have always competed in A sessions but the truth is back then there was no such thing as a B session. There was no such thing as multiple platforms at a National meet. Furthermore, you could get last place and still place in the top 20 in my weight class. Fast forward seven or eight years and sure there’s more people and sure there’s a couple sessions to compete in but our competition venue was a skating rink in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. Now let’s fast forward to Friday night in Vegas. Five platforms long as many letters are there are in the alphabet in sessions and a packed house. Guys it was Friday night in Vegas and that ball room was packed from wall to wall. There’s 1000 things people could’ve been doing in Las Vegas instead weightlifters and weightlifting fans slammed into a standing room only ballroom to watch our Nation’s best lifters. Certainly as a team we are not where we want to be competitively and we’re still chasing some very realistic dreams down the road but we’ve come so far. If you know the men and women that paved the road for us moments like this are to their credit. Things like this don’t happen by chance. This moment will be sketched in my memory because it took so many dedicated men and women to pull this event off and those same men and women will be pulling off event after event after event for years to come as they have for decades in the past.
The Final two memorable moments I’ll never forget were two women competing each for a spot on the World Team in two different weight classes each coming down to a massive clean and jerk for a chance on the team. I’m biased as I have some form of emotional or coaching investment in each of these ladies and both of them left everything on the table.
2: 4 months ago I got the privilege to help Travis Mash out with Hunter Elam at the National Championships. She was right in the middle of a battle with the 69 kg girls including up and comer Kate Vibert and Meredith Alwine. I remember her making an easy one 114 clean and jerk opener and then missing 118 on her second attempt. Then Kate and Meredith successfully made 120 kg and it would take a minimum of 121 kg for Hunter to position herself in the lead in the clean and jerk. Travis looked at her before her change had come and asked what she wanted to do. She asked for the change from 120 to 121. Without hesitation. She wanted to take the lead. I knew at that second this girl was a competitor. I asked Travis about her training and began to help what little I could with what little things I knew how and had the privilege of standing next to her in the back as she faced a shot at the USA world team at a lower 64 kg body weight. Hunter didn’t have a great day snatching only 94 kg which left her with a 121 clean and jerk needed to put herself in a good spot for the team. The irony was four months ago i had seen her miss this way out front at a 5 kg heavier bodyweight. It was her all-time PR. She looked both Travis and I in the eyes and said let’s open with it. I wish that was the end of the story. Truthfully, she didn’t look great in warm-ups. She missed 111 in the back and missed 116 in the back Missing both of the jerks out front. I was skeptical to say the least. Once again, Hunter proved she was the competitor I saw four months ago. She smoked the 121 clean still pushing the jerk just to hair out front but managed to hold it in place for a 215 kg total and a spot on November’s Senior World Championship team. I’ve seen that gutsy move made and completed only twice in my career. Both times by Olympians. This was one of the most courageous performances I’ve seen from a young budding weightlifter in my life.
1- Finally, If you watched the 49A session you know exactly where I’m headed with this one. Cortney Batchelor has been in the sport of weightlifting since I remember starting my competitive career. (If that’s what you want to call it) She’s been lifting weights at an elite level since before I could count in kilos. No joke she’s been lifting weights as long or longer than some of the people who competed this weekend. She’s had massive ups and massive downs. I’ve had the joy and honor to know her through many of them. She has competed in four different weight classes if you count her new one as a different one. Friday night she took the stage with 101kg on the bar to take her shot at a World Team spot. I total I thought would definitely be secure. I have no idea what was going through Cortney‘s mind as she walked to that stage but I know that in many of our own minds we were wondering if this time she would pull it off. I’ve seen Cortney do impressive things in the past and put weights over her head to win Championships and make teams so many times. However, it had been a little while. The woman that walked out on Friday night and put 101kg over her head was the warrior we hadn’t seen in a couple years. That lifter, regardless of where her totaled finished, is the kind of lifter this sport needs more of. The kind of role model for courage and self-belief more young female lifters need. I’m just lucky enough to call her my friend and could not have been more proud of her grit Friday night. When everybody counted her out, she took the top spot.
This American Open in Las Vegas left no doubt that the sport has come a long way. If what we just saw is a sign of more to come, then let the world take notice, USA Weightlifting is coming for medals.