More On Lee Moran and “The Incident”
I was pleasantly surprised with the rather heavy response to the TITAN/ELEIKO Part Twenty Eight article of September, 2010. Before continuing the saga of Lee Moran’s 1,003 pound squat at the 1984 Senior National Championships, I would like to expand upon the concept of “coaching and handling” as quite a few of the younger lifters were a bit lost relative to my comments in last month’s installment. I admittedly have been removed from the powerlifting contest arena since 1998. I have continued to train some competitive lifters but have not attended any contests since the five annual meets that we ran for many years at our Iron Island Gym, the last of which was in 1998. I can’t comment upon the quality of meets or actual coaching procedures that now pass for “standard” but I have seen men and women train very hard for many consecutive months, plan their opening attempts, yet then be unable to finish the meet successfully because a planned lift was missed, there was a delay in the competition, or an opponent had done much better than expected. In my day, and I made a passing comment about this in last month’s article, the Senior National Championships was for many of the classes, the equivalent of the World Championships. The best four, five, or half dozen men in the world in each class would be U.S. lifters, all vying for the championship trophy which also meant a spot on our World Championship team. “Back in the day” the U.S. champion and often all of those who finished in the top three in any specific class, could have won the worlds, any version of it. At the 1984 Senior Nationals for example, some of the heavier classes provide reinforcement for this. At 198, Dennis Wright, Buddy Duke, Pat Pointer, and Ernie Frantz battled it out; at 220, Jim Cash won comfortably but Larry Pacifico and Fred Hatfield were but six pounds apart; Dave Jacoby and Joe Ladinier battled for the top spot at 242 and were separated by six pounds; John Gamble defeated Mark Chaillet and Tom Henderson who had posted the same total with Dave Shaw behind them. These are all big names, championship names, all great in their prime, and most usually a lot better than others from outside of the United States. When there was but one governing organization, the competition was truly fierce which led to my statement that it often wasn’t the strongest lifter who won the Seniors, but rather, the smartest. A competent coach was a must, allowing the lifter to do little more than focus on each attempt. Strategy was a large part of the equation because before the implementation of the rounds system, a missed lift meant a three to five minute delay. After a miss, the lifter first had a minute to declare his next attempt. If he followed himself, he then had three minutes before having to begin that next attempt. At the Seniors, especially where very heavy poundages were used, after the attempt was declared, the plates on the bar would be “tightened up” or the bar had to be reloaded with additional weight. This would not be rushed so that the lifter would be given as much recovery and preparation time as was legally allowed before making the attempt, especially with a record weight or when the lift may have meant the championship win. This was accepted and among experienced coaches and lifters, expected and planned upon. Knowing both the level of lifting and loading experience of the platform crew was a must. When top level or former top level lifters were among the crew which was often the case at the earlier Senior Nationals, they knew what it was like to miss a 750 pound squat, and how much time was needed to regroup physically and mentally, wrap, chalk, and truly be ready for another meaningful attempt and they would make sure they set the loading or bar tightening-up pace to best assist each lifter. Timing of wrapping, belt tightening, psyching, and all of the other things that go into a big lift were critical, especially when guys would be hustling back and forth to the scorer’s table or to the expeditor, changing their declared attempts at the last possible moment, trying to force a competitor to mis-time their own lifts or make a change in attempts. One needed a coach or handler to keep on eye on that end of the proceedings as well as judge the warm-ups of opponents to predict what their best lifts might be on this specific meet day. Knowledge and experience were a key and typically, many “handlers” might not have coached or trained with the lifters they were working with on the day of the contest. There were a number of lifters that I trained with, talked training with constantly throughout the year, and/or wrote programs for so that I was obviously well acquainted with their abilities and what they had done to prepare. There were others that I would speak to periodically to “check in with” to note their progress, and then see and handle only on meet day. On occasion, I would be approached at the meet venue and asked, at the last minute, to handle a lifter whose coach or training partner had not made it to the contest site.
Being a member of the POWERLIFTING USA staff was a tremendous advantage as all through the year, we received an overwhelming amount of information about the progress or big lifts of many if not most of the competitors. Being in contact with lifters throughout the country and studying monthly meet results gave a good picture of what might be expected from a specific individual on meet day. I had an additional advantage because many lifters would call or write to ask about rehabilitation of specific injuries they may have suffered, or advice about boosting one of their competitive lifts. In the warm-up room on the day of a meet, studying the comportment and then the warm-ups of many of the lifters gave good indication of their confidence and ability to make their best lifts on this one day. All of the above is difficult for a lifter to do by themselves as their focus has to be on making each lift they attempt.
