A New Technique: will it be recognized?

It was exactly one year ago today that Mumikon Mumikonov (56 kg) from Gabrov was competiing in the National Championships of Bulgaria. Having already secured second place in the clean and jerk with his second attempt, he took 175 kgs for his third attempt; a weight which exceeded Neno Terziisky’s record of 171 kgs, set before the introduction of the new weight classes. This weight would give him first place in the jerk as well as in the total.

The judges were not anticipating any “new” innovation in technique, when Mumikonov lifted the barbell not to his chest, as is the normal method, but to his shoulders, across the trapezius muscles. After a hard recovery, Mumikonov paused for about 30 seconds with the barbell across his shoulders; then jerked the weight from behind his neck.

In the euphoria of the moment, all three referees passed the lift. However, after a few minutes, Mumikonov’s competitors, in the hunt for the gold medal, lodged a protest with the jury. The basis of the protest was Mumikonov’s technique did not conform to the rules.

The ensuing argument amongst the members of the jury was no laughing matter. One of the members confirmed that the rules were broken in this case, because the rules say the barbell is to be lifted to the shoulders and not to some other part of the body. Another member of the jury responded, that the notion of “chest” was rather vague in the rules, and that it could be interpreted as “shoulder girdle”, which is where Mumikonov placed it. Besides this, if one considers the chest exclusively, as the anterior portion of the shoulder girdle, then many lifters never rest the barbell on the “chest”, since the bar ends up resting on the deltoid muscles. Furthermore, Mumikonov’s pretentious technique could set a dangerous precedent, which could undermine today’s generally accepted method of lifting.

Another aspect of Mumikonov’s technique which is in violation of the rules – the bar is not to be shifted to the chest before the elbows are turned - over.

In response to this argument, it was pointed – out that the rules are rather vague on this point as well. As an example, even a champion like Andrey Chemerkin is unable to rest the barbell on his chest in the clean.

Unable to reach a unanimous decision, the jury instead settled on a compromise. The decision of the referees’ was to be upheld; however, the lift would not count as a new record or as simply an achievement exceeding the current record.

Not long ago, Durko Durkov, a correspondent for the Bulgarian Magazine “Weightlifting” caught up with Mumikonov and obtained this interview:

- Where did this technique you performed at the championships come from?

- The originator of this technique is Leonid Alexandrovich Khotzie form the small Russian town of Derbyshki.

- And how did you hear about this technique from him?

- My coach corresponds with Khotzie and was informed of this new technique in a letter. However, Khotzie had a lot of problems trying to introduce this new technique. The local athletes did not want to waste time trying to learn this technique and Khotzie’s has been unable to find new pupils, because of the declining popularity of weightlifting in Russia. So, my coach suggested to Khotzie that he teach me this technique. Consequently, I spent almost four months training in Russia. The rest you know.

- Mumikon, what was your reaction the first time you were shown this technique?

- When my coach first described the technique to me, it did not seem all that “bizarre”. My coach, after hearing about the technique and seeing a video, did not try it even with a small weight. However, my coach gradually came to the conclusion that the technique of today involves a very low squat position for the snatch and the clean, and this would be a risky maneuver, but nevertheless decided to try a few lifts.

- Well, what was his impression?

- Very favorable. He found the technique more effective than the old. It is common knowledge amongst weightlifters that one can jerk 10 – 15% more from behind the head than from the chest and that one can back squat 15 – 25% more than one can front squat. Furthermore, standing with the barbell on the shoulders prior to the jerk allows the lifter to rest prior to the jerk; and if necessary, to widen the grip with little additional effort.

- Mumikon, the specialists did not disagree with any of the aforementioned advantages of this technique. However, all of the lifters had the same question – how could one perform this technique and not get injured trying to shift the barbell to the shoulders instead of the chest?

- It has been my experience that this is possible. The idea is to carefully and gradually learn to do this. The skill of lifting the barbell to the shoulders has to be developed the same way as one learns to do the squat snatch. You need to begin with very light weights and focus carefully on the coordination structure of the explosion and the squat under phases. Of course sometimes even the experienced lifter commits errors: for example, if the bar lands on the neck, the lifter has to immediately jump forward from under the barbell; or the bar lands below the trapezius muscles, now you have to release your grip and jump forward. For the most part, this technique requires almost the same amount of precision as the squat snatch. In my opinion, the difference in training with this technique, from the usual training, is that you should do a warmup for the neck – like the wrestler’s bridge exercise. However, the warmup for the neck needs to be done with care to avoid injury.

- Mumikon, how high must you lift the weight in order to be able to clear the head, and at the same time not have the weight come crashing onto the nape of the neck?

- If you were to hold a barbell in the full extension position of the body, it will be at a height which is 15 – 20 cm above where it would be in the low squat position. If the barbell is not held at this point, but is accelerating, due to the explosion, it will rise another 7 – 10 cm. So, it is quite possible to poke your head under the barbell. At any rate, I for one have been successful. With respect to the shock of the barbell on the shoulders, it is rather sharp, but is less than the shock of returning the barbell to the shoulders, after a jerk from behind the head. By the way, Khotzie got the idea of rapidly ducking the head under the bar, from watching the strongmen jugglers, catch a cannon – ball type of weight by the nape of the neck, rolled from a specially constructed metal cylinder. When Khotzie saw this strength stunt, it occurred to him, that if lifters can master the skill to place the barbell on the chest after the explosion, they can learn to place it on the shoulders, behind the neck; to a more suitable weight bearing part of the body.

- Mumikon, before any new technique in sport becomes widespread, as we all know, depends on whether the coaches and the powers that be accept it. There are many examples of such innovations like the Fosbery Flop and Olga Korbut’s Ultra – si and clap skates, which received approval from the technical committees. On the other hand, there are those innovations which were rejected: anabolic steroids, diuretics, use of vaseline on the thighs, etc. So, my question is this: what have you heard from our national sport committee about your technique?

- As far as I know, the national sport committee is predominately conservative. They do not want to recognize my technique. They even refer to it as “soviet”. These people would like to nullify my win at the national championships, however, their actions could cause a big scandal which could have repercussions in the European Weightlifting federation and even the International Weightlifting federation. For the most part, our sports committee has adopted a rather aggressive position with regards to recognition of Khotzie’s technique.

- What has been the reaction of the top coaches, Ivan Abadzhiev or Norair Nurikyan?

- I think all coaches, even the best ones, depend on the good graces of the sport bureaucrats, who as yet, have been silent.