USAW (United States Weightlifting) is largely alive and well because of CrossFit. USA weightlifting was very poor on the national stage until quite recently, and to be honest, we are still not really a threat to the best countries. Verdant Barbell club is an entity that I created about 4 years ago. At that point the qualifying totals had graduated from laughably low to challenging. Now, only a short time later, the qualifying totals for USAW Nationals or USAW American Open Finals are indicative of elite level athleticism coupled with elite mechanical performance. There are roughly 13,000 CrossFit gyms across the world, most of them in the United States. There are probably 20-30 in the country that have multiple lifters competing at one of the two national meets. Part of that might be disinterest or ignorance, but generally it’s because they don’t have anyone that can come close to qualifying.
Much like wrestling, there are weight classes in Olympic weightlifting. The weight classes are listed in kilograms as are the weights lifted on all national and international stages as well as most local weightlifting meets. Like in CrossFit there are cultural norms that most people follow and take very seriously. As an example, lifters never walk in front of another lifter who is addressing the barbell (this is an official term for approaching the barbell). For a time, many old school weightlifters saw the rowdiness and undisciplined approach of CrossFit gyms as an affront on their sport. I think they generally tolerate us now.
We have three lifters here at Verdant who have gone to one of the two major national meets: coaches Isaac, Cassie, and Crystal. Isaac qualified and competed in the American Open in 2016. Cassie qualified for USAW Nationals 2019, American Open Finals 2019, and two days ago for USAW Nationals 2020. Crystal qualified for American Open Finals 2019. Qualifying for any of those meets is an incredible accomplishment. The time and effort put in by any lifter preparing for a meet is a spectacularly singular, isolated effort. Lifters often train alone and they lift alone on the stage. Like track and field, the only storm the athlete has to weather is created by themselves. The mental fortitude and focus required to stay calm under pressure and under extreme weights is nothing short of herculean.
For those of you wondering how this past weekend went here is a small recap. Most importantly the lifters deserve all the credit for qualifying for these meets. They often lift alone and have to find their own motivation and fire to keep training. Crystal and Cassie each dropped weight classes for this particular meet. Crystal totaled 182kg at U25 Nationals in Vegas earlier in the year. She needed a 185kg total to qualify for 2019 American Open Finals in the 76kg weight class. The 182kg total qualified her for the 71kg weight class. Getting to that weight took months and months of hard work and on Saturday she weighed in at 70.93kg. I believe she has only been that light since high school. Unfortunately, that weight loss affected her ability to perform. In weightlifting each lifter has three attempts in the snatch and in the clean and jerk. She took all three attempts at 80kg, a weight she easily hit today in class, and a weight that she easily hits everyday of training. She missed her attempts and we called it a day. I spoke to her after the meet and one of the many things I said was that the benefit of failure is knowledge. She did an absolutely amazing job in her first year of weightlifting qualifying for U25 Nationals and then qualifying for American Open Finals, and I am incredibly proud of her. The openers were a little too heavy and that decision was mine to make. Retrospectively, I should have opened Crystal’s snatch underneath 80kg.
Cassie competed in the 64kg weight class. She had previously competed in the 71kg weight class this year. She totaled 185kg earlier in the season qualifying her for USAW Nationals 2019 as a 71kg. This weekend she also had to lose a significant amount of weight. Like Crystal the weight loss definitely affected her strength. She hit two lifts on the day, a snatch at 85kg and a clean and jerk at 97kg for a total of 182kg. That total qualifies her for 2020 USAW Nationals. If you ask her, she was unhappy with her performance. She missed two snatches at 88kg both of which were very close. She took to attempts at the 100kg clean and jerk. On her first attempt she stood the clean up but almost passed out. The second attempt she missed the clean. Her snatch of 85kg was good for 3rd best snatch in the 64kg weight class in the meet and her total put her 11th in the meet as a 64kg.