Impressions of the 2004 European Weightlifting Championships

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Do not reproduce or republish in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. © 2004

The 2004 European Weightlifting Championships took place in Kiev, Ukraine from April 20 - 25. This was the first time a weightlifting championship of this caliber was organized in this former Soviet republic.

The competition took place in a huge auditorium and the technical organization for the athletes, coaches, officials and media was first class. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, a championship of this caliber had never been organized in this "new" country while it was a Soviet republic. This was despite the fact that the Ukrainian school of weightlifting has a long history of producing champion lifters like Leonid Zhabotinsky, Vladimir Belayev, Petr Korol, Boris Pavlov, Anatoly Pisarenko, Sultan Rakhmanov, Tomur Taimazov, Denis Gotfryd, Igor Razorenov, Valery Ustyuzhin, Yuri Zaitsev, Sergei Poltoratsky, Stanislav Batishchev, Adam Gnatov, Segei Dydik, Valery Kravchuk, Artem Udachinto to name a few.

Furthermore, Ukrainian sport scientists such as N. I. Luchkin, L.N. Sokolov, O. G. Oleshko and others, who studied the technical aspects of weightlifting technique and training, have made huge contributions to the knowledge of the sport and inspired other Soviet sport scientists to further apply their ideas to advanced scientific scrutiny.

Against the backdrop of the government's efforts to make Ukrainian the official language (in place of Russian), there was an obvious undertone of nationalistic pride in all things Ukrainian from the organizing committee, Ukrainian athletes, coaches, officials, and weightlifting fans. Every effort was made to make a good impression from the hosts of this "never been a country."

The major impressions one came away with after witnessing these championships were the fading of the "old guard" and the emergence of the new, the dominance of Turkey and Bulgaria, and the "unsung" hero.

A number of the "stars" were absent for a variety of reasons because of injuries, to avoid possible injury, not interrupt training for Athens, and positive doping tests.

The "Rusty" Champions

It was interesting to see three aging junior world champions, all 35 years old, from the 1989 Junior Worlds in Florida compete here. They were Ronnie Weller, Yoto Yotov, and Kaki Kakhashavillis.

Ronny Weller (GER) appeared to be rusty from a combination of age and a lack of training with big weights at important competitions. He made only three attempts, and although he appeared to be very strong, muscles simply do not contract and stretch as fast as they used to when one reaches the age of 35.

Kakashvillis (GRE) appeared to have the same "disease" as Weller and was further hampered by a lower leg injury. He just pulled his first attempt 215 clean. On his second attempt with the same weight, he uncharacteristically (for him) struggled to stand up from the squat. Then, instead of flexing his knees to descend in the jerk in his usual "squat style," he shifted them significantly to the side, landing in an awkward "splot;" he obviously was having problems. Nevertheless, he stoically came out for 220 kg on his third only to fail to clean it.

The other three time gold medalist from Greece competing at these championships, Pirros Dimas, although brutally strong, had a much of the same "rust" as Weller and Kaki. He was unable to medal in either lift in the 85 kg class. After missing his second snatch with 170, he made a great effort, straining to maintain his balance to succeed on his third.

Pirros missed his first attempt in the clean and jerk with 200 when he kept bending lower in the "squat" portion of the jerk until the bar simply dropped forward. He came back to make this and a very gutsy success with 205 kg. He demonstrated that the mind is still willing even if the body is reluctant.

The New Guard

Of the emerging stars Taner Sagir was the most impressive. The physical appearance of the just turned 19 year old "muscleless wonder" is as deceiving as they come. It is difficult to imagine that this ordinary, slim high school student could do 167.5 and 200 kg. He made all six attempts with shear speed of muscle contraction and speed of movement.

Almost as impressive as Sagir were three young Russians: Dmitri Klokov, Dmitri Beretsov (105 kg class) and Zaur Takhushev (85 kg). Klokov, coming off recent results of 187.5 & 225 made earlier this year, narrowly missed his third snatch with 190. He then made a strong clean with 232.5 to move into first, only to miss the jerk.

Two young Ukrainians who bear watching are Anatoly Mushyk (177.5 + 217.5 = 395, six for six in the 94 kg class) and Mykola Hordiychuk (190 + 215 = 405 in the 105 kg class). All of these genetically gifted young lifters have good technique and possess the basic psychological and physical qualities to reach extraordinary results.

The Dominance of the Turks and Bulgarians

Turkey sent a full men's and women's team and both won the team championships. Nurcan Taylan won the 53 kg with four good attempts and missed two record attempts. Sibel Simsek won the 69 kg class with six good attempts. The Turkish women were able to beat a strong Polish team despite a bomb out by Aysel Ozgur in the 75 kg class. Two of the Turkish women made all three clean and Jerk attempts.

With Sagir leading the way, the Turkish men's team outdistanced the Bulgarian team with two lifters making six for six and five of the eight members of the team making all three clean and jerks.

Despite the absence of the three "stars" for doping and an injured Damyanov, the Bulgarian men placed second with seven lifters while beating the Russians who had eight and easily beating the Greek team (8 lifters).

