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The 2004 Junior European Weightlifting Championships

Andrew Charniga, Jr.
www.dynamic-eleiko.com

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

The 2004 Junior European Championships took place from September 21 to 26, 2004 in Burgas, Bulgaria. These championships, which are held annually on weightlifting's "strongest continent," are an important event for the student of weightlifting. Attendees are able to partake in a well run competition, see excellent weightlifting, and witness the early stages of the evolution of future champions. The athletes who competed here were an interesting mix of the good, the ordinary and, fortunately, the extraordinary.

THE SETTING

Burgas is a port city located on the Black Seas Coast of Bulgaria near Varna; it has served as one of the training centers for the national team for many years. Bulgaria is arguably the most successful weightlifting country on a per capita basis in the history of the sport. Even though their most successful, productive periods coincided with the reigns of Ivan Abajeyiev as national coach, they still continue to produce champions in his absence.

A number of former Bulgarian champions were in attendance at the competition: Stefan Botev, Rumen Teodosiev, Georgi Markov, Petar Stafanov, Ivan Tchakarov, General Secretary of Bilgarian Weightlifting Norair Nurikyan, President of Bulgarian Weightlifting Anton Kojabashev , Vilechko Cholakov, and Milen Dobrev.

The venue was the Mladost Hall, a large civic arena in downtown Burgas. The warm up facility was international standard; it was close to the competition platform and well equipped. However, the competition platform was of a very poor quality with an abundance of seems, splinters, and ruts. It was designed like a portable dance floor, and it looked as if it had been assembled and disassembled excessively, then run over by a cement truck a few times.

Although not up to acceptable standards, the competition platform presented a problem only for the "psychologically" challenged lifter. More often than not, the lifter, (and there were quite a few) who first moved the barbell from the middle of the platform (where the loaders always placed it) to a "better place," missed his/her attempt. These lifters acknowledged to themselves that a problem existed in their ability to lift the barbell, i.e., an unnecessary distraction.

The training hall was a local club located a few kilometers from the venue. It is, in the very least, an understatement to say that the conditions there were "Spartan." Littered about the hall were broken bumpers, bars which were unusable or barely functioning, crude squat racks, and platforms with uneven surfaces. Not even the Spartans would want to train there. The dust accumulated on the platforms must have pre dated communism. With no air conditioning or fans, even rather modest temperatures in the 80s were stifling in the hall.

Be that as it may, the hard work that is the road to success in this toughest of all sports does not require pristine conditions. On the contrary, training under these conditions is probably a better preparation to strengthen the psychological will necessary to be a champion. Most of the kids who were from the local club trained before or after the visiting athletes. Almost all had shoes of very poor quality; some wore shoes held together with adhesive tape.

Spartan conditions and inadequate apparel could not obscure the obvious to even a casual observer. These kids, who trained under framed photographs of Bulgarian champions Naim Suleymanoglu, Zlatan Vanev, Galabin Boevski, and Stefan Topurov that had at one time or another had trained in this facility, have a first class work ethic.

THE RESULTS

The young Russian team won the women's team championships and, surprisingly, the Belarus team won the men's. It was also a surprise that the Bulgarian men placed second despite fielding a full team which included the current Junior World Champion Kiril Konischarski.

It has been said that in order to understand the essence of change, one should focus on those things coming into existence and not those going out of existence. So, it is of some interest to look at some statistics surrounding the results of this competition to see what may be "new" about the future champions in weightlifting.

Presented in tables 1 and 2 are the success rates of the lifts of the top three teams of the women's and men's championships. Although the data hardly represents an in depth scientific analysis of the weightlifting competitions, several interesting trends are revealed.

  1. The placing of the teams coincides with their rank ordered overall success rate.
  2. The placing of the teams coincides with their rank ordered success rate in the clean and jerk.
  3. The placing of the teams pretty much coincides with their rank ordered number of lifters on the team who made three good lifts in the clean and jerk.

It is obvious from both tables that the key element to the athlete's placing as well as the team's is the clean and jerk. For instance, five lifters of the male Belarus team (8 - lifters) made all three clean and jerks.

Table 1 Success Rate of Junior Women Team Champions; # of Lifters Succeeding with Three Clean and Jerks; Average Age of Team {each team with seven lifters}.
Team & Place %Snatch Success %C&J Success Overall Rate #Lifters 3 C&J Avg. Age
1. Russia 89% 76% 81% 2 18 yrs
2. Turkey 61% 66% 63% 1 18.8 yrs
3. Poland 61% 52% 56% 0 18.3 yrs

Table 1 Success Rate of Junior Men Team Champions; # of Lifters Succeeding with Three Clean and Jerks; Average Age of Team {each team with eight lifters}

Team & Place %Snatch Success %C&J Success Overall Rate #Lifters 3 C&J Avg. Age
1. Belarus 70% 79% 74.5% 5 19
2. Bulgaria 54% 74% 64% 2 18.6
3. Turkey 66% 62% 63% 2 19

Table 3. Age of Junior Women Champions and Average Age of Champions
Athlete 48kg 53kg 58kg 63kg 69kg 75kg 75+kg Avg. age
Junior Women 16 20 17 18 16 20 17 17.7

Table 4. Age of Junior Men Champions and Average Age of Champions
Athlete 56kg 62kg 69kg 77kg 85kg 94kg 105kg 105+kg Avg. Age
Junior Men 17 16 20 19 18 19 19 18 18.2

Although these championships are for athletes of 20 years and younger, a "youth" factor was prevalent. There were three 16 year old champions, three 17 year old champions, and three 18 year old champions out a possible 15 champions. One would expect the older athletes to have an advantage in terms of strength and experience, but more than a third of the champions were 17 years and under; 60% of the champions were 18 years and under.

