Victor Castro, of Spain, shows off his snatch.
You don't lift weights with your arms. You lift weights with your butt. The neck helps, too, apparently. But a weightlifter's real talent lies where he sits.
As we entered the stadium for the second day of the 2010 World Junior Weighltlifting Championships at Sofia University*, one thing became clear about the buttocks in front of us: You can pack a lot of power into a small pair.
We saw no stereotyped meatheads, with arms like a prosciutto di Parma, pecs like basketballs, and glutes you need to carry around in a trailer. At the front end of a week-long competition, we walked among the light and mighty.
We could expect it, given our mission. You may recall that we travelled to Bulgaria to cheer for Master Right's niece. As a member of the Japanese national team, she was hoisting metal for country and Emperor.
If you've Met Master Right, you'd guess that beefcake doesn't run in the gene pool. Miss Right had moved up a weight class since her last competition, but she and her fellow competitors were, by the standards of muscle sports, quite petite.
It seems that brute strength is less important than controlled movement in weightlifting. If one masters the physical technique, even quite modest muscles can lift a lot. Many of the competitors took up weightlifting when they were forced to abandon other physical pursuits after injury: often gymnastics, dancesports, or even ballet.
Having watched the Olympics on TV, we expected armies of vocal fans. We even tucked a Hinomaru flag in the backpack, thinking we could do a Japanese version of Norman May and get all hysterical and patriotic and stuff.
Not so. The weightlifters looked light, but the atmosphere was heavy. The actual event felt a little like watching golf, or stumbling onto a re-run of Pot Black.
By far, the biggest contingent came from China, and it attracted the most media attention. The Chinese press interviewed team officials after every big win, since, one assumes, the lifters themselves might be insufficently versed in protocol.
The Chinese women's coach kept herself busy with the press. Her team took home a brace of medals, including the weight class we watched. She impresses you as the kind of coach a player doesn't like to disappoint.
Like all sport at elite levels, the mind-game becomes more important than prowess. The concentration on the lifters' faces fascinated us.
This applied especially when jerking. For those of you who don't know the difference amongst the standard trio of weightlifting moves, the jerk is the second half of a maneouvre called the clean and jerk.
It allows much greater weights to be lifted than a basic snatch, where the contestant tosses the weights above his head in a single move. In fact, the snatch merely qualifies the contestant to get to the jerk. The jerk is the money shot, so to speak.
In the clean, the bar reaches the shoulders in preparation to lift above the head. Lifting, though, doesn't quite seem the right word for the move which follows; the contestant sort of ducks underneath the half-airborne bar, straightening his arms, and then uses the legs to draw himself to a standing position.
US weightlifter Mack Brunson demonstrates a texbook clean
as he prepares for his next step. He also demonstrates that one should adjust one's wedding tackle before one dips one's hands in the talcum powder.
In the end, no matter how much the lifter struggles, the weights may still triumph. Boyanka Kostova of Bulgaria simply couldn't raise the bar above her head. It proved a disappointment to her team-mates and hometown media.
I must confess to admiring Kostova's womanly curves, which her considerable musculature didn't diminish. She was a contrast in body type from many of the other competitors, and certainly from the modelly hostesses who were employed to smile and schlep the medals.
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*That's right. Sofia, Bulgaria. Nobody guessed from the clue in the previous post.