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.
What the current few generations of lifters do not fully understand and with most having a complete lack of awareness of the events of past days, powerlifters and powerlifting had to battle in order to earn independence as a distinct sport and one that was not controlled or stifled by Olympic lifting. Yes, the long established sport of Olympic Weightlifting did in fact have Olympian status, a venerated activity in part because it was an enduring part of the Olympic Games held every four years. The status of training to make an Olympic team was one of the elitist concepts that allowed weightlifting to maintain a much higher “social status” in the Iron Game than powerlifting.
Having chosen to adopt the same weight classes and general rules for meet direction as weightlifting, powerlifting found itself very much under the thumb of those officials who held sway in the older sport. Weightlifting had the official stamp of approval of the Amateur Athletic Union, the national athletic body that pretty much ran every non-professional sport in the United States and which held the sanctions to any and all official international competitions. I can recall the uproar in 1970 when Joe Weider held what he termed a “World Championship” at first, a small contest in California that teamed eight of the Bill West affiliated garage lifters against an equal number from England, that was later “tamped down” to an “international contest.” Every lifter saw it for what it was at that time, an attempt to first gain a foothold in the sport of powerlifting in the Weider brothers’ ongoing fight against Bob Hoffman, York Barbell Company, Strength And Health Magazine and their stranglehold on Olympic weightlifting and the still new sport of powerlifting. However, it was also reflective of the rebellious nature of the younger culture, with an attempt to pull control out from under one governing body that did not seem to show a great deal of respect to powerlifting or powerlifters.
There was and is no doubt that Bob Hoffman and York Barbell were the dominating influences and primary financial supporters of United States weightlifting. Bob made a concession to bodybuilding with the Mr. America Contest usually being a part of the Senior National Olympic Weightlifting Championships extravaganza, just as the Junior Mr. America Contest was tacked onto the end of its weightlifting counterpart. In most states, the major State Championship physique battles were fought to the end after midnight, the result of waiting for the Olympic lifters to complete their meet. In almost all cases, regardless of the talent on display, the powers that be saw the lifting as the main show despite the higher level of popularity of the bodybuilding activity. Powerlifting was way down the ladder from either of the two primary lifting activities. However, Hoffman as a business man and one having a true concern for Olympic lifting as a sport he loved noted that there were fewer Olympic lifters and more odd lifters coming up through the ranks of the young people. Seeking a way to perhaps entice some of these odd lifters and bodybuilders to try weightlifting, he introduced Muscular Development Magazine as a bodybuilding-odd lifting adjunct to Strength And Health in the latter part of 1963, with the focus on bodybuilding and “powerlifting.” As I recall, the upright row, often used as one of the “odd lifts,” at least in the New York City Metropolitan area, and press behind neck were on the table for inclusion as official lifts in what would be the new sport of powerlifting. Hoffman saw these two lifts as a short hop over to the clean and press or clean and jerk, thus utilizing interest in the new burgeoning sport to attract lifters to his true love, Olympic Weightlifting. Needless to say, also seeing a business opportunity in developing what would be a new sport and one that already was gathering a head of steam towards official competition, record holding, and the sanctioning of “real” contests, and eventual state, national, and world championships, Hoffman and the reigning Olympic lifting/AAU powers were quick to take control as odd lifting morphed into “powerlifting” as an official sport.
PART THREE TO FOLLOW