2017 American Open Series 3

It is now a few days since myself and the Heavy Metal team returned from Michigan and I'd like to sit down and reflect both on our performance and the USAW's execution of the competition. It was great, as usual, to see the weightlifting community come together. Such a diverse group of people united by similar love for chucking weights overhead that leads to great memories and conversations. I am so appreciative of the community and organization we have, and all the non-lifters that help make it possible. Before I get into individual performances, let's dive into the logistics and experience.

 Photo Credit: Lincoln Brigham

Photo Credit: Lincoln Brigham

USAW and Event Logistics

It's no secret to those of us who have been around more than a year or two that the caliber of execution at USA Weightlifting events has improved dramatically.  Since Phil Andrews became our Events Coordinator, a new standard for what was acceptable at our highest levels of competition has been set.  While he has since moved on to the position of CEO, I believe his leadership and precedent has led to an excellent and capable staff. It has also had a trickle down effect, as we see local competitions grow in scale and spectacle, many with monetary prizes and sponsorships from industry leading companies.

This event was no exception. The USAW Events staff really does have the setup down to clock work. Although many of us do not prefer multiple platforms, it is a necessary evil for the level of participation we are experiencing. They have attempted as much as possible to establish three distinct zones of competition, each with their own lighting, announcing, speaker setup, and of course accompanying officials. Available staff and volunteers were very short in number for this event, particularly on Day 3.  This makes the thankless efforts of the officials, loaders, and other logistical staff that much more impressive, who worked tirelessly long days to ensure the competitors had a good experience. The proceedings of the event went rather smoothly, with a huge reduction in technical stoppages compared to the past, and only a minor delay in the judging lights as the only conceivable complaint.

Political affiliation aside, the DeVos center is an impressive venue, more than capable of hosting the over 600 lifters and spectators for this meet, accompanied with convenient, close bathrooms, additional halls for weigh-ins and technical meetings, and spacious layouts for the warmup and training halls. This is only my second time this year experiencing the new Rogue sponsored setup, and it did not disappoint. Plenty of great equipment and platforms to go around in a very busy training hall, along with a, dare I say, roomy warmup room. The bar snob in me didn't hate competing on a Rogue Weightlifting Bar quite as much as I thought I would, though I do believe they should try to make the knurling for platform bars a tad more aggressive than their standard cut.

I had countless conversations with athletes who told me "this is my first big meet" and was excited that their first experience with our organization could be such a well run event. If I had taken many to people to the skating rink, or even to my first local meet, which was run powerlifting style with both genders, I don't know if many would become repeat customers. I think this series format is a resounding success, addressing the explosion in participation with professionalism, and not overrunning the prestige of our National Championships. I hope the USAW expands upon these events by formally labeling them as Regional Championships, perhaps for the West, Midwest, and East given the trend of our locations. This would give the events a distinct local identity, provide a new tier of classification in our athlete development system, and perhaps abate the epic levels of butthurt older lifters are experiencing due to new participants calling themselves "national level athletes". If that last bit gets your jimmies rustled, I recommend you avoid the fitness industry entirely, where people call themselves things all the time that are not rooted in truth.

Hotel, Airport, and the City of Grand Rapids

Anytime USA Weightlifting would like to return to Grand Rapids, they have my full support. This is a beautiful, smaller city in the north, with plenty of sites to see, excellent food, and even better beer. The worst part about lifting last is not being able to imbibe quite as much great beer as I might otherwise wish. The airport was small, fast, efficient, and not far from the venue. I'd like to know exactly how our NGB conned the Amway Grand Plaza into such an affordable rate per night. I know this price point may not seem reasonable to a lot weightlifters who elected for AirBnB, but I'm a big believer in being as close to the competition venue as possible to reduce stress on the athletes. Perhaps I was swayed by having a picturesque view of the Grand River from my window. The hot tubs, indoor pool, and well equipped hotel gym also were a nice touch.

The Amway is certainly a first class hotel and I was very happy to have been a guest there. However, many rooms did not come with a refrigerator and none to my knowledge had a microwave. In and event where a MAJORITY of competitors must cut weight, this is a serious oversight. In the final hours of weight cutting it is imperative that an athlete can have total control of their nutrition, and not being able to store or prepare their meals onsite can threaten their performance. Not to mention, eating out for every meal can become quite an exorbitant expenditure, even if the many varied options were excellent. I understand when planning events, our organizers will rarely, if ever, be able to secure a location that has it all. I would implore the USAW to consider this as a serious factor for our athletes in the future, and this issue will register as my only criticism.

Team Heavy Metal

At the National Championships in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to coach two national medalists, something I had no idea would come so early in my coaching career. This year, we expanded from our remote team into our own brick and mortar location starting on New Year's. I had hopes for us to grow, but had no idea that we would host a sold out weightlifting meet and qualify over 25 athletes for the American Open Series. Our club has grown rapidly and I am proud of how dedicated my athletes are to the sport.


