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I am not a nostalgic individual. When something is done, it’s done and it’s time to move on. As an example, I had two long separated bouts of coaching high school football. The first began even before I had my college degree in hand, serving as an assistant at a ritzy private school where parents were less than slick in trying to bribe me in order to give their sons more playing time. When the owner and CEO of a major appliance company offers a new washer and dryer in order to procure some guaranteed time in the backfield for his fourth string running back son, a very well-mannered and nice youngster who just was not a very talented athlete, it was rather easy to turn the offer down. The head coach, smiling the entire time, indicated that I should “get used to” these types of inducements but with washers and dryers larger than our living room and the prospect of tossing our 18” black and white television in exchange for a real color set, it was an introduction to a world quite different than the one I was used to. The first of two coaching stints at Malverne High School followed, a diametrically opposite environment from my first job as more than thirty percent of our students were classified as New York State ADC, or Aid To Dependent Children, those receiving some manner of government financial aid, in foster homes, or wards of the court. After leaving Malverne after serving as a teacher, coach, and an administrator, I was involved in other pursuits and professions but returned to coach on a part-time (though daily during the season), unpaid basis from 1984 through ’91, nursing the Malverne squad to a number one ranking in the state during our best, award winning season. In February of 1992 Kathy and I opened the Iron Island Gym and it would have taken a lengthy, late night, and far-ranging conversation to reveal that I had been a high school football and track and field coach.
HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 98: WORTHY OF A FIGHT? THE GOOD OLD DAYS, PART THREE
By Dr. Ken
When you’ve been around a “smaller” sport like powerlifting for many decades and you’re an “older person,” two things generally become true: you “know everyone” involved in the sport through those many decades, and in the minds of most, you become a better lifter than you actually were. I’ve been publicly credited of late with the latter when in truth, I was the equivalent of a boxing “ham-and egger” (as an amateur boxer, I was already a “ham-and-egger!”). I can say however that my many travels and involvement in powerlifting in
numerous capacities has left me with at least a passing acquaintance with most of those who were part of the founding and early history of the sport. I am one of those individuals, as my magazine and internet columns and articles through the past fifty-plus years indicate, that believes that knowing a sport’s history is important. Powerlifting’s struggle for legitimacy, shedding its mantle of “The Hell’s Angel of Organized Lifting Sports” as one top official once uttered to me, and overcoming what should have been Olympic weightlifting’s suffocating influence allows the present generation of competitors and fans to better understand why we are not and never will be an Olympic sport, why we are not and never will be a television draw, and why our contests are still small-potatoes affairs usually left to an audience of family, friends, and training partners. None of the above descriptive statements about our sport are necessarily negative they are, at least in my opinion, just how things are and we should all enjoy it the way it is.
To this point in our reading, we can sum things up easily:
-Until the early 1960s, Olympic weightlifting, not bodybuilding, was the driving force behind the public perception of what “lifting weights” was perceived to be.
-The inroads made by bodybuilding as it moved towards the top of the Iron Sports food chain, were difficult and slow because the general public, athletic coaches, and most athletes viewed the entire activity as a producer of negative physical traits like loss of speed, stiffness, and diminished coordination for any sport or activity. The close association with homosexuals and homosexual behavior, even if this was more perception than truth served as a major cultural black eye.
-The financial backing, even though primarily from York Barbell Company as the only source at times, was directed to Olympic lifting.
-Most trainees and competitors involved in any form of lifting activity performed the same basic barbell and dumbbell exercises and thus, many if not most were “as strong as they looked” and “looked as if they lifted weights.”
-There were many who did not have the flexibility, athletic ability, and/or interest in performing or training the Olympic lifts and wanted another outlet for their competitive desires.
-Thus was born Odd Lift Contests and then, Powerlifting.
My comments in Parts One and Two of this specific article drew a number of correspondences filled with both praise and disagreement. My intent of course has been to indicate the struggle powerlifting has had for any bit of recognition relative to other sports and any of the other lifting related sports. Some complaints came from the perspective that Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell Club did in fact, support or even strongly support powerlifting. There
can be no argument that Hoffman was for decades, the strongest supporter of Olympic lifting in this nation if not the world. I doubt few spent the fortune he did in promoting and literally paying for the sport’s survival and eventual status as a respected Olympic participating activity. Yes, he made money doing this but without him and York Barbell, there would have been no Olympic weightlifting in the United States or at best, a very truncated version of it. It may be hard to believe for the younger generations that at one time, we were competing for world supremacy. Arguments can go all day and night, and have in past decades, whether he was fair, biased, dictatorial, benevolent, caring, or concerned with the lifters and the sport relative to his commercial interests and gains but there can be no argument; he was the guy, the savior, and the one benefactor that made Olympic weightlifting whatever it was in this nation. By the early to mid-1970s when Bob tired of the recreational drug use of the York lifters, lifters in general, and those of the younger generation that was spawning the pool of eligible lifters and turned his attention and fortune to the sport of softball, Olympic lifting in the United States suffered and did so for decades. Despite many efforts from many individuals, the establishment of a centralized Olympic training center that includes Olympic lifting, and attempts to secure corporate financing, weightlifting is a minor sport, little more than a blip on the worldwide spectrum of participatory and spectator events.
