My brother and I were sitting in our room at the Hampton Inn across the street from the Arnold Fitness Expo when he got the email. MIT wished him the best of luck at the 2012 Olympic Trials/National Weightlifting Championships but, unfortunately, they decided his time spent in the Olympic development program would not count towards his PE credit. Mike and I looked at each other incredulously before he broke the silence. “Well I guess they take ALL kinds of education very seriously.”
In fairness, they did write a nice article
Normally that would be the highlight of my week, but I was at the Arnold Fitness Expo and there were much crazier things waiting inside. I’ve been coming to the Arnolds for over 8 years and I still haven’t experienced anything quite like it. It is the most extreme of absolutely everything: strongmen, body builders, power lifters, Olympic lifters, MMA fighters, and even ping pong pros.
It’s probably the only place in the world where you can watch someone palm an anvil and then tear a phonebook and think to yourself “eh, par for the course.”
With Mike sitting in the hotel room and resting up for the meet, I went to check out the expo with some friends. In addition to being a major event for the represented sports, the Arnolds is also an expo for fitness and supplement companies. Being the fitness industry, this naturally brings out some famous representatives and some off-the-wall marketing gimmicks. After all, nothing says “lose weight” quite like a tank parked in the middle of a convention center.
I walked around for a couple hours and tried to get as much free clothing as I could. In the past, I’d also tried to make a meal out of eating free samples, but I learned my lesson the hard way a couple years ago. Apparently your stomach will be upset for days if you eat fourteen different types of protein bars and a dozen “weight-loss” cookies.
There were some really interesting booths. One booth had a competition to see who could do the most pull ups…covered head to toe in bags of beef jerky.
Another booth had this guy, who my brother snapped a photo with the next day. When he was walking away, Mike turned back and said “By the way, I loved you in Beerfest.” He replied “I remember my first beer!” in his accent.
Perhaps the biggest change over the last 8 years has been the rise of MMA. 8 years ago, when a company wanted to send the “be a tough guy message” they used a snarling photo of Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis. Now, it’s guys like Georges St. Pierre and Shogun that are plastered everywhere.
In the span of 200 feet, I saw Matt Hughes, Forrest Griffin, Shogun Rua, and, best of all, Don Frye signing autographs. The lines were way too long for me to wait in (Mike was lifting later that day), so I didn’t get any pictures. But I did take this picture that I think illustrates how pervasive MMA has become. Introducing Cung Le’s energy balls:
And of course, I saw Arnold as he walked by:
It was getting close to the competition so I headed over to check out the lifting venue. This year, the lifting was in a room that had one side open to the general public so that passerbys could check it out. And they did. The place was so packed I worried I might not be able to get a good seat for Mike’s session.
I also noticed the meet was running a bit late, so I went back over to the expo. As soon as I walked through the doors I saw the Strikeforce weigh-ins and AMC’s Caros Fodor stepping on the scale. It was really an amazing coincidence. I knew Caros was fighting that weekend, but I had no idea it was in Columbus and I had no idea he was weighing in at that moment.
I checked online and bought some tickets for the next day.
Any time you can watch the AMC beatdown-industrial complex in person, I recommend it. Unfortunately, Caros lost the next day (I’m sure he’ll be back stronger than ever!) but it’s always fun to watch AMC fighters. They’re amazingly technical and conditioned and the coaches are some of the best in the sport. If you watch Tim Boetsch’s epic win again, listen to Matt Hume in between rounds. I’d rather have AMC in my corner than Yoda.
And of course, I saw Ronda Rousey’s vicious arm bar (as seen on one of the screens):
After the Strikeforce weigh-ins, it was time for the lifting.
I knew Mike’s session would be tough. It had Kendrick Farris, hands down America’s best male lifter, as well as a slew of other tough competitors. 85kg is always a brutal weight class. It’s really just bell curve math; 85kgs is right about where most humans fall in terms of size, so there’s more competition.
There’s a lot of attempts before Mike, who is closer to the top, so I refresh Sherdog every 5 seconds for the live blog of Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall. Eventually Mike’s up. He’s opening on the snatch with 142kg. He looks like he has it and then loses it behind him. Something’s not quite right. He bumps up to 143kg and misses. Finally, he comes up for 143kg again.
Up until this point, it had been one of the most brutal snatch sessions I’ve ever seen. 3 different lifters bombed out (failed to make a lift). Mike just needs a make and he’ll be in medal contention. He comes up to the platform focused and lets out his patented primal scream. Two white lights and a red make a good lift! I asked Mike why he looked so confident walking off the platform even though the lift was a little shaky: “I always pretend it’s the greatest lift of my life.”
After about a half hour, it was time for the clean and jerk. Mike begins with an easy opener. Then he misses at 183kg a little later. It looked like he had it, but the way the bar landed actually cut off his air. He didn’t have enough energy for the jerk. After a little jockeying for position with the weights, Mike settles on 184kg and unloads. It was really easy.
He’s now in second place overall. He has the lead by 3kg plus the edge in body weight. The guy behind him, Travis Cooper, needs to make 188kg for second. And he does. He smokes it. Hats off to Travis Cooper, that was a hell of a lift.
Mike gets 2nd place in the snatch and 3rd overall. Full video of the 85kg session is below. Unsurprisingly, Kendrick Farris won in dominating fashion. You should watch him. Also watch Zach Krych, who makes a PR 195kg and then retires off into the sunset.
It was really late, so I ran off to get a bite and then came back to watch the 94kg class. There was only one lifter left when I came back and it was 18 year old Ian Wilson. Ian is an awesome guy and a little bit of a Youtube phenom because he posted a video of his 15 year old self squatting a ton. Even though Ian is a top level lifter and his age is easily verifiable through a cursory Google search, the internet was not ready for his strength. My favorite comment: “If this guy’s 15 then I’m a unicorn that shoots confetti out of my ass.”
Ian needed to make 192kgs to take home the title. He had two attempts. The first one was close. He missed it barely on the jerk. He had two minutes to follow himself for the last attempt of the day and the energy in the room was absolutely incredible. Ian walked up to the bar like a man on a mission and crushed the lift. The room absolutely exploded. It was one of the coolest lifting moments I’ve ever seen. Here are all of his lifts:
I was pretty tired afterwards so I went to sleep. The next day I walked around the expo a little bit and got some free stuff by lifting heavy objects at the different booth challenges (I do train with Joel after all). Mike and I discussed his training a bit. MIT had left him absolutely wiped out physically and mentally. He always trains better during the summer when he only has to worry about picking things up and putting them down without any of this differential equation nonsense.
We talked a little bit about Bioforce HRV. Mike had experimented with it before, but ultimately left it out of his preparation for Nationals because he didn’t have time to adapt to the recommendations before Nationals. But given what he’s trying to do, balance the absolute most extreme physical (elite weightlifting) and mental (MIT) stressors possible, Bioforce HRV is an absolute no-brainer.
Finally, it’s worth giving a shout out to Holley Mangold and her coach Mark Cannella. Holley, as some of you might know, was featured on MTV’s True Life as a weightlifter. Her brother Nick is an all-pro center for the Jets. Holley has developed unbelievably quickly and clutched to make the US Women’s Olympic Team. Mark not only coached Holley in this event, but he also organized the event itself (huge shout out to Rachel Crass as well). There’s really nothing else to say, Mark is the man.
Good luck in London guys, you’ve earned it!
As always, visit the USA Weightlifting site to support our team: http://weightlifting.teamusa.org/
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