Lee Moran trained at Johnny’s Iron Island Gym in Alameda, California. We liked the name so much that in conjunction with our location next to Long Beach (my home town which is also a barrier island), on Long Island, we used it for our own Iron Island Gym when we opened on February 3, 1992. Kathy had met Lee at Johnny’s, watching him throw up out of the window in the back of the gym as she approached the place. She told me I would like Lee and I did. As noted in last month’s installment, he was awfully strong but raw, despite a number of years as a competitor. Before the 1984 Seniors we spoke a few times and as Bruce Wilhelm noted in his September 1997 article in MILO magazine, “Going into 1984, Lee Moran knew that he was for sure going to squat 1000 pounds. He also felt that a 700 bench press was in the offing.” I certainly agreed with the squat prediction. Lee had been successful with 954 at the annual Iron Man Contest in 1983. I thought the bench goal was a bit high but Lee was an excellent bench presser with huge upper body power so I was not ruling it out. Lee certainly had a “better head” for the ’84 Seniors relative to 1983. He had made some huge lifts during the year, was confident, and for Lee, was in “good condition,” a relative term for men of his incredible size. Lee weighed in at 317.6 and was less than 5’7” in height and it appeared as if a majority of it was centered in his shoulders but like most lifters of his era and of his physique type, he was not sporting six-pack abs. The lifting throughout the meet was spirited and as usual, fantastic. In the same session, I once again handled John Gamble as I had in ’83, though he was at 275 while Lee was in the Superheavyweights. Lee opened with what should have been a comfortable 953 and even with today’s astronomical lifts, take a look at that; an opener with 953! In the September, 1997 issue of MILO Magazine I had reported this as a 909 opener but the ’84 Seniors notes of Mike Lambert and I are clear that it was 953. Lee blacked out on the lift, cutting his tongue and the inside of his mouth in the process. He regrouped and blew it away on his second attempt, setting the stage for what everyone had anticipated as a 1000 pound attempt. In the interim, Ohio’s Dave Waddington who also had a very legitimate shot at the legendary 1000, was called high on his 942 opener and again on a second attempt that I have noted in print, looked as good as any other white-lighted squat that day. As the original meet report stated, after Wadd’s second attempt “I was so convinced that the lift was good, I turned to Moran…and said ‘Lee, we’ve got ourselves a dogfight!’” As the crowd showed their displeasure, I could only agree. PLUSA founder and editor Mike Lambert and I recently discussed Dave Waddington’s lifting and specifically and his ability to squat huge weights. Mike’s quote summed our mutually held opinion well. “I remember once when Wadd got away with a pretty big squat at the Ys … he was just gleeful .. prancing around. Didn’t make up for all the other times he didn’t get a very good looking squat passed, on more important platforms. He was a great guy … never saw any SHW who got jobbed on big squats so many times.” We also agreed that few were ever so sportsmanlike about it while on the platform or in the lifting area.
Wadd’s final attempt was a shot at the same 953 that Lee successfully negotiated for his second squat. Again, he was called for depth and again, the crowed booed lustily and I was in accord with the crowd. With Lee’s third attempt called at 1,003, Larry Pacifico, the meet director in the midst of hosting yet another of his unbelievably terrific contests, as well as having finished in second place to Jim Cash as a 220 pounder, pulled me aside. He wanted to insure that Lee was up for the big lift in light of his passing out on the opener. I assured him that Lee was but the often maligned Larry needs to receive credit here. We ran very successful contests at the Iron Island Gym on Long Island. We would push equipment out of the way, lay in as many chairs and benches as possible, and pack the place with a few hundred spectators, a lot in a relatively small space. While the late Jeff Wright ran a few excellent and well attended Seniors in his hometown of Pittsburgh in the early 1990’s, I don’t believe that any meet director can lay claim to Larry’s accomplishments. He regularly attracted what was literally thousands of fans, up to and a few times in excess of perhaps 5000 for the heavier classes, at his Dayton contests. The equipment was the best available, his spotters and loaders as was evident in this contest, were strong, courageous, experienced, and extremely competent at their jobs. Tony Carpino, a fine lifter but also recognized as the sport’s best announcer usually had the microphone while I would on occasion, spell him for a session or two if I was not next to the platform or in the warm-up room coaching and handling or serving on the medical staff. As a top level lifter for decades, Larry knew what was necessary for a great meet and what the lifters would need to be safe and comfortable. His inquiry was a reflection of this as he wanted Lee to have the best protection from his crew as was possible and he wanted his crew to be forewarned of any potential problems.
