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Olympics 101: Weightlifting
In a nutshell, weightlifting is all about who is the strongest man and woman in the world in their respective weight classes, right? Well, there's a little more to it. Each lifter is required to perform two dynamic, explosive lifts. Each lift requires moving a barbell from the floor to an overhead position and demonstrating control of the lift at the end by holding the barbell steady without his feet moving. The lifter with the best combination of strength and technique at both lifts wins.
There are two different types of lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the snatch, the lifter starts in a squatted position with his arms wide and palms facing down gripping the bar. In one continuous motion, the lifter pulls the weighted barbell over his head and moves into a full squat with his arms fully extended. As the barbell reaches mid-body, the lifter bumps the bar with his hips.The movement helps propel the bar up. As the barbell reaches chest level, the lifter moves under the bar, flipping his hands and arms under in the process. He catches the bar in a low squat with his arms straight out over his head. The lifter then rises up out of the squat, keeping his back and arms straight with the bar over his head. The barbell stays close to the lifter's body, moving in a straight plane from the floor to the overhead position. The referee will signal to the lifter to lower the barbell when he is motionless, which demonstrates control.
In the clean and jerk, the lifter starts in a squat position with his arms shoulder-width apart. The lifter explodes out of the squat, pulling the weighted barbell up to his chest. As he performs the clean, the lifter bumps the barbell with his hips as the bar is rising. As the bar continues to rise, the lifter bends his elbows and flips his wrists and elbows under while he moves his body under the bar and re-enters the squat position. Then the lifter stands. After he has control of the bar, the lifter performs the jerk by dipping slightly and pushing the weighted barbell above his head. The lifter's arms will be straight when he lands, but he has a choice of movement with his feet. The first option is a split jerk, in which he moves one leg forward and one leg backward. After landing, the lifter moves his feet until they are shoulder width apart and he is standing straight. The second option is a power jerk or push jerk, in which the lifter dips and then thrusts the bar up, but when he catches the bar, his feet are shoulder-width apart with his knees bent. Then the lifter straightens his knees. The split jerk is easier for most lifters since it provides more stability during the jerk. After a successful lift, the referee will signal to lower the barbell after the lifter is deemed motionless and in control.
Missed lifts can result from releasing the barbell before the referee gives the signal, dropping the barbell on the platform (floor) before completing the lift or finishing with the feet and barbell not in line. In the snatch, there can be no pause during the lift and the lifter's head may not touch the barbell. In the clean and jerk, the lifter must be motionless before the jerk.
As the lifters successfully make a lift, progressions of weights are added to increase the weight. Each lifter receives three attempts in both the snatch and clean and jerk — the highest weight lifted in two combined attempts determines the winner by weight class. If there is a tie, the lifter who weighs less is declared the winner.
Why should I care?
It is kind of compelling to see a lifter shake, wobble and sweat if you're into hairy big guys in spandex unitards lifting a quarter ton above their heads.
OK, so who should I watch?
The Chinese have somehow managed to dominate this event despite their smaller average body mass. America was shut out in the 2008 Summer Games while Kazakhstan, Belarus, Turkey and Taiwan medaled.
What chance do the Americans have to win?
Sarah Robles is the highest-ranked Team USA female weightlifter. Her favorite television show is Spongebob Squarepants and according to her TeamUSA.org profile, she "can hold things in her forehead wrinkle." If she qualifies, we need to support this awesomeness.
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