Some contend that Hoffman and the York crowd, what was his crowd of AAU/lifting officials and administrators, did not try to hold back powerlifting, that Bob was vocally and financially supportive. The contention upholds the notion that Hoffman and York worked “
behind the scenes” to contribute in a positive way and that Odd Lift and Powerlifting Contest results were reported in York magazines from the early formation of the sport. For those of us who lived the history, I would disagree. There were those at York and part of the American Athletic Union (AAU) lifting administration that did in fact like powerlifting, saw it as an alternative lifting sport, and if nothing else, provided a viable commercial opportunity to expand the sales of nutritional supplements and lifting related equipment. In some areas of the country, including the New York City region, Odd Lift Contests and “our guys versus your guys in these five lifts” type of competitions were prevalent into the mid-1960s in part because Olympic lifting did not allow powerlifting to get much traction. While York gets credit for eventually producing squat racks and benches that were of safer and more appropriate construction for actual powerlifting, the development of a stronger, stiffer barbell and thin-line plates to accommodate the larger loads powerlifters were subjecting the equipment to, 100 pound plates to make loading more efficient, and of course promoting some of the early national and world level meets, there will always be argument if this was done because there was a supportive belief in the activity or instead done for very obvious commercial reasons. There was always and will remain, the belief that Hoffman’s attitude was “encouraging any lifting activity makes for one more potential Olympic lifter,” thus there will always be a division in those that believe that
Joe Weider of course was to bodybuilding, what Hoffman was to Olympic lifting, at least as a general statement. Joe did in fact put his resources almost solely into the “body end” of things and turned from near bankruptcy to a vise-like and very profitable control of the sport. He certainly managed to have the California powerlifting scene linked to the Weider name thanks primarily to the clever writing of Dick Tyler but it would be difficult to state that Weider was a true supporter. His “world championship” as described in Part Two last month, was no more than attempt to fill a void and of course, make money. When control of amateur sports was taken from the AAU, one of the disadvantages of not having a strong leadership or leadership group, and not having a consistent source of financial support, was a decades long battle for control of powerlifting that led to the establishment of numerous organizations. Each chose to tout its own perspective which may have included drug use, anti-drug use, drug testing, anti-drug testing, strict judging in accordance with the existing rules, judging that often did not come close to satisfying the rules so that lifters knew they would set personal and/or larger scoped records in specific contests, and almost everything and anything else one could think of. Are things “better” now? Do lifters train and compete for financial gain, corporate sponsorship, free supplements and attire, or widespread adulation? Have we been forced to endure and persevere in the gym for our own satisfaction? We are not big time, won’t be, and really should we be?
Joe Weider of course was to bodybuilding, what Hoffman was to Olympic lifting, at least as a general statement. Joe did in fact put his resources almost solely into the “body end” of things and turned from near bankruptcy to a vise-like and very profitable control of the sport. He certainly managed to have the California powerlifting scene linked to the Weider name thanks primarily to the clever writing of Dick Tyler but it would be difficult to state that Weider was a true supporter. His “world championship” as described in Part Two last month, was no more than attempt to fill a void and of course, make money. When control of amateur sports was taken from the AAU, one of the disadvantages of not having a strong leadership or leadership group, and not having a consistent source of financial support, was a decades long battle for control of powerlifting that led to the establishment of numerous organizations. Each chose to tout its own perspective which may have included drug use, anti-drug use, drug testing, anti-drug testing, strict judging in accordance with the existing rules, judging that often did not come close to satisfying the rules so that lifters knew they would set personal and/or larger scoped records in specific contests, and almost everything and anything else one could think of. Are things “better” now? Do lifters train and compete for financial gain, corporate sponsorship, free supplements and attire, or widespread adulation? Have we been forced to endure and persevere in the gym for our own satisfaction? We are not big time, won’t be, and really should we be? powerlifting was pushed forward or held back during its first ten years of struggling existence.
Some of our readers weren’t certain where the December 2016, Part One of this article was headed, at least not relative to its title. Simply stated, Powerlifting as a sport, had its origins in Odd Lift Contests and Olympic Weightlifting, the former for the actual lifts that were eventually chosen, and the latter which was used as a template to first formulate the actual competitive standards of the new sport. What came with that template for determining weight classes, record keeping, contest performance, and administrative structure, was an established lifting hierarchy that firmly sat upon the new sport of powerlifting and was attempting to utilize it for its own purposes. Since the growth of powerlifting as an organized sport was consistent from its initial organization, there has been a ton of revisionist history written, some meant to excuse those in control of the lifting sports during the 1960s and ‘70s for their mean spirited and dubious behavior and other chapters designed to glorify and elevate the status and so-called record setting ability of those actually writing that jaundiced view of actual events.