Ryan Burke -- Bronze Medal

At AO Series 3 we brought a total of four competitors. And as fate would have it, all of us are in classes that slated us for a Sunday lifting session, from the very first sessions, to the very last. Ryan Burke started us off in the 105kg Masters 35 Class. This was Ryan's first time on a big stage, and with that comes nerves from inexperience. He confessed that the magnitude of the moment was affecting him after we completed snatches, but I wouldn't have known it. He made 2/3 snatches, which set us up nicely going into the clean and jerk, his better event. Seizing the chance for Bronze in his class, we opened with the winning weight, a number pretty routine in his range. After a technical error on his first attempt, he made a good correction to lock up his hardware. While I definitely know he's capable of a much bigger total, he still executed under pressure and made the weights he needed to get on the podium. That's a giant learning experience that will help him going into the future. I also reminded him that in the weeks leading up to the event, he had gotten engaged and bought a house, two wonderful, but stressful and emotional life events. It also doesn't help that he had to get up at 5am to prep for his weigh-in, but he took it on the chin and went to work.


Sientje Henderson -- 6/6

Sientje was having some big doubts about her jerk leading up to this event. At one point I remember seeing her missing 70% just because she felt so defeated by it. I reminded her that she naturally has an amazingly powerful jerk, competes well, and trust that on meet day her body will feel great. Sientje is the ultimate gamer, I've discovered. This was also her first time on a big stage and she was dealing with nerves. Once she knocked down her snatch opener, she got better and stronger with every lift. That's a tremendous ability to grow in confidence on the stage and what truly breeds winners. She finished 3/3 in the snatch with meet PR and just 1kg under her best ever. Going into the clean and jerk, I wanted to build upon that momentum and asked her to take bigger jumps than she was used to. Who'd have thought that by the end it would be her asking me to go even more. After knocking down 80 and 85, she asked for 92 and promised me she would make it. I told her "I want one of those fucking bracelets" that lifters who go 6/6 are awarded. Sientje obliged. 92 was not only a lifetime meet PR, but an absurdly easy lift. I've known for a while that she a tremendous strength that is still waiting to be unlocked. This performance was a huge building block for her in a great direction.

 Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva, Lifting Life

Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva, Lifting Life

Tayler Harris -- Silver Across The Board

Tayler had a great training cycle leading up to this meet. We had planned out the rest of the year after Chicago and it's been amazing to support and watch her grow every week. I'm going to write something separate about this process and how we accomplished this, but here are the facts: She competed in the 90kg Class weighing 76kg; made all three snatches, two of which were meet PRs, ending with 91kg for a 4kg meet PR; PRed her clean by racking and standing up with 120kg; barely missed the jerk which would've exceeded our end of year goal in the total; she finished with a 5kg PR Total of 206 and swept silver in the class. For her, this meet was all about making lifts, and she only missed a half of one on her way to PRs. We did not peak for this event and will continue to make our way towards final competition of the year where I believe she will smash through these numbers once again.


Sean Rigsby -- Comeback

I really despise that word. And I don't care to use it at all when describing my recovery from surgery. I don't believe in "comeback PRs" though they are measurable milestones for progress. But since I seem to find myself in situations a lot where I'm down and have to do something bigger than I expected to get out a whole, I'll use it.

This was my first time on a big stage in two years following surgical repair of my labrum tear. Suffice it to say, I am not 100%, I do not have normal mobility or function, but I think I found the right dosage to effect change without regression finally. Mobility actually improved significantly in the week leading up to the meet, but I discovered I was supremely weak in these new positions. I can say that the rest of my body, physically, is in good shape for strength and power finally.

My plan was to try and make 3 snatches. I made 2/3 and then found myself in 12 kilo deficit for 2nd Place. This meant I was really going to have to push the clean and jerk much more than I had in training. Looking back, I am very glad this happened because it lead to the discovery that I am ready for the big clean and jerks again: I just need a bit of practice with them on the bar.

After getting on the board with 180kg, I told my coach to put whatever we need to lock up silver. That turned into a surprisingly easy 187kg. For the third we said screw it and went after 194kg, a lifetime PR. I clarked this like a giant baby after pulling it to my chest, but I'm excited to see that PRs, REAL PRs, are within reach. The 317kg Total is a far cry from impressive or where I should be, but it was 12kg more than the last time I totaled at a local meet and I feel that is good progress. I forgot how much I love being on the big stage, how empowering it feels to compete at that level, and for the first time in ages I'm excited to begin a training block healthy.

This was a great result for our Club and another great performance by the USAW. I'm excited to see what they have in store for us at the end of the year in Anaheim as they host the IWF World Championships and American Open Championships back to back.