Monday, November 20, 2006

Terminology 101: Weightlifting


I am not a weightlifter. I do lift weights. I weight train. I resistance train. I will occasionally power snatch or split clean or jerk. But I am not an athlete who competes in the sport of weightlifting. Actually, according to USA Weightlifting, there are fewer than 1000 registered female athletes in this country (school-age through masters). And you wonder why the Chinese are kicking our ass??

I have taken courses to learn about coaching weightlifting, and hope to help other coaches and athletes utilize video in their competition and training.

The term weightlifting has lost its proper place in our culture, in my opinion, as the name of a specific sport. It now represents a generic activity: weight training (two words). But that is WRONG! It is the name of a specific sport! And it is one word. Not two.

Many people in the US use the term Olympic lifting or Olympic weightlifting. Funny how, when you go to the Olympics—and I had the opportunity to go to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney—you go to the Weightlifting venue; not the Olympic Lifting or the Olympic Weightlifting venue. And this was even at the Olympics! But the Olympic games is really the only place you can truly say you saw Olympic weightlifters and be correct!

I worked with an Olympic weightlifter. My friend Derrick Crass actually competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics as a weightlifter. But most of the time he just referred to himself as a weightlifter.

When I went to the world championships in 2003, all of the signs and the t-shirts said 2003 World Weightlifting Championships. There, I met the great Vasili Alexeyev, along with David Rigert--two very famous Soviet weightlifters. Makes me want to fire up the telly and turn on Jim McKay and ABC's Wide World of Sports....

Anyway, I digress....The international governing body for weightlifting is the International Weightlifting Federation. Our national governing body is USA Weightlifting—not USA Olympic Lifting or USA Olympic Weightlifting.

Weightlifting competitions are divided into two lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. Now, the terms “snatch” and “clean & jerk” are for some Americans, challenging to use. “Jerk” is generally not a positive term, but it can actually mean "to throw or toss with a quick motion"--which is different from a "press". And “snatch” is, well, also obscene slang for female private parts, so that complicates matters, especially now that women actually participate in the sport. You’ll still see a few guys sporting the “Nothing feels as good as a nice snatch” t-shirts at various meets, but that is rare. Most people think it’s just not cool to wear that when your girlfriend or wife is actually competing, or your coach is a woman, or you are coaching young women!

Thus, I think many in the athletic performance world (outside of the weightlifting world) speak of “the Olympic lifts” when they want to talk about the snatch and the clean & jerk--or some mutation of them: power clean, hang clean, etc.... I guess it makes them feel like they are being more gentile or less offensive. Or is it just easier to say "Olympic lifts" because there are so many lifts? Or does it just sound more cool to tell people that you do "the Olympic lifts" in your training? Hmmm....

Really, the snatch term comes from the definition of the lift: to snatch the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in a single, rapid movement. The term “clean” means that one “cleanly” lifts the bar from the floor to the shoulders. This is in contrast to “continental” lift, which allowed the athlete to lift the bar up to his belt, rest it there, then finish the lift by pulling the bar up onto the shoulders. Apparently the English preferred to “clean” and those silly Germans liked to “continental” so that’s why continental got the name it got—get it—the Germans were on the European continent! How clever!

Now, my favorite non-English term for weightlifting is the Swedish term: tyngdlyftning. It sounds something like "teengle-leeftink."

Next comes the German term:
gewichtheben

Then the French term: halterophilie.

Don't even try the Finnish term: painonnostoliitto.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to speak with someone about weightlifting, or the clean & jerk, or the snatch—go ahead and use the proper terminology! It's really okay! Help others learn about, respect and use the right terminology for this grand, beautifully athletic, technical sport.

Now, can somebody help me understand why the rest of the world calls it “athletics” but we call it track and field?

1 comment:

cliffdog said...

Hi there - I think the reason that we say 'Olympic Weightlifting' is purely because it refers to the 2 lifts now performed at the Olympics. In the early days of the modern Olympics there weren't set lifts and the competitions used several lifts which are now part of the repertoire of 'All-Round Weightlifting'. Of course there are also other sports which could be generically defined as 'weightlifting' (power lifting, kettlebell lifting etc). I like your post but I don't think there's anything wrong with the differentiation of 'Olympic Lifting' to pertain to the sport of Olympic style weightlifting and it's associated training regimen and assistance lifts. - Note: I have competed in both Olympic and All-Round lifting and as a strength and conditioning coach I teach the correct performance of the Olympic and All-Round lifts and variations to elite athletes.