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
Korea is cited as a “police action” which was the official term at the time, or a “conflict” (the fighting, maiming, and death in Vietnam garnered that moniker also, perhaps showing
exceptional disrespect to the Veterans who experienced time there) the summary given by a Korean War vet says it best in his words that, “I was in Seoul Korea from Sept. 1951 until May of 1952 with the 1st RSM/ 6920th Security group. Seoul was bombed flat. If that ain’t a war I don’t want to see one.” That generation built a juggernaut of an economy, the standard of living and education rose for the vast majority of U.S. citizens, the infrastructure and highway system of the country was booming and at its best, and most importantly, we were safer on our streets and throughout the world than previously or perhaps since. My generation of generally spoiled brats who ushered in the “Free Love Era” were/are punks in comparison although we were also the last to assume that we would marry directly out of high school, work a “real job” while earning a college degree, understand the benefits of physical labor, and relative to most of what are termed Millennials, seem to be towering workaholic giants.
In powerlifting, a similar timeline and analogy can be made to the generational growth and gaps in the rise, fall, stumble, and today’s current result that defines the sport we engage in. As this ongoing TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM series of articles or blogs has noted numerous times, I was fortunate to engage in Odd Lift Contests, powerlifting’s nascent beginning. As much copying of Olympic weightlifting as possible would go into the formation of a contest, in part because Olympic lifting was the official and only lifting sport. Even though most of the fellows I trained with in the makeshift storefront gym were bodybuilders or bodybuilding types, all knew enough that there should be three judges, they should have a clear view of the lifting platform or area, and each lift needed a few specific rules. In Odd Lift Contests, the lifts and rules were often hammered out by the various coaches, team leaders, loudest guys, or the ones that seemed most experienced or knowledgeable before warm-ups began or even during warm-ups! At times, especially if the contest was “my gym guys against your gym guys,” the rules would be agreed upon a week or two ahead of time so that actual practice could take place. I can recall practicing the bench press and insuring that I achieved the hardest bounce off of my chest that my ribcage could stand without fracturing. If the rules allowed or even called for “yeah, you can bounce the bench off your chest,” none of us were going to plan on having a competitive disadvantage. I can recall too walking into the contest and minutes before taking a first attempt, being told, “No bouncing, you need to have a two-second pause at the chest, the guy there counts real good, he’ll be the head judge.” Say What?
The judging standards varied as widely as one could imagine. Some judges were strict, some contests were judged in accordance with the agreed upon rules, some were literal free-for-alls, including the requisite pushing,
shoving, cursing, and occasional escalated violence one would expect when many strong and often large men are trying to out-perform one another in an activity that exudes masculinity. This “X factor” of possible confrontation with some of the other competitors or all of the other competitors dependent upon the structure of the meet, was one more motivating or fear inducing factor, dependent upon the men involved, the relationship your group had with them, or one’s own relationship with them or reputation. We could travel to the Harlem YMCA and compete with no difficulty, everyone having a passing knowledge of each other if not more, and a lot of mutual respect. There were no racially related problems and instead, we found a lot of confidence building encouragement from the fellows there despite knowing their usual team would be more talented than we were in most lifts. Six or eight of us jammed into a station wagon and competed at a VFW or union hall in New Jersey and figured we would have to look for sawed-off pool cues or sledge hammer handles to get a fair shake with the judging and insure something akin to “mutually supportive competition.”
Every now and then the contest results would work their way into print which was quite exciting but record keeping was scarce and a hit-and-miss affair because of the wide spread application of the rules or total lack of rules. The attire for some contests consisted of a “real lifting suit” which referred to a wrestling singlet, again mimicking Olympic weightlifting, while others saw fellows in work boots, jeans, and “wife beater tee shirts” which was no doubt their usual training uniform. Some competitive lifters wore “real weightlifting stuff” but this was far from the standard. This marked the “real lifters,” the men who had trained for and at some point in the recent past, competed in a “real contest” consisting of the press, snatch, and clean and jerk. The Odd Lift Contests I was exposed to almost always included the bench press, squat, deadlift, and a fourth movement. Some contests included five lifts but four, as my memory allows, was the standard with the barbell curl or upright row following what became the three official powerlifting movements.
Needless to add, the level of strictness in judging varied widely. Some meets required a curl, for example, to be performed with one’s back up against a post or a wall while others allowed what appeared to be a curl grip power clean from the floor or hang. Maintaining the spirit of “old time” lifting and training at our Iron Island Gym, Kathy and I had a terrific piece of equipment that was custom built by Jim Sutherland. It was an exceptionally sturdy padded upright post mounted on a small platform that allowed the lifter to place his or her head, back, and buttocks against the pad, and then do the strictes t of curls. Of course we had our own in-gym and usually during training impromptu curling contests which made for great fun and productive training. One often did not know all of the lifts or the method of performance until actually arriving at the contest site. Despite the obvious disadvantages of this approach to contest participation, there were, very much like the early years of official strongman competition, as many benefits as there were detriments.
PART TWO TO FOLLOW