This past weekend concluded the third and final installment of the “American Open Series” by USA Weightlifting. Traditionally there were two BIG national events by USAW, The National Championships, and the American Open. The qualifying totals of the AO were typically a bit lower, and more manageable than that of Nationals, and rightfully so. To win a National Championship should mean something: That you’re the best of the best in your country. As the sport of Weightlifting continues to grow at a rapid rate, it is becoming more competitive, USAW has been forced to increase the qualifying totals in order to limit the number of competitors. That left no middle ground between doing a local competition and making it to the big stage. The American Open Series is designed to be that middle ground. The event is organized by USAW, and has the look and feel of Nationals, but the qualifying totals were more manageable to give people who aren’t quite at the top of the top get more national level experience.

We were fortunate enough that over half a dozen of our athletes qualified, so the 8 of us, (6 athletes, and 2 coaches) shipped out to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the competition. The sport of Weightlifting has 8 weight categories for men, and 8 for women, as well as 4 basic age brackets:

  1. Youth: these are athletes 17 years of age or younger. They are divided into two year groupings (16-17, 14-15, etc…)
  2. Junior: 20 and younger
  3. Senior: 21-34 (this is the group contested at the Olympics)
  4. Masters: 35+, but also broken into 5 year groupings (35-39, 40-44, etc…)

Anyone can compete as a “senior” (also sometimes called “Open”), if they make the qualifying totals, otherwise you have to compete in your alloted age bracket. Our team lineup for the event looked like this:

Steph: Women’s 58kg Senior

Jamie: Women’s 63kg Master

Ally: Women’s 69kg Senior

Sarah: Women’s 90+ Master

Tyler: Men’s 94kg senior (although he is a junior)

Phil: Men’s 105+ Master

LIfting at the competition starts Friday morning and ends Sunday night. USAW starts with the lightest weight classes and progresses through the heavier ones as the weekend goes on. As such Steph was our first athlete to compete, on Friday morning. I distinctly remember Steph’s first competition, she was so nervous you could visibly see her arms shaking as she held the weight overhead. Now, about a year later, I was the nervous one since she had to go first. Watching your teammates compete before you do is a big advantage, as you get used to the flow of the competition. Steph had no such luxury. Lately in the gym Steph has been on fire, hitting PRs nearly every week, but you never know what’s going to happen on the “big” stage. She was only able to make her first snatch, which was her opener at 51kg, which tied her previous best in competition. After making her opening C&J at 68kg, Steph missed 70kg on her 2nd attempt. Before she went on stage to try it again on her 3rd and final attempt, I asked her “you do want to make more than 2 lifts this weekend, right?” That seemed to give her just the spark she needed to crushher third attempt at 70kg, which broke her competition best, as well as her best total in competition. All in all, a good day, and it set the tone for the team the rest of the weekend.

The next athlete to compete was Ally, Saturday morning. Everything that could have gone wrong in Ally’s session pretty much did. It started with the competition beginning 5 minutes late. To those not involved in the sport, that may not seem like a big deal, but Ally was slated to be the first athlete to lift in the session, which means we had to time her warm-up based on when the session was supposed to start. A 5 minute delay really throws the wrench in the works. Ally made her opener convincingly and went on to miss her 2nd attempt at 55kg. It’s never easy to comeback after a miss, but Ally went out with confidence and crushed her third attempt, making the 55kg, doing what I consider, the best snatch she’s done thus far in her Weightlifting career.

In C&J, sh*t really hit the fan. We opened Ally at 75kg, which she made convincingly. As she walked off stage, I had 80kg in mind for her next attempt, I went to the scoring table and declared 77kg for her 2nd attempt (you never want to jump right to the weight you plan on taking next), to see where the rest of the competition stacked up, and that measly 2kg increase put her about 9 attempts out before she would go again. That’s about a 20 minute break. This puts a coach in a precarious position, because you have 3 equally bad options:

  1. Take a drop down sets with lighter weight to try to keep the athlete warm. Downside: it can make the next attempt on the comp platform feel that much heavier.
  2. Take a weight in between their opening attempt and their planned 2nd attempt: Downside: it can fatigue the athlete, or they can miss it which will kill their confidence.
  3. Do nothing. Downside: they get cold, and can’t make the lift on their next attempt, or worse, injure themselves.

In the end we went with option 1, and everything was working out fine, until the competition had a technical stop. A tech stop is when something in the scoring system (which is computer controlled) stops working. It took the marshals and other officials about 10 minutes to get it sorted out, which only lengthened Ally’s already long break between her first and second clean & jerk. Fortunately, Ally came into this competition in great shape, and was able to hit her 2nd attempt at 80kg quite easily. I knew she was ready for an all time PR so we sent her out on her third attempt, 83kg, and she nailed it!