Of course, the “problem” we all wound up with was a bit unique on the Senior Nationals platform. My rule as a coach was simple; one voice to the lifter and it’s my voice. This was not based on an egotistical stance but rather, when a lifter is at the limit, everything has to be right for him or her. The few key words or pointers as he walks to the bar can make a difference and having one of “the fellas” screaming out “Yeah, kick its ass, way to go” isn’t very helpful. Lee walked to the platform with my final few words, got under the bar and was immediately attended to by Ken Nofsinger, John Gallo, and the remainder of Larry’s usual and usually extraordinary platform crew. The bar was checked by Nofsinger who was serving as expeditor and I did a mental check of the plates. It looked like a thousand to all of us! The collars were secure but it should be noted that it would be more accurate to state that “the collars were as secure as they could be under the circumstances.” The circumstances were that after loading the hundred pound plates that brought the bar to over 800 and then whatever else was needed to get to 1,003, there wasn’t space to secure the collars properly. They were tight but the length of both collars was not completely on the bar. Who knew? My original meet report is no doubt more accurate than the memories I summoned up in 1997 for MILO and also more accurate than Lee’s memory as he related events to Wilhelm. I had spoken with Lee on the telephone a number of times prior to his MILO interview and in the time afterwards preceding his untimely passing but I did not see him and thus don’t know how impaired his memory may have been due to a series of strokes he had suffered during 1994-’95 and the effects of the passage of time since the big lift. I know that my memory as seen through the comments in MILO made things differ a bit relative to the meet report.
What is definite is the fact that as Lee backed away from the racks in those pre-Monolift days, the bar whipped terribly. Veterans will remember the late Chip McCain who it was said, could no doubt have successfully squatted with 850 if only he could have stood still with it. I had witnessed Chip bounce around the stage with 700-plus on his back in such an extreme state of uncontrolled balance and potential mayhem that spotters literally jumped out of the way of his careening body. When Chip finally regained control which he most often managed to do, he made the squat so easily that it looked as if he had 225 on the bar. Lee’s bar was really in motion, even after his motion ceased and he set up to squat. As he received the down signal, the collar on the right side shot off and bounced close to my feet where I stood just off of the platform. As time seemed to slow down and almost stand still, the large, gold-painted 100 pound plates looked as if they were coming out of a cannon. The spotters, time no doubt moving slowly for them also, did not thankfully, move slowly themselves. They ducked, twisted, and leaned away from the plates which of course now caused the opposite side of the bar to immediately tilt and the pressure of the plates then blew the collar off of that side of the bar with the same results. I could not recall if the bar went flying too or if Lee remained standing with it, though he certainly stood as if the bar was still on his back.
The original published report stated, “…one collar popped off the bar, almost as if it were shot from a gun. Hundred pound plates flew off that end, stressing the other collar which popped loose as well, releasing plates in that direction and causing spotters and officials to run for cover. The bar, now overloaded to one side, rocketed up off Moran’s back and flew through the air, a deadly missle which splintered the stage as it landed.” The distinguishing memory was the noise. For whatever the reason, the sound of the plates pouring off of the bar seemed amplified. In the seconds following this dramatic event, the silence throughout the entire auditorium among perhaps almost 6,000 spectators, was as impressive as it was frightening. One could literally hear a pin drop! Announcer Carpino stared at me, I was staring at Lee, and the loaders and spotters were just moving back towards the platform. Lee asked “What happened?” and my concern was to make sure he was not injured. Miraculously, no one was injured but I told Lee to just stand in place for a minute to make sure everyone had survived the mishap.
In his MILO article, Bruce Wilhelm could only write what Lee had told him but I am going to have to respectfully disagree with the description given in part because one of the most impressive aspects of Lee’s record squat was his attitude after the bar mishap and his confidence. Bruce wrote “It scared the hell out of Lee. He didn’t want to take his third attempt but decided to give it a respectable try. His body was hurting. He said, ‘Kind of had a mental block when the weights flew off the bar.’” Perhaps this is how Lee recalled it thirteen or fourteen years after the event and how he told the story to Bruce but this is absolutely false. Lee’s primary concerns other than insuring that there were no injuries, was to get confirmation that the accident was not his fault, and that he be given another legal attempt with the weight. Larry and I called over head judge Bob Packer, and the jury whom I believe consisted of Lyle Schwartz, Jack Hughes, and Bud Mucci , and we were all in agreement that the lift was not completed due to equipment failure and thus in keeping with the rules, Lee was entitled to a repeat attempt with it. Once this was confirmed, I insured him that he would be given plenty of time to recover as they reloaded and secured the bar, placed the crew in position, and then wrap and psyche. Lee was absolutely confident. He looked at me and very strongly asked, seeking no more than a bit of reinforcement “Can I do it?” and I immediately responded positively. He then said “You’re right coach, I can do it.” More than a decade later his modesty or any sane person’s expected reaction to a scene of such potential physical destruction might have indicated some reticence but on that day, he did not, he was hopped up and very much ready to go. The three white light attempt was almost anti-climatic. Once the bar was loaded, the spotters were literally right on top of it and Lee handled the weight very well for such a tremendous load and just buried it. There was absolutely no doubt that this was successful and once the weight was racked, the audience, a very knowledgeable one too, was vociferous in their appreciation.
