A Brief But Necessary Explaination of “Powerlifting Vis-à-vis Olympic Lifting” Part 2
While it was my intention to return to the ongoing discussion related to powerlifting equipment and specifically questioning the need for a bar with rotating sleeves, the thirty-eighth installment of our TITAN series of articles sparked a great deal of comment and a number of requests for additional information.
When the decision was made to use the photograph of Paul Wrenn squatting at the 1975 Tennessee State Championships, I did expect some comment about that photo. Refer back to it and one can observe so much that was “right” about the sport in its first ten or fifteen years. Of course using Paul as a model went a long way because he was such a superb lifter, competitor, sportsman, and individual. He was also a very underrated and in this day, a very much forgotten great of the game. As long time super squatter Pat Susco of Brooklyn noted,
“Doc this article is on the money and should be exposed to the ‘masses’ on PLUSA & Powerliftingwatch.com…The picture of Paul Wrenn in the hole w/975 is priceless and should be hung in every ‘hardcore’ gym. Everyone who gets a white light going down 3 inches with a $400 suit, $200 briefs and no-walkout on a $3000 Monolift should be genuflecting to this pic.”
Of course some will disagree but the photo does indicate that while it was still “about the numbers” and making big lifts as it is today, it was also about doing it in a certain way where respect for the opportunity to compete, the sport, and the other competitors actually held meaning. Now, why don’t we just say that it’s about the numbers! Below is another great “old school” squatting photo, this time of long time friend and mentor Hugh Cassidy.
As importantly, many readers did not “get” the fact that a very small group, or even one individual could and did control an entire sport. I personally never had a problem with Bob Hoffman or what he represented. I met Bob a number of times, spoke with him one-on-one, and sat with him and listened to his commentary on the lifting during some Saturday sessions at York Barbell Club, but of course, was never part of the York group or an associate of Bob. He was heavily criticized for having a stranglehold on Olympic weightlifting but I was smart enough to figure out, even as a teenager, that if he was willing to spend inordinate amounts of money on a sport that no one else would put a dime into and then insure that we had international teams that traveled and were housed, fed, and had training facilities for all of the major competitions, he was entitled to be “compensated” for that investment. His compensation was to be the seat of political power, just as it is in local, national, and international government both then and today, and to dictate a lot of what went on related to the sport. He got a bad rap in powerlifting, primarily through Weider’s press but let’s be clear here. It wasn’t as if Joe was pouring tons of money into powerlifting. I probably don’t have to add that whatever he did invest was expected to bring him a definite return. With both Hoffman and Weider, I don’t think a lot was done out of altruism though Bob’s track record was on balance, quite good relative to supporting many lifters and/or financing their educations and then having them represent York Barbell Club. As the early 1960’s became the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s the general mood of the nation, the questioning of all authority figures, and what seemed to be the need for the youth of the white middle class to rebel led to what was the demise of Olympic weightlifting in the United States.
At this time, Bob’s financial support and accompanying dictates were questioned and rejected. Bob’s expected response was to put his time, energy, interest, and money into something else which turned out to be softball. While it was within the rights of lifters to raise enough noise and for lack of a better term, “overthrow” the Hoffman/York governing body, it was Hoffman’s right to say, “Screw you people. There’s enough about what’s going on, from the insouciance of the lifters, their long hair, and inability to accept coaching that I think I’m done with them.” And for all practical purposes, by 1974, he was. He had jumped into powerlifting, as noted in our last installment, in order to perhaps find a few powerlifters that could be derailed into Olympic lifting and maintain commercial viability in this area of the iron sports. Some bought into his participation, some did not. Jan Dellinger again provided quite a bit of background information about Hoffman, York, and the powerlifting scene to make the history easier to understand:
“One other comment about the ‘tyrannical’ Bob Hoffman I would like to just throw out in passing. And I’m sure you are aware of this reality: A lot of writers–and this includes John ‘Not Quite’ Fair–loves to trumpet the HEAVY HANDedness of the King of the Cult of I (and his company). However, in very lower case type, utilizing MUCH less ink, they barely mention, if at all, the number of hands Bob actually put $$$ into so they could rise to greater lifting fame and fortune. Larry Pacifico put me wise to this a number of years ago. At certain times, and for not always acceptable reasons, USPF coffers were not capable of financing our best powerlifters to IPF world meets staged off US soil. In such cases–nearly annually–Bob would chip in several thousands so the big names like Larry could go. Larry also told me that his generation was quite beholden to Bob and didn’t mind letting people know it. In fact, Larry said that if it hadn’t been for Bob’s lifting generosity, he’d have never had the chance to win those consecutive world titles.