Next up was Jamie on Saturday afternoon. Warming up, Jamie looked better than I had ever seen her, and all of the things we’ve been working on in training started to come together. She made her first two snatches at 45 and 48 convincingly, with the latter being an competition PR. Next we called for 50kg, a weight Jamie has had her eyes set on for a long time. The pull was great, and she stood up with ease, we all thought that she had it! The crowd moaned as the judges decision was returned, red lights, no lift. It wasn’t until I went back and watched the replay that I caught a very slight and quick press out on her left elbow. Despite not being given credit for the lift, it was a huge confidence boost for Jamie to put that weight over head and stand up with it.

In the C&J Jamie opened with 64kg. We pushed the bar up to 68kg for her final attempt, but she wasn’t able to make the clean. As she walked off stage I asked what happened. She smiled and said “it’s heavy!” Obviously she had a good time at her first national meet, and I’m proud of how she performed.

Later that evening, we were facing a bit of a predicament. At National meets there are 3 competition platforms running at almost all times. That means as a coach with multiple athletes, sometimes it’s the luck of the draw that two athletes have to compete at the same time on different platforms. This was the case with Sarah and Tyler. Fortunately all of the team stepped up to make it happen. Ally and Jamie helped me out with Tyler, while Kenz, Phil and Steph coached Sarah.

Tyler is the newest member of our team, and so we’re still learning each other’s habits and needs in our coach-athlete relationship. This coupled with the fact that he had just come from a week long family vacation was a recipe for disaster. Tyler wasn’t able to make any of his snatches, which means he “bombed out.” In other words: Wasn’t able to place. He came back in the C&J to make his first two lifts, and then missed his third at 138kg. Fortunately, we did accomplish one thing: gained experience! I’m confident he’ll come back stronger than ever, and at only 18 years old, the future looks bright for him.

Sarah on the other hand, had a great performance. She was able to set a competition best snatch, as well as take home the silver medal in her division!  I would love to give you a play by play of Sarah’s awesome performance, but I was only able to catch glimpses of it during Tyler’s down time during his session. Sarah went from almost missing weight, to winning a medal! Tis was the firs time one of my athletes almost missed weight by being too light! Sarah was a trooper though and stuffed her face for 24 hours before weigh ins, and just barely made the cut!

The last athlete to compete was Phil. His session started brutally early at 8 a.m. on Sunday (which means he had to weigh in at 6!). Phil was slightly injured coming into this competition, so I wasn’t sure how things would go, but as always, he stepped it up for game day. As soon as he started warming up, I knew he was going to have a good session. We opened Phil extremely conservatively because we knew he would be in the running for a medal if he just made a total. After that we took some big jumps. Phil finished with a 104kg snatch, which was a competition best for him. In the C&J the strategy was the same, be conservative in the opener to get one on the board, and win a medal, then go for it. Phil did make his opener, but missed his next two lifts at 137 and 140kg respectively. It wasn’t the total he was hoping for, but given the situation, I think he can walk away with his head up!

In the end, I’m proud of how my team performed and represented the names Rumbler and Arkitect. Kenz did a great job assisting with all of the athletes, and everyone was very supportive of their teammates. This was a hugely positive experience for all of the athletes involved, and I hope it only fuels the fire for my lifters to come back even stronger the next time. I also need to extend a huge THANK YOU to all of the members of the Arkitect Fitness community, without whom, this wouldn’t be possible. We all also appreciate their patience as these events cut into our staffing and thus services a handful of weekends a year.

As for the rest of the trip, if you care to know, Grand Rapids reminded me a lot of Manchester. A modest but growing city, set on a river. I did have a bit of down time to explore, checking out some used book stores (one of my personal favorite past times) as well as “Captain Bizzaro’s Treasure World,” which is a real must-see if you’re in town. In general the food was good, and there were a lot of great restaurants and breweries to choose from. The local community has a strong interest in art, which I regretfully didn’t get to investigate in the way that I would like. On top of having several art institutes and museums in the down town Grand Rapids area, the hotel which hosted the AOIII was setting up for an art show. On Friday, Phil and I had a chance to walk around the city a bit. We headed to the South East End and were told this was “hipster central.” Just as I was commenting that we’d been walking around and haldn’t seen a single hipster, someone dressed exactly like Steve Urkel walked by…

Lastly, I had the pleasure of commentating the live stream for the women’s 75A session, which featured Olympian Jenny Arthur. Thank you to JP Nicoletta for the opportunity!