Preface: I asked Dave to write this article after getting back from watching his brother compete in the the Junior World Weightlifting Championships in Malaysia. A lot of athletes use the Olympic lifts in their training, but few ever see the lifts done at the highest levels by athletes who do nothing but train the lifts all day long. There is a world of difference between what’s being done on the platform in most weight rooms and what’s being done by high level Weightlifters. More will be coming soon on how Dave’s brother Mike trains the lifts. Check it out…
“Welcome to Malaysia. Remember, all drug offenders will be put to death.” That in-flight announcement was one hell of a reminder that I was no longer in Seattle. In fact, I was about as far away as you can get. Last week, I was fortunate enough to travel to Penang, Malaysia to watch my younger brother, Mike Nackoul, compete in the Junior Weightlifting World Championships. The US has an outstanding crop of young lifters, both in character and in ability, so I knew that I would have a good time even if I couldn’t drink the water.
My family and I touched down early Sunday morning. My brother had already been there for a week, doing some pre-competition workouts and adjusting to the time zone. He snapped a picture of the pre-competition training hall, which you can see, surrounded by barbed wire, below.
The US team is pretty social, so they had already made quite a few friends, both English and non-English speaking, before we got there. In particular, they really got along well with the group from Turkmenistan. One of them, Hojamuhammet Toychyyev (seen above and below), who called himself Muhammet for short, even came to all of our lifters’ sessions to cheer them on. He was one hell of an athlete; about 6’2”, 245 lbs, with a 206kg clean and jerk. Through Google translate we were able to learn that Muhammet was also a boxer and a wrestler. I was tempted to try to take him back to Seattle and let Joel and Matt turn him into a human weapon.
Here’s a video of the 105+’s. The big boys, including our new friend Muhammet, moved some monster weight. Make sure to catch the 231 clean and jerk at the end. Oh, and the silver medalist is only 17!
Turkmenistan wasn’t the only country to welcome the US. In fact, most of the countries were friendly, even the countries that we do not have the best political relations with. A few members of the Iranian team, which included all time great Hossein Rezazadeh as a coach, had a long chat with a couple of our lifters. They thought that the American team had a lot of potential, which was encouraging. They also explained some of their training strategy.
While they didn’t reveal anything terribly out of the ordinary, they did mention that all of their best lifters lived together, ate together, and trained together. They believed that the camaraderie and constant pushing were integral to their success. There was only one country that genuinely hated us. No surprise, but it was North Korea. They did an excellent job closing elevator doors on us for most of the week.
The hotel was spectacular. It was a legitimate 5 star resort packed with great eateries, a jungle garden, a full spa, and a pool with a waterfall. It was also extremely safe as it was constantly surrounded by guards with AK-47’s. It always feels good to have the guys with the AK-47’s on your side.
Really have to hand it to the Malaysian Weightlifting Federation. They spared no expense. On top of the resort accommodations, they provided shuttles to and from the stadium every 20 minutes and also gave daily tours of Penang.
My brother lifted the day after we got there, at about noon Malaysian time. Before I delve into how he did, let me provide some background. I used to be an Olympic lifter and a football player. I was ok, but not international class. I got my brother into lifting at about 13 in order to help him with football and he just took off from there.
So far, he’s won 2 School Age titles and one Junior title. He’s made two Junior World teams. He’s given up football and now concentrates solely on lifting. Prior to Junior Worlds, he lived at the Olympic Training Center for a month and a half to prepare. This competition was very important to him.
Just a quick side note and advertisement for Joel: I’ve stopped training like an O-lifter in order to get my bodyweight down. Joel’s helped me tremendously with that. Training with Joel is like being on the Biggest Loser except with less crying and more ass kicking.
Back to the story. Mike had a tough session. The 85’s this year were brutal. He thought he had a chance at making the A session, but he barely missed the cut. When he found out he didn’t make it, he resolved to win the B and maybe pass a lifter or two in the A. He was hoping for a top 10 finish. When the competition started, it was clear that he actually did have a chance at winning the B. He opened with a pretty easy 137 in the snatch and followed up 141. He barely missed 143 behind him.
Mike has always been stronger in the clean and jerk, so he had big expectations for the second half of the competition. He smoked 176 as his opener and nailed 181, a new PR, with only a little bit of trouble. Looking up at the scoreboard, he knew that the only way he could win the B was to take 186. The lifter from Ecuador totaled 326 and was lighter, so Mike needed to beat him by at least a kilo.
With the rest of team USA cheering him on, as well as some support from Turkmenistan, Mike gutted out 186 and won the B. The full video is below. A couple minutes later, I asked him how he felt. “I just cleaned 410 pounds, how do you think I feel? I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.”
Later that night, we returned to watch the A session. There was some mighty lifting going on, as well as some world-class heckling done by the Iranian fans. I had a picture of them, but I can’t seem to find it now. They would cheer “I! R! Iran!,” short for the Islamic Republic of Iran, over and over again, especially after misses by non-Iranians. One of the Romanian lifters finally had enough and yelled “BASTARDS!” at them after one of his misses. They were better behaved after that. Apparently “bastard” is strong enough to breach the culture gap.
The night ended with an absolutely outstanding duel between the Russian and Iranian teams. Russia’s 85kg ace, Apti Aukhadov, was bested on body weight by Iran’s 85. We shot some video of Apti. If you’re interested in Olympic lifting technique, I suggest you watch it.
We spent the next couple days relaxing and watching the rest of the team. I actually went to work out the next day with Mike in the training hall. Mike decided to do power cleans but also declined to take his flip flops off and put on proper lifting shoes. Old timers will tell you, there’s quite a history of Olympic lifters lifting in shower sandals. Someone asked Mike why he would do that and he gave the best explanation I’ve ever heard: “Balls.” Here’s a video we shot on a camera phone of a 150kg power clean. Keep in mind that not only is he wearing flip flops, but he also is one day removed from international competition.
If you watch the video, you can hear Mike “bark” before he lifts. All of his previous coaches ignored it, but, Zygmunt Smalcerz, the US’ new coach and IWF hall of famer, actually barks back at him. In fact, a couple of the international coaches do this. Sort of a way of saying “I’m with you.” I thought that was pretty cool.
The international lifters also have some interesting habits. Most of the Polish team smokes in between lifts. The first few people I told this to asked me something to the effect of “what’s in cigarettes that helps them?” It’s amazing how much people revere the Eastern Bloc countries when it comes to weightlifting. Now that the secret’s out, I can picture Marlboros being sold at Crossfits nation-wide.
Team USA ended up doing great. The men took 6th place overall, their highest finish in years. The women’s team also did outstanding, but unfortunately they were hurt by some questionable press out calls. Congratulations to Darren Barnes, Ian Wilson, and Jared Fleming on setting new American Records. Also congratulations to Chioma Amaechi on her clutch performance at Nationals this weekend. Chioma had a couple lifts red lighted at Junior Worlds that, in my opinion, were very clean. She responded at Nationals by making 141, a 9 kilo PR, on her final attempt to claim the silver.
Here’s some other pictures from the trip:
See…not only is Olympic lifting good for explosion, but it’s also a good way to see the world!