I insured that Lee left the platform, however briefly, in keeping with the rules, and after acknowledging the crowd, he fell into the arms of his Bay Area buddies. We got the entire crew hustled into a small room off to the side of the warm-up area and I gave Lee a few minutes to both enjoy the moment, and then start to warm-up and mentally prepare for the bench press competition as we had a long way to go. As Lee stretched out supine on the carpeted floor, his friends started yammering about opening with a 633 bench press. Cries of “Yeah, man, then 660!” followed. After two minutes of this and realizing that Lee too was now whooping it up for a huge opener, I calmly said, “Now everyone needs to shut the fuck up.” Almost anyone who has spent more than ten minutes with me knows that in any ten minute period, that specific expletive will pass my lips as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or curse.
There was almost a year of planning behind us and it was not going down the drain in a haze of squat euphoria. I asked Lee, “Why the fuck are you here? What did you train for all year?” His rapid answer was “To get the 1000 and win, to win the Seniors.” I agreed and told him that if he opened with 606 in the bench press, a serious decrease in what should be his opener according to his buddies, he would damage his chances at walking away in first place and making the World team. Literally saving the day, was Dave Waddington.
Sitting in the corner of this small darkened room, unnoticed until speaking up, was Wadd. I could not imagine how disappointed and frustrated he must have been as almost everyone in attendance believed he had been robbed of a legitimate chance to achieve what Lee had just done. Wadd said simply, “Lee, you need to get these guys to shut up. If you want to win the meet, listen to Ken. Do what he tells you to do and he’ll allow you win this meet. Otherwise, I don’t know if you will.” I stated in the MILO piece how classy this was of Dave, under any circumstances and especially under the unique circumstances of this day and contest. Yet, he did exactly the right thing, chose the right words, because immediately, Lee was focused on taking direction. He went out and opened with what we knew would be a ridiculously easy 551 which was in fact, the purpose of taking that lift. He then completed a three-for-three outing with 600 and 617. From my perspective, we had won the Seniors. I explained that we wanted him in position to make a deadlift on his second attempt that would wrap it up and stress his body as little as possible so that he could then return to California and begin preparing for the World Championships that would take place three and a half months later.
Again, I give Dave Waddington the credit for cooling out Lee’s friends who meant the best for him but were a detriment at a contest of this magnitude and again I will express disagreement with Bruce’s MILO article or perhaps more accurately, with the way Lee described the events to Bruce. The article stated, “As for his DL (deadlift), he was really disappointed. He had been working hard in training and had pulled an easy 825. He only managed his opener at 650 which gave him first with a total of 2270. Ken Leistner had told Lee to open with a low figure: ‘The only thing people will remember is a 1000 pound squat and that you won!’” The final quote is accurate, Lee was here to win and get a 1000 pound squat in the process. I was on hand to insure that he did in fact win and get the 1000 pound squat, period. Lee no doubt forgot that he did NOT open with 650 but rather, he took what he thought was an embarrassing low 573. He jumped to 628, and finished with 650, thus completing his three deadlifts and making all of them with weights that were below the openers of the other Supers still in the contest. The result of course, having known the abilities of his competitors and from observing their deadlift warm-ups, was a total that put Lee 110 pounds ahead of Mike Baty, the second place finisher. Thus, a great performance by Lee and certainly, even with what he considered to be my decision to prevent him from demonstrating his true deadlifting ability, a place in powerlifting history.
On that day, while preparing for the deadlift, Lee fully understood that no matter how much beneath his actual ability it might have been, it was another necessary step towards being immortalized in the sport. He was not disappointed, he was elated. He was not unhappy, he was ecstatic. I am sure that as a competitive athlete who knew he could do more, time after the meet and perhaps year by year, he felt a disappointment that while reaching the ultimate height in the squat, he could not demonstrate what he was capable of in the other two lifts on the biggest stage available.
The World Meet of November 1984 was Lee’s final contest. I had spoken to him a few times between the Seniors and the Worlds, but he was into his training and preparation and we knew that I would not be handling him or anyone else on the U.S. team. For the first time, a directive had been passed that no “personal coaches” would be involved in any way with the preparation of any team member once they arrived on site. Doyle Kenady, an excellent lifter and multi-time champion was one of the U.S. team coaches, assisted if memory serves correctly by Dr. Fred Hatfield and Dave Keagy. All were terrific lifters and well respected as coaches but some of our lifters and their coaches were out of sorts that lifters who had years of experience working with and being handled by a specific individual could not have that advantage in this contest. I was perhaps less unhappy than most, having Ray Rigby and two or three other foreign lifters to handle but there is no doubt that the initial use of this mandate threw some of our men off of their game. Lee injured his low back in the warm-up room, gutted through the contest, winning with a relatively modest 2154 total, and retired from the PL wars. Though his time on the national scene was brief, Lee Moran’s huge, barrier breaking squat, will always live on.