There is no generation that appreciates the work, effort, sacrifice, and consideration given by the generation that preceded it. My generation, the so-called Baby Boomers although I just made it since the years seem to “officially” span 1946 – 1964 and I was conceived while World War II veterans were still being mustered out of the military service, weren’t appreciative of what truly was “The Greatest Generation” until we were well into our forties. “That generation” survived the Great Depression which makes any following economic calamity seem like grade school stuff, fought in World War II and in the Korean War, many men in both. As a historical footnote, allow me to add that Congress has not officially declared war since 1941. However, whether whatever occurred in
One of the beliefs I have albeit an old fashioned and out dated one, is that all lifters who compete should give something back to the sport of powerlifting. If you lift in a competition, large or small, you should at some point spot, load, judge, or do something at a contest to make it run more efficiently. Some men and women are obviously not capable of spotting safely due to their physical stature but anyone can load a bar either on the platform or in the warm-up room. For reasons I do not understand, this task, especially in the warm-up room, is often seen as “peon work” on the list of meet day tasks, yet it is vital. While most lifters have a coach, there are not enough bodies around to load, or load quickly in the warm-up area, leaving some lifters rushed or short on their warm-up attempts. Some meet directors are experienced enough to know that having a few “attendees” in the warm-up area available to assist loading if asked or if needed, makes for a much more efficient meet. I believe it is assumed that “there are plenty of guys with each lifter or team who could be doing this” but that just isn’t true. Especially in smaller contests that host primarily inexperienced lifters, many competitors might arrive by themselves or with a training partner serving as their coach or handler. A handful of lifters like this are the antagonist to the slick, fully staffed teams that show up with designated loaders and spotters of their own, lifters who will not be in competition on this specific day who are present to do no more than serve the needs of their teammates whose every warm-up attempt is carefully scripted and scrutinized.
Having noted the various “seasons” or training periods that comprise a yearly calendar for the sport of football as we did in Part One of this blog/article, I want to now relate that information to the sport of powerlifting.
Harking back to the 1940s and ‘50s, long before powerlifting became an official sport, both Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding comprised the “lifting sports” for those who publicly admitted they did either. In an era when hard work, dedication to supporting one’s family, and rising above the socioeconomic level imposed by immigration and starting anew in one’s adopted country were qualities that were prized and expected from every male, a leisure time activity like “lifting weights” was seen as frivolous, wasteful, and selfish.
HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 92: ’TIS THE SEASON? Part One
By Dr. Ken
The title of this blog, or article as I continue my slow and agonizing journey into the jargon of the modern computer era, does not refer to “Deck the Halls,” the mid-1800s song about Christmas nor to the few months preceding the actual Christmas holiday. Once again dating myself and clearly attaching the label of “older guy” to my lifting singlet, I would like to inform the younger generations of lifters that there used to be an actual “Powerlifting Season.”
Both major and minor sports, athletic activities at all levels from Pop Warner and Little Leagues through collegiate programs, and the relatively obscure amateur activities like the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (Roller Derby) has “a season.” A competitive season in any sport allows one to build their strength and skill to the point that they can compete for and hopefully win a specific championship. An off-season then allows for rest, recovery, the healing of injuries, and the opportunity to plan a program of preparation that will allow for the obviation of weak or negative aspects of one’s performance. With the advantage of a playing and coaching background in football and having sons who played college football and now coach at the highest levels of college and professional football with the added perspective of my family’s participation spanning a number of decades, allow me to explain how “the seasons” actually were and remain structured and then apply the concept to powerlifting.
My wife and I have had the pleasure, agony, elation, disappointment, amazement, and disbelief in what we have experienced in the hundreds of meets we have competed in, directed, worked at, and observed. In brief, I can safely state that from the positive to negative, we have seen it all.
My perspective goes back before the organization of powerlifting as an official Amateur Athletic Union sport. In the early 1960s it was no more than a group of guys that decided to get together on a Saturday morning at a storefront gym or the local YMCA and take on those from another group of trainees in a specific list of lifts that everyone agreed to attempt.
If there is one individual who truly knows the inner workings of the York Barbell Company when those of us of “an older age” were at our frenzied peak of interest in the lifting game, it is Jan Dellinger.
Working at a number of different employment positions at “The Barbell,” Jan was privy to inside information and all of the scandalous stuff that the typical lifter would never know. Acquainted with a few of the big time York lifters and having the motivation to either hitchhike or drive the 440 mile round trip on a Saturday perhaps gave me a bit more insight than those who had to rely on Strength And Health or Muscular Development magazines for their York Team information, but Jan “knew,” he was part of the inner circle. Thus whenever I reference York in my lifting related commentary, I rely on his terrific memory to confirm facts, or to fill in the blanks. Relative to the Polish lifting shoes noted in the last blog/column, Jan wrote:
As a teenager who worked multiple after-school and weekend jobs, especially between football and track seasons, I had enough of “my own money” to purchase extra food and an occasional pair of large 50 or 100 pound plates to augment my axle, sewer covers, and fly wheels type of equipment. I also bought a pair of Polish weightlifting boots from the York Barbell Company when they made them available in perhaps 1962 or ’63.
In my mind, this made me “official,” a real lifter. Although I was not a competitive Olympic weightlifter, I had been in a few Odd Lift contests as a relatively young trainee and the red and white shoes gave me a feeling of authenticity.
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