Olympic Weightlifting 2012

Weightlifting is an adventure. Sometimes you find yourself doing snatches in the jungles of Malaysia, sometimes you’re in the outskirts of Boston in the back of a warehouse doing jerks off a rack made of old car parts, and sometimes you’re hanging with Arnold. However, for Weightlifters, the Holy Grail is and always will be the Olympic Games. Weightlifting doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the US media, so I’d like to share some stories you probably won’t find elsewhere. Unless you’re in Poland, then you may have already seen my picture.

We went to London to cheer on the three lifters the USA sent to the Games this year. For the men we sent 85kg Kendrick Farris and for the women we sent 75kg+’s Sarah Robles and Holley Mangold. My brother Mike Nackoul, a current Olympic Training Center resident and 2016 hopeful, met Holley at Junior Worlds back in Romania in 2009 and they have become good friends since.

Holley’s coach is Mark Cannella who, if you read the first two articles, you’ll remember planned our Malaysia excursion and then later not only organized the Olympic Trials in Columbus but also coached Holley to a spot on the team. As always, Mark did a fantastic job coaching in London and also helped everyone make their arrangements. I wonder when he sleeps.

Walking around with Mike and Holley was fun. She’s had a host of national articles written about her in addition to appearances on MTV and HBO. She was stopped on more than one occasion for pictures while we were with her, including this photo with Mike and Britain’s number one fan.

After a long flight across the pond and a late dinner with Mark and Drew Dillon (the owner of the famous laundry room floor Holley sleeps on while she’s training) it was finally time for a lifting day. Mike and I woke up a little early to catch the 85kg B session.

Shameless plug for Joel: The first thing Mike now does each morning is check his Bioforce HRV score. In the last article, I talked a bit about how Mike planned to integrate it into his training. That integration went extremely well. Mike and Joel are looking at his data and there will be a follow up article on Bioforce HRV and Weightlifting in the future.

After the morning routine of Bioforce and breakfast, we walked over to the ExCel center for some Weightlifting. The 85kg B session had Kendrick in it. He did extremely well and came very close to obliterating his own American record with a near miss on a 208 kg clean and jerk, which was only 3 kgs away from the most weight hoisted in the A group. Kendrick was really the highlight of the B group and there’s not much else to report.

I’d love to post some videos of his lifts, but NBC seems to have an iron grip on all coverage of Americans. The 208 kg lift looked a lot like this:


Later that evening was the 85kg A group. Mike and I went to watch with our Dad and Mike’s coach, Zygmunt Smalcerz. Zygmunt is the current US national coach, the former Polish national coach, and a Weightlifting hall of famer. I’ve been lucky to be in Zygmunt’s presence when he’s coaching a few times now. There are two things about him that I find truly remarkable. The first is his “always forward” approach to training.

Zygmunt’s been in Weightlifting for over fifty years now but is always trying to improve and experiment. The second is his ability to communicate Weightlifting concepts with laser precision even though English is his third language. He can say in two words what it would take another person several minutes to communicate.

Of course, I might be biased; Zygmunt once told me that I have a “beautiful body” for Weightlifting. Being a former nose guard, no one’s ever put those words in that order before when talking to me. Us outside the arena:

Walking into the venue I asked Zygmunt who he thought would win: “The Polish lifter.” “Wait, when’s the last time Poland won a gold medal?” Zygmunt looked at the floor. It was him. He was the last gold medalist. I thought I might watch something special transpire that night.

Here was the lineup:

The actual competition started off slowly. The snatches were sloppy and there were a lot of misses. A whopping 5 lifters ended up bombing out (either missing all snatch or all clean attempts), including Andrei Rybakou, the world record holder in the snatch, on the snatch and Lu Yong, the defending Olympic champion, on the clean and jerk.

After the snatches China’s Lu Yong was first with 178kg, Russia’s Apti Aukhadov was second with 175kgs, and Poland’s Adrian Zielinksi was third with 174kgs. The clean and jerks were a little more eventful with only one bomb out. Towards the end it became apparent that Zielinski would be in a position to win. As his final attempt drew near, Zygmunt was getting a little antsy. He’s usually very even keel, but he was holding his breath during every attempt, sometimes even letting out a little “yes” after lifts went his way.