[Author’s note: at a later date, Larry became a very successful businessman and was capable of financing not only his own travel but that of others. However, he also was gracious enough to give credit where it was due and recognized Hoffman’s generosity and that this allowed so many of our lifters to travel to both national and international meets.]
And for the sake of accuracy, sometimes it was Terpak chipping in bucks to powerlifting on behalf of York Barbell as by the latter 1970s, Bob faculties were in doubt. Yes, Bob got the credit, but the power(s) of powerlifting were dealing with Terpak. At least Bob/ York Barbell was capable of being a benevolent dictator, and some on the international powerlifting scene tried to take advantage of that.”
I don’t think most lifters of either this or past generations have figured out that just as Olympic lifting would have had a very difficult time remaining as viable as it was during the 1950’s through mid-1970’s, powerlifting too may not have made it past local, grass roots meets for many, many years without the input of Hoffman and York Barbell. This bit of information could easily and I believe should lead into a brief comment related to the appearance of so many different powerlifting organizations. First, allow a personal statement: If not for the 1969 publication of my first lifting related article in Strength And Health Magazine, no one out of the local area I lived in would have known me even if they had fallen over me. This was how I liked it. I was seen as one of the “local lifting guys” and like most of the regular trainees of my day I was more than willing to share information, just as those who came before me were willing to help me in my quest to become larger and stronger. As a high school football coach, we had one of the first organized strength training programs in the area even though it required me to bring all of my own, personal equipment into the high school in order to have a program. Being published usually makes you “somebody” at least for the brief period of time that follows. I had already assisted a few of the other high school football coaches install and administer strength training programs but if I had a “reputation” in the local lifting circles, it was for training very hard, not being more than a typical average competitor, and being willing to help whomever asked. I was certainly not “a somebody.” I definitely missed the dot-com era and could have cashed in by having a question and answer website or “pay me and ask for a program” business as well as the first gym franchises that weren’t “spa like” in our area. Instead, I preferred the background. In fact, in a rather humorous way, the only time I stepped forward placed me in the middle of what could have been an instant-death brawl!
What few know but most do not and never did, was that I wrote the squat rule for two of the major powerlifting organizations and re-wrote the entire rule book for one of them. I was granted lifetime permanent international referee status for what I always thought was rigorous but fair judging at numerous meets, from what were at the time, the three major powerlifting organizations. No one needed to know this though perhaps I may have felt differently if my business livelihood or ego, like some, was dependent upon being “an expert.” I did however agree to be one of what I believe was four or six national athletes’ representatives for the USPF. This came during the year that a decision was to be made and voted upon by the powers that be, regarding the introduction of drug testing into the sport. That the measure failed led to the birth of the ADFPA and eventually the APF, and the sport splintered from there until today, it is an unwieldy conglomeration of large and small organizations often run for the benefit of those in charge rather than the lifters. To digress further, there are many who remember the late Doug Young. He was all one would have expected him to be and all that he was said to be. Absolutely everything superlative said about Doug’s strength, toughness, and “presence” was true. For those of us who got to know him even a little bit, he was also very nice, accommodating, and when with me, extremely funny and full of good humor. He was also straight shooting when asked any question. Doug was one of the other athletes’ representatives when I was. We often spoke on the telephone and exchanged letters in those pre-computer and e mail days, discussing the state of powerlifting and the thoughts and wishes of what we saw as our constituents. We agreed that it was our responsibility to vote in accordance with those wishes having nothing to do with our personal beliefs or prior statements.
Doug and I sat next to each other during what became a very heated and contentious national meeting. Those who wanted the introduction of drug testing, for many reasons, were impassioned, loud, and at times unreasonable. Those who wanted to keep drug testing out of the sport were impassioned, loud, and at times unreasonable. In a tale I have reported previously in print, the time came when a lifter and meet promoter from New Jersey stood up and essentially called Doug out. He obviously did not know what he was dealing with as any smart money bet on the outcome of what would have been a brief and bloody brawl would have gone to Doug’s side. As Doug stood up to almost gleefully comply with the Jersey lifter’s invitation to “take it outside to settle things,” I said to Doug, “It won’t be worth killing him for” as I reflected upon the expected outcome of any physical combat. I also realized that in order to get to the Jersey lifter, Doug would have had to go over or through me, his choice because I was unfortunately, sitting between them. Someone must have urgently whispered something to the effect that “You are sixteen seconds from death, that’s Doug Young you’re challenging” as the Jersey guy wised up, backed down, and Doug sat with a knowing grin on his face. Meanwhile, being the athlete’s rep could have gotten me killed! As my friend and long time Memphis based lifter Steve Baldwin told me;
“As you know I was at that meeting. I recall that Doug seemed to be very easy going even when that guy kept barking aggressively at him. When the guy kept challenging him, Doug calmly took his glasses off but all the while, he kept grinning. It was such an obvious mismatch that the guy’s challenges were comical. The guy had some valid points but he came across as totally crazed. After the fellow from New Jersey challenged Doug to step outside, Tennessee lifter Joe Cummins said ‘I want the drug that he (the Jersey rep) is taking! He thinks he’s John Wayne.’ Joe’s humor broke the tension and everyone had a good laugh.”
