A Brief But Necessary Explaination of “Powerlifting Vis-à-vis Olympic Lifting” Part 3
As one of my long time readers stated about last month’s article,
“…what a fun read !….wasn`t aware you & Kathy were offered jobs w/ Weider…….btw, that picture of Joe Weders ‘most muscular’ was actually me, taken either @ Community Health “Studio” -OR- Vito`s basement gym. Always wondered what happened to the negative.”
That specific photo of Joe Weider has always provoked controversy. In fact, physique man Dan Lurie said in an interview that Joe used “retouching art work on several of his pictures. Putting his face on well built men is not new for Joe.” I know that much of the York gang of the 1960’s always believed that Joe had attained his peak of development for the 1953 Mr. Universe Contest and none were impressed. A rather well-known photo has made the rounds that more or less ignores the overall winner, Bill Pearl, and instead focuses upon low placing competitors Thomas Connery and Joe Weider. Thomas Sean Connery of course attained later fame as an internationally acclaimed actor and Joe Weider, as well, Joe Weider. Even with that, and probably only because it involves Joe, there has been controversy regarding the actual year of the contest. Lurie stated that he was “in London with Joe in the mid to late-1940’s,” and it was not an uncommon occurrence that they would be together as unknown to most, they were business partners for a number of years. Joe quickly noticed that there were only two competitors in the Tall Class of the Mr. Universe Contest and said to Dan, “If I enter, I have to come out third.” Others have put that contest not in the ‘40’s but rather in 1951. Connery however competed as a legitimate contestant with a number of years of bodybuilding to his credit, in 1953 and most place Joe in that same contest. I have previously noted that the many experts and historians, and I qualify as neither, could no doubt provide absolute proof of the contest year but that point is secondary to emphasizing the fact that Joe would do what he had to do for his commercial interests.
The hubbub surrounding the contest photo and very unique presentation of Joe is directly related to his attire because he was photographed on stage, wearing full length trousers, no doubt a first in the annals of any major physique contest! That contest “result” and subsequent published photo and what Lurie called “Weider’s famous arm crossed chest shot” proved fodder for Hoffman and others. Lurie continued, stating that “Joe never looked like that in his entire lifetime. This picture was created by the late artist George Quaintance in New York City. George was the art director of Your Physique. I was in Quaintance Studio when he was working on Weider’s retouched picture.” However, real or doctored, the photo of Joe as “Mr.” quality in his physique development was used to prop sales and detract from Hoffman’s hold on the commercial end of the iron game. History has demonstrated that the Weider brothers did a rather successful job of that.
Some were surprised, surveying the multiple-powerlifting federation scene of today, that politics was alive and well in the sport’s formative years. Even under the umbrella of the Amateur Athletic Union, there was in-fighting between the Olympic weightlifting brethren and what were considered the upstart powerlifters who wanted autonomy, their own administrators, and if possible, some sort of funding. Funding was always an issue and always politically “involved.” As noted previously, if it wasn’t for the largesse of Hoffman, the York Barbell Company, and later, John Terpak, Olympic lifting would not have had the funds to survive at the level it was at. There was no way that this limited amount was going to be shared or in any way put at risk as far as the Olympic lifting administrators were concerned. Over the course of its first few years, a number of competent and committed powerlifting administrators such as Jim Witt of Texas, began to fully establish the sport as a separate entity. I can recall the Weider organization touting their first “international contest” as a number of hand-picked British lifters came to California and competed against members of the original Westside Barbell Club famously represented by Bill West and George Frenn. However, I believe it’s realistic to talk about “international lifting” only after the formation of the International Powerlifting Federation. Despite the fact that the core of the sport resided in the United States and certainly, any of the top six lifters that emerged from our Senior Nationals in any class would rank among the top seven lifters in the world, the sport’s actual international power base remained far from U.S. soil in the early days.
I hope my readers understand one very important thing, a statement that my twenty-two year column (and many articles) in Powerlifting USA Magazine will confirm: relative to the politics of sports and powerlifting specifically, I am not “political;” I usually avoid political discussions or debates; I believe that while some who do involve themselves in the politics of any sport are sincerely interested in serving the majority in a positive manner or benefiting the majority interest of the sport, most are in it for their own, selfish motives and benefit. I’m sure that the last statement sounds harsh but I am old, cynical, and have seen too much bullshit to think otherwise. When I talk about invoking the Monroe Doctrine, sealing up the borders of the U.S., engaging any enemy as if every skirmish is a matter of life and death thus dictating the destruction of said enemy, and stating that extreme violence is necessary in many matters and most political matters because violence is the only thing almost everyone responds to, it is also understandable that I don’t usually discuss “regular” politics either and that no one wants me to. Despite the very real attempt to rewrite powerlifting history by a number of individuals who wield the power and influence to do so, and the dissemination of a great deal of exaggerated or false information (including the identification of our earliest “national and world champions”), the level of corruption and deceit among the so-called and fondly remembered early administrators of the various international organizations in some ways make the shenanigans of Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider seem like the work of rank amateurs. Giving credit where it’s due, the British and French were the first to square off against each other in what might be called “international competition” or at least the first meets to involve lifters from different countries going up against each other in a pair of home-and-home competitions. In 1970, Weider foot the bill to bring eight British powerlifters, most notably the great Ron Collins, to face off against Ernie Doe, George Frenn, and what seemed like a group most closely aligned with the Weider magazines. Not allowing himself to be outdistanced in what could be a broadening commercial market, Bob Hoffman sponsored what was called the first World Championships in York but that 1971 meet, with the Superheavyweight title won by one of my lifting mentors Hugh Cassidy, was also limited to U.S. and Great Britain lifters. The more inclusive Worlds that were conducted in Harrisburg, PA at the Zembo Mosque in ‘72, during days when it was less controversial for one to enter a mosque, still featured a majority of American lifters. Following the contest a meeting of representatives of the various countries involved led to the formation of the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) and the first “real” Worlds was then held the following year, again in Harrisburg, PA. Once again the majority of lifters represented the United States. Most powerlifting historians mark 1975 as the “real start” of international lifting in our sport, with England hosting the championship event and participation increasing to include sixteen countries. By ’76, there was an official international federation rulebook, better trained and experienced referees, and representation from more countries. Though the world meet was held in York, PA, for the first time, the U.S. did not capture the title as Great Britain won and the lifters from Finland in particular showed great potential. Now there was true international competition. By 1977 the IPF President’s office was located in Great Britain, and it was obvious that the U.S. while still a major player, was now not dominating the sport in either the administrative end nor on the lifting platform. It was also what might be called the beginning of the corruption, for lack of a better term that made powerlifting very much the political football that every other sport was.