Finally, Zielinski was up with 211 kgs.


Zygmunt was cautiously ecstatic. There was one more hurdle to clear. Kianoush Rostami, the reigning world champion from Iran, needed to miss his 214kg attempt.


Miss! I heard Zygmunt finally relax and acknowledge what happened: “Zielinski!” Forty years later, the torch had been passed. It was clearly an emotional moment for him. After the national anthem and medal ceremonies, he soaked it in quietly for a couple minutes and then got up and disappeared into a crowd of Polish athletes, fans, and media. Mike and I walked out of the arena stunned, amazed at how lucky we were to accidentally sit next to Polish history.

The next morning I woke up with a new post on my Facebook wall from reigning 94kg US national champion and all around weightlifting nut Ian Wilson. Ian was browsing his favorite Polish Weightlifting site when he saw our picture – scroll all the way down: The following day we took a tour of the UK. That day does not involve lifting heavy weights so it will be skipped. All you get is a picture of the white cliffs of Dover:

The day after the tour we went to watch the 105kg class. Led by Dmitry Klokov, the 105kg class was supposed to be the premier class of the Games. Instead Dmitry and his Russian teammate pulled out due to injury and then Marcin Dolega, the next in line from Poland, bombed out on the snatch. The event was won with the lowest total ever in the 105kg class, even lower than the 94kg class.

Mike and I had a choice between the 94’s and the 105’s and we chose poorly. In the 94kg class the day before, Ilya Ilin turned in a perfect performance and broke the clean and jerk and overall world records. This is the best video I can find of that:

After the 105kg disaster, it was time for day five and the lone 75+kg women’s session. I had already mentioned that Holley received a lot of press, but Sarah also received a good deal national coverage. Together they represented the United States very well, both in their interviews and in their performances.

Holley actually tore two tendons in her hand very shortly before the competition. It was clear she was in a lot of pain, but she managed to push through. Her first snatch was wobbly and it was clear she had trouble stabilizing the bar. She lost the bar backwards on that one, but she came through on the second attempt (105kgs) to make a lift and stay in the competition.

Her clean and jerks were even grittier. You could see she was almost in tears whenever she racked the clean. Again, she pulled through to register a lift (135kgs) and take 10th overall. I honestly have no clue in hell how she could even grip the bar, let alone lift in the Olympic Games. There’s a little known Olympic rule that says that you must open within 20kgs of your declared total, so Holley was far from her best but was also bound in how much she could drop down to ease into the competition.

Sarah Robles also turned in a great performance. Sarah buried a 120kg snatch with ease and came back to make 145kg on her final clean and jerk after missing the first two. She ended up seventh. The rebound to make the final lift was particularly impressive. At that point, I’d already seen about a dozen lifters succumb to the Olympic jitters and bomb out.

The top of the women’s 75kg+ competition was dominated by two lifters, Tatiana Kashirina from Russia and Lulu Zhou from China. First Tatiana broke the world record in the snatch with an amazing 149kg lift. Then she broke it again with 151kgs. In the clean, Tatiana broke the world record for total with 332 kgs, but it was short lived as Lulu hit 187kgs for 333kgs minutes later. Lulu then attempted 190kg to try to break the clean and jerk record, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Overall, there were five Olympic records and four world records set. We saw a whole lot of this screen on the scoreboard:

After the lifting we went back to the hotel and ate a quick dinner with Mike’s friend Charles from Uganda. Charles trained at the US training center with Mike for a good bit of time and had already finished competing. He must have been pretty popular around the Olympic village given all of the pins and decorations on his credentials:

Later that night we met up with Holley and Drew for some drinks at the pub right outside of the arena. Along with Holley’s sister and fiancé, we spent an hour or two eating fish and chips and sampling the local beers. After a rousing rendition of “God Bless the USA,” we headed to a place in London’s Shoreditch district where they played nothing but the strangest techno music I’ve ever heard, grabbed a late night snack, and called it a night.

I’m not a sappy guy, but the Olympic experience was truly amazing. The energy across the city was unmatched and watching the world come together for a single event was indescribably cool. That’s all for now but, as always, remember to follow USA Weightlifting


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