The two best athletes of the competition were Erol Biligin (56 kg class) of Turkey and Nadezda Yevstyukina (69 kg class) of Russia. The 17 year old Biligin made five successful European Youth Record lifts. He then, rather easily, cleaned and jerked what would have been a Junior European record of 148 kg, only to be turned down for lowering the barbell before the down signal.

A pretty child of 16, Yestyukhina weighed only 65.36 kg (the Russians entered two 63 kg lifters); she, likewise, made five consecutive European Youth Records (105 kg + 125 kg) and missed only her sixth record jerk attempt with 130 kg. She was ranked 8th overall in Russia in 2003 with results of 95 + 112.5 kg at 63 kg.

Apart from the obvious that these kids achieved fantastic results at such an early age, their true potential is defined by their good technique and the ability to make attempts in competition. Good technique and a high success rate of competition lifts are the basic building blocks for future success in this sport, so these two should have a very bright future.

The success of the "rejuvenated athlete" which the aforementioned lifters epitomize is no doubt, due to two widely acknowledged factors and one of which is not so often recognized.

  1. The younger athletes assimilate the correct motor patterns better than the older athletes.
  2. The younger athletes assimilate speed and speed strength faster than the older athletes.
  3. The younger athletes have fewer socio economic responsibilities (boy or girl friends, jobs, children) which detract from their ability to focus exclusively on weightlifting training and competitions.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

Some of the secrets to success of the winners:
  1. Technique
    Typically the place winners generally have better technique and make a higher percentage of lifts especially in the clean and jerk. For example, in the men's 69 kg class the top three lifters made 17 out of 18 attempts. Demir Demeriev BUL did 147.5 + 180; Mete Binay TUR did 147.5 + 175; Mehmed Kikretov BUL did 132.5 + 177.5. All three made 3 for 3 in the clean and jerk.
  2. Focus
    The athletes who can focus exclusively on the task at hand have a distinct advantage. Demeriev was interrupted on his final two attempts in the clean and jerk when the electronic scoreboard malfunctioned. He had to wait an inexorable amount of time before he was permitted to come out and make his competition - deciding - lifts. Demeriev like most of the lifters, lifted the barbell from where it was placed on the platform, undeterred about the condition of the surface.
  3. Psychological toughness
    The psychological fragility which inevitably accompanies uncertainty in one's capabilities is an affliction that does not affect the best lifters. 18 year old David Kadenyets (105+ kg class) from Russia dropped 175 kg on his neck in the snatch. His head snapped back from the impact, and he was driven flat on his face into the platform with the barbell on top of him. Lucky to be alive, let alone ambulatory, he jumped right up after the barbell was lifted off of him. He returned to the platform to make three clean and jerks and place second.

THE FINAL WORKOUTS BEFORE THE COMPETITION

There is always much interest at important championships about the athletes' final training before the competition. The so called tapering off training usually consists of the snatch, the clean and jerk and squats. Regardless of the exercise selection, the weights get lighter as the competition approaches. The general idea is to maintain muscle tone, reinforce technique, and allow the body to recuperate from the preceding hard pre competition training.

The Bulgarian team (both men and women) appeared to depart a bit from this classic scenario. All of the team members this author observed did very few lifts in the snatch and the clean and jerk. But these exercises were preceded by quite heavy, repetition back squats. For instance, Kiril Kosnicharski the 105+ kg 2004 Junior World Champion did roughly the following workouts:

Wednesday:
Back Squat: 250 kg x 3 x 3 sets
(10 minute break for a quick smoke)
Snatch up to 130 kg
C & J up to 170 kg (with a power clean)

Thursday: rest

Friday:
Back Squat: 270 kg x 2 x 3 sets
(10 minute break for a quick smoke)
Snatch: up to 110 kg x 1
C & J: up to 110 kg x 1

Saturday:
Back Squat: 270 kg 2 x 2 sets
(followed by just a smoke - no snatches or clean and jerks)

Sunday:
Competition

In the competition Kosnicharski made only two attempts and was lucky to get a 210 C&J on his third. He looked strong but simply lacked the coordination to do 90% + percent platform lifts. The 85 kg Bulgarian lifter Slav Slavov met a similar fate. He missed all three snatches with 150 kg, but then he made all three clean and jerks to win the gold in the clean and jerk.

Like Kosnicharski, he seemed to have difficulty with coordination. Since Kosnicharski was the favorite to win the 105+ and Slavov could have won with his missed 150 and the 197.5 clean and jerk he made, these critical mistakes cost the Bulgarians the team championship.

In contrast, the three 18 year olds who placed ahead of the 20 year old Kosnicharski (two Greeks and a Russian) did not follow the heavy back squat "Bulgarian" routine during the final training days. All seemed much more relaxed on the platform.

It is hard to see the logic behind the Bulgarian team's final training sessions. A snatch or clean and jerk with 92 to 100% has little in common with a heavy back squat. A back squat is a test of the absolute strength of the legs with no movement of the feet and a rather simple motor pattern. The snatch and the clean and jerk are just the opposite because they are tests of speed strength with complex motor patterns.

Consider the case of Kosnicharski. He appeared good for at least a 300 kg back squat. A strength realization (snatch/squat; clean and jerk/squat) of 60 to 64% in the snatch and 80 to 84% in the clean and jerk is considered the optimum range. Kosnicharski had the following values, as a result of his competition lifts, with a strength realization of snatch 170 kg/300 kg = 57% and strength realization of c&j 210 kg/300 kg = 70%. This author is not aware of Kosnicharski's longer term preparation for this competition, but at this time there was an obvious disconnect between his strength and his competition results.