My level of comfort to remain in the background in most of the powerlifting matters I was involved in was in contrast to Bob Hoffman or Joe Weider but both were in business and that required being known by their public and potential customer base. What many in powerlifting don’t know is that I was also acquainted with Joe Weider. Part of my indoctrination into the lifting sports was the honor of sitting in the back of Leroy Colbert’s health food store, a number of times with Dave Draper and this was in the early 1960’s before Dave moved to California and subsequently became one of the all time greats of bodybuilding. We would eat huge hero sandwiches overflowing with meat and cheese and wash these down with quarts of milk as Leroy and his wife Jackie discussed every aspect of nutrition and lifting weights that one could think of. Needless to say, Jackie was not thrilled with our typical “old school” approach to bulking up as we shoved a few thousand calories into our faces while learning the nuances of various multi-joint exercises, but we certainly learned a lot from the venerated Mr. Colbert. As Leroy knew Joe Weider for what must have been a decade even in the early ‘60’s, we also got an earful about Joe on our Saturday visits. It was through this relationship that I eventually met Joe when I was fourteen years old. As late as 1968 when I questioned some of the material in Joe’s magazines, Leroy was telling me that the articles were allowing Joe to live out sexual fantasies in print while appealing to the “free love” fringe of the youth counter-culture. Into the mid-1980’s, I had written a number of articles for Joe’s magazines, only a few times under my own by-line as these were scientifically or technically slanted pieces, written for the express purpose of having others’ names used as the authors. As most of these bodybuilders who were credited with writing the articles could not have pronounced more than fifty percent of the words utilized, it fell to me to provide the verbiage and I was well compensated for doing so. Joe was also trying to hire my wife as a full time photographer and offered me the editor’s position to his flagship magazine, telling me that he “didn’t want to leave it to a bodybuilder this next time around.” So I knew Joe and “I got it” when discussing the state of affairs in our sport.
I “got it” well enough that when my wife and I were invited to join Joe for lunch one day, I was asked to write the ad copy for what became the women’s version of his Anabolic Mega-Paks. I declined, noting the potential and probable lawsuits that would eventually follow because the product’s ability to deliver what my accompanying literature would offer wouldn’t be close. Joe, to my naive wife’s astonishment, explained that he expected lawsuits but that the spread sheet would show millions in profit when sales were compared to legal fees, fines levied by the FDA, and any necessary customer refunds. He did however, fully understand my position, respected and accepted it, and gave the task over to Fred Hatfield who was at lunch with us and at that time, working for Joe as the editor of another of Joe’s magazines.
At one point through the years, I mentioned to Joe that he gave out a lot of information that was positive but it was mixed with a ton of bullshit and hyperbole. His impassioned, honest, and ultimately, fully accepted response was that he knew he was bullshitting and in summary stated that he was selling a dream, for the vast majority, an unattainable dream of muscles and strength. His message was aimed at young men who were twelve to fifteen years of age or those older who still harbored the same insecurities and hopes as the typical twelve to fifteen year old. He admitted that he was selling a boatload of fantasies but by the time the idealistic youth had grown to the age of eighteen, nineteen, or into his mid-twenties and realized that he was never going to attain that Mr. America body or strength of Samson, they had made the commitment to a healthier, more productive, and positive lifestyle. “By the time they figure out that it was bullshit, they stayed away from alcohol, drugs, a negative lifestyle and lived more positively. They learned discipline and sacrifice that comes from going to the gym regularly and they have more self confidence. In the long run, I really did help them tremendously.” Joe told me this with such conviction and honesty, that l have had difficulty since that day, seeing him in a negative light.
Men like Hoffman and Weider very definitely scammed and weaseled their way to the top spots of out small area of sport and industry but they were “the guys” and it took a lot of hard work, risk, effort, time, and the reinvestment of money to accomplish what they did. Their accomplishments exceeded that of any others in our field and that has to be recognized and lauded. That both worked, no matter how directly or indirectly to the benefit of powerlifting, only served any who were involved in the sport over and above what would have otherwise been possible. For those who do not know it, both Weider and Hoffman, by comparison to many others in powerlifting, were pure amateurs when it came to corruption and using the sport for their own benefit.
More on that next month.