Angelov won the 62 kg class with five of six good lifts. Milen Dobrev (94 kg) made five of five and stopped after winning with a 217.5 kg clean and jerk. Tsagaev (105 kg), lucky not to have bombed in the snatch, stopped after a big struggle with the second attempt 237.5 kg jerk needed to win.

Zlatina Atanasova (58 kg) made five of six including three clean and jerks to place third. Gergana Kirilova (63 kg) won with four of six and three successful clean and jerks.

These two teams are well known for their controversial method of placing heavy emphasis on the competition snatch and the clean and jerk in training. They spend more time practicing competitions, so to speak, in order to get good at competitions.

When one takes into consideration that successful lifts with near maximum and maximum weights in big time competition is first and foremost a skill, it is logical that the one who practices this skill more frequently has a distinct advantage over the weightlifter who employs many assistance exercises in training. As long as the strength developed in weightlifting training is specific to the performance of the technical skill to realize it (in the snatch and the clean and jerk with near maximum and maximum weights), the training should produce the desired results.

The lifter, who trains with the previously mentioned emphasis, generally makes more attempts in competition than his opponents and is physically and psychologically prepared to make critical attempts, especially the third attempt clean and jerk.

All too often the attention devoted to what exercises and weights the athletes perform in the training hall prior to the competition is not placed in some reasonable perspective. For instance, at this championship most of the teams trained daily and the casual observer could witness a variety of exercises and methods employed.

One lifter who apparently was in top condition was Andrei Rybakou (85 kg from Belarus). He is the current junior and senior world record holder of the snatch in the 85 kg class. He trained diligently every day, and if memory serves, he did almost every exercise except the squat snatch and the squat clean and jerk. He made an easy power snatch of 160 kg, four days before his competition; 140 power snatch the next day and 120 to 130 for 2 repetitions the day after that.

At the competition Rybakou missed a 175 snatch; he made it on his second attempt; then he was not close to succeeding with 180. He warmed up for the clean and jerk with power cleans and jerk of 120, 140, and 160, and then a squat clean and jerk with 180. In the competition he succeeded with his opening clean and jerk of 190 and was unable to make 197.5 kg. His cleans were very hard and he appeared to have almost no conception of how to properly perform the jerk, especially for someone who possesses such a high level of speed strength.

The motor patterns of the power versions of the snatch and the clean are close to the squat style lifts, but, nonetheless, they are different. A high result in the power snatch can be likened to an orange. A high result in the snatch to an apple. They are both round, have seeds and both are classified as fruit. But, no matter how many oranges one has in his/her possession, they do not add up to one apple.

The Unsung Hero

Much has been written and even more discussions have centered on the question as to why major industrialized countries have failed to consistently produce weightlifters competitive at the international level. The most notable example is the USA with a history of numerous world and Olympic champions, but, with very few exceptions, almost all are from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

Numerous reasons have been put forth for the lack of productivity in recent years: they are coaching, training methods, and doping. However, without question, affluence is a hindrance to the production of top class weightlifters in the developed countries. The monetary reward is grossly disparate relative to professional sports like football in the USA. So, weightlifting in these countries is an avocation not a profession; the results then, speak for themselves. The relative affluence of the major industrialized nations is not the best breeding ground to develop athletes with an indomitable will to succeed under the most Spartan of conditions in such a difficult sport as weightlifting.

That being said, it is obvious in the case of weightlifting that the East European professional, who by western standards makes a rather modest living as a weightlifter, is nonetheless willing to work extremely hard to achieve the necessary results to keep his/her job. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that.

Based on many years of personal experience and many years of closely following international weightlifting, this author has jokingly described the European professional lifters like those from Bulgaria and Turkey as being so well prepared for competition that, "You could get one of these athletes up in the middle of the night and with minimal preparation and a cup of coffee, they could make 5 to 6 successful lifts with near maximum weights."

Of course, there is no truth to this because nobody in his/her right mind gets up in the middle of the night to compete. But then again, sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Yoto Yotov competed at the 2004 European championships for Croatia. He was a junior world champion in 1989, three times senior world champion, and a two time Olympic silver medalist representing Bulgaria. Consequently, beginning with his teen years, his job has been to be a weightlifter. He competed in the Bundasliga in Germany for many years while getting paid to compete for his "German" club based on the points earned for the results in these competitions.

Now he is being paid to lift for Croatia. That is his job. That is what he knows how to do. At age 35, the married father of one child and the sole support of his family is now competing in the 85 kg class.

His best results in training leading up to this championships were 155 & 197.5, back squat 220 kg x 2, and front squat 215 kg x 1. Unfortunately, for him, he was relegated to the C session. This competition was scheduled for 8:00 AM. Yoto got up at 4:00 AM and weighed in at 6:00 AM.

Because of the time of day and the fact he was being housed in one of the crowded hotels, the hotel restaurant was not open; no food was provided for the athletes to eat after the weigh in. Consequently, Yotov began warming up with only a chocolate bar for energy and the water available in the warm up room, and no coffee.

He made all six attempts by doing 145, 150, 155; 185,192.5,195.