Let’s tell a tale that is strictly theoretical, hypothetical, and fictional. We can pretend that the officers of an international powerlifting federation for example, traveled to a foreign country for the World Powerlifting Championships oh, let’s choose a year off the top of our heads just to set the scene, perhaps in the late 1970′s. We should place the story in Europe, just to give it an interesting background. Finland or some other Scandinavian locale seems exotic so let’s use one of those locked-in-ice-part-of-the-year countries towards the top of the globe. For the sake of telling a terrific story, picture the administrative officers traveling around a nice Scandinavian city, eating at the best restaurants in town, having their own personal transportation, staying in a rather posh hotel, and being given “walking around” money in case they needed to buy any souvenirs or other items of interest.
Let’s then pretend that the gentlemen who directed a large, American barbell company decided to place a bid for the world championship the following year. Well, since this is no more than a fictional tale, let’s pretend that it was obvious that in order to bring the World Championship to the exotic, ice-bound European nation it had been held in, the international powerlifting federation officers who were in charge of site selection, had to be given access to wonderful food, unlimited transportation, incidental-needs money, and everything in the way of local hospitality short of an evening with dancing girls. It was suggested that if these administrators were to be approached and a bid for the World Championships made, a similar set of “demands” might have to be met. Needless to say, with that kind of experience, it would be against human nature to grant permission to hold “their” world meet in subsequent venues without expecting similar, VIP treatment. Let’s pretend also that when the U.S. bid was submitted to the ruling body, the U.S. contingent in turn was given a list of “requirements” that read very much like an ultimatum or ransom note relative to the amenities that the organization officers expected to receive. Transportation, meals that had to meet certain standards, pocket cash, and not only for the officers of the organization but for certain big name foreign lifters too were included as part of the “meet package of demands.” Could this really happen? Remember, this is a theoretical and fictional story!
Realizing that the financial commitment and ultimate loss could top the $30,000-$50,000.00 mark, the officers of the famous American barbell company looked at each other and said “No way!” They desperately wanted to bring the World Championships back into the United States, for the sake of the U.S. lifters and fans, and also to continue to maintain the commercial base of the sport on native soil. A decision was made to approach one of the most influential and popular Big Time/Big Name U.S. lifters. Big Time/Big Name Lifter had the experience, money, and connections to direct the world contest and wield considerable influence with the international organization officers. He graciously agreed to take over the bid in order to keep the contest in the United States. In order to add intrigue to our story of fiction, why don’t we say that he entered “negotiations” with these administrators and then exerted pressure upon them, forcing them to “eat” most of their list of demands. I would think that comments like “You want how many meals at how many of the best and most expensive restaurants in the city? Are you kidding me? Not in this lifetime” could have become part of every conversation. Though still acquiescing to a number of “requests” and providing what any sane and objective individual would consider a positive response to a “bribe list” of requests in order to insure that the bid was in fact accepted, the U.S. Big Time/Big Name Lifter came through with flying colors.
To give a happy ending to our fictional story, the World Championships meet would have been granted to the U.S. under the direction of Big Time/Big Name Lifter. He and the staff he put together would have done a masterful job. The lifting would have been of the highest caliber seen to date. The foreign lifers would have been treated with great hospitality. The international administrators would have “grudged” at first, missing many of the amenities from their original list of demands. Ultimately, these same administrators would have been happy because of the caliber of lifting, the excellent direction of the meet, the comfort and atmosphere provided for the knowledgeable and vociferous capacity audience, and the ultimate growth of the sport of powerlifting.
Perhaps I made all of this up because I wouldn’t want any of the younger lifters to think that this sort of arm twisting and absolute prostitution of the sport for personal benefit might have occurred, although my use of the word “prostitute” in this sentence reminds me that the word sounds very similar if not identical to one of the demands on the list of required perks for the Main Organization’s officers. Uh, let me rephrase that and say that this might have sounded like one of the demands if this had been a true story! Thus despite the nasty intrusion of politics, the self aggrandizing of officials, and the fact that at least some of the above fictional tale might be based upon some non-fictional events (excuse me while I cough and wink) and despite the maneuvering that continues to go on today, the sport is viable, has great appeal, and continues to attract those interested in becoming bigger and stronger. Will it be an Olympic sport? Should it be an Olympic sport? From my perspective, this is an unimportant matter. Powerlifting has always attracted individuals who dedicate themselves to the task of becoming stronger and muscularly larger for the sake of doing no more than that and these are the men and women who will always be the heart and soul of the sport, not the politicians.