Monday, June 18, 2007

Team (?) USA Struggles at Jr. World Championships

USA Weightlifting sent 5 athletes (4 men, 1 woman) to the Junior (20 and under) World Championships this past week in Prague, CZ. We did not send full teams; the thought was to send only those athletes who had the best chance of placing high. So, the qualifying totals were set high and only those who made 100% of that total were allowed to go.

Well, 2 of the 5 athletes "bombed" out of the competition; that means they failed to make one snatch or one clean and jerk. Another athlete totaled 20 kg under the qualifying total he made at the Jr. Nationals in March. Another athlete totaled 15 kg less than she made at the American Open Championships in December. The final athlete to compete, Cameron Swart (105+ kg), finished 5th, making a PR clean and jerk (187 kg) and total (337 kg). He was the only athlete to meet or better the qualifying total. Out of a possible 30 attempts, "Team USA" made only 7 lifts.

The most troubling part of this story happened a few months ago. The US Nationals were held May 11-13. Normally, USAW forbids athletes who are scheduled to compete internationally from competing in an event 30 days prior to the international event. However, the BOD decided to waive that rule this time around; I'm not sure exactly why but it probably had something to do with the fact that by not competing at Nationals, these athletes would NOT be eligible to qualify for the Senior World Championships or the elite athlete stipend ($500 per month).

Why did they not just allow these athletes to use their Jr. World total for these things instead of dangling a possibly devastating and confusing carrot in front of them? Money? Jr Worlds? Senior Worlds? What the hell is more important?

Three athletes chose to lift at Nationals. One hit a lifetime PR and qualified for the Senior Worlds and I guess qualified for the stipend. Excellent work. But, it also put him in the physically challenging situation of attempting to peak THREE times within a 16 week period. He peaked at the first two and evidently did not attempt to peak for the Jr Worlds, making only 2 lifts, 23 kg below his total at Nationals, finishing 16/27. A statement by USAW president Dennis Sneathen on the GoHeavy forum confirmed that this athlete was not training to peak in Prague; he was now focusing on his first Senior Worlds in September.

The other two athletes who lifted at Nationals bombed at the Jr. Worlds.

Now, there are always circumstances that can lead to sub-optimal performances on international trips: food issues, fatigue, injury, torn callous, etc. Maybe the athlete/coach picks opening attempts that are a bit too high. Athletes get international jitters. These are all learning experiences that can be beneficial to athletes who are looking to the long term. And all of these kids are capable of representing the US at the highest level in the long term. But did we really do these athletes a favor by letting/forcing them to compete at Nationals? Did we put them in a position to be successful in Prague? Does anyone care? Who's business is it to care?

And then why send an athlete who is knowingly just going to train through a Jr. World Championship? Valuable experience? Maybe. He's been to two other Jr. Worlds and the implication by the executive director of USAW in his report prior to the Jr. Worlds, was that this athlete was at his strongest and he was looking to improve upon his previous finishes. Should anyone have had high performance expectations for this event? His personal coach obviously thought otherwise. What gives? Might be nice for everyone to be on the same page. Then again, maybe it is none of our business.

Are there any expectations by USAW or the USOC of these junior athletes? Should there be? Is Team USA Weightlifting simply a group of individual coaches and athletes with their own performance goals? If so, and we are sending people to give individual athletes the experience, why not send full teams, so more of our best can also get that experience? Any coach knows, you have to compete against the best to learn how to beat the best.

The Russians, the Chinese and the Columbians were obviously not training through the Jr. Worlds. And I'm pretty sure they would scoff at the idea of any junior athlete not working toward putting as many Jr. World Championship medals or high finishes into their developmental experience as possible.

By the way, Cameron Swart, the only athlete to PR and achieve 5th place, did not lift at Nationals. He trained to peak at the Jr Worlds and that's what he did. In his coach's garage. Yep. 5th place at the Jr. Worlds and he trains in Tim Sword's garage in Houston, TX.

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