Weightlifting, like a lot of Olympic sports, is one of those things most people only pay attention to every four years. And even then it’s easy to ignore, as it’s inevitably dominated by communist countries and buried on some channel you didn’t know you had. We don’t know when or where you’ll be able to catch a weightlifting telecast, but you can livestream all the events. And there are some intriguing storylines to follow, from Americans with good chances of medaling (yes, really) to a colossus who might, once again, hoist more weight overhead than any human in history. These are the five things you need to know about Olympic weightlifting in Tokyo.
1. THE BASICS
• Athletes do three lifts of the snatch and three of the clean and jerk. Each competitor’s two heaviest completed lifts are added together for their total.
• This will be the first Olympics with new weight classes, seven for men and seven for women, so every best in every class will be a new Olympic record.
• Doping is an ongoing concern. Currently, 19 nations are either banned or restricted to the number of lifters they can send this year (one or two) because of doping violations.
• Teams can send a maximum of eight lifters. This marks the first time since 1996 that the U.S.A. is sending a full team: four men and four women.
• The competition will occur from July 24 to Aug. 4. at the Tokyo International Forum. The full schedule is here (Tokyo time).
• The best way for Americans to watch live is at the NBC Olympics weightlifting page, which is here. Log-in with your cable, satellite, or streaming subscription.
2. THE GIANT
Weightlifting is all about the biggest lifts, and the biggest lifts come courtesy of the biggest man, 6’6”, roughly 400-lb. Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia (the country, not the state), who has dominated the super-heavyweight class since his first of four World Championship wins in 2015. The 27-year-old, who won gold at the 2016 Olympics, has set and broke his own world records 20 times. When he last competed in 2019, he tied his snatch record (220 kg.), reset the best-ever clean-and-jerk (264 kg.), and pushed the biggest total of all-time to 484 kg. Not satisfied with merely collecting gold medals, the strongest weightlifter of all-time stated his ultimate goal of a 500 kg. total. Can he do it in Tokyo?
3. THE TEAM
Some things stay the same. Despite losing a couple of their top lifters to injuries, China is once again the heavy favorite to haul home the most gold. The last time they failed to win the medal count was 1996, and they’ve won five of the maximum eight gold medals in each of the last five Olympic games. Look for China to dominate again in the lighter men’s classes and the heavier women’s classes.
4. THE AMERICAN WOMAN
Sarah Robles, who turns 33 on August 1, earned bronze in 2016, making her the first American weightlifter to medal in the Olympics since 2000. Competing in the 75+ kg. class, she totaled 286 kg. (631 lbs.). “I want to win another medal at the Olympic Games. That’ll make me the first American woman (weightlifter) to have done so,” Robles said recently. Though China’s Li Winchen is the prohibitive favorite in the new +87 kg. class (she totaled a world record 335 kg. in April), Robles’ best total (290 kg.) ranks fifth. If she can crack the top three, she’d be not just the first American female lifter to medal in two Olympics, but also the first American to do so since 1964.
5. THE AMERICAN MAN
He was a lifting prodigy. At 11, Clarence “C.J.” Cummings, Jr., became the youngest person to clean and jerk twice his bodyweight. The 5’1” South Carolinian went on to dominate weightlifting meets as a teenager. He’s the only person to win his class at the Jr. World Championships four times, setting numerous records along the way. “I’m from a small town where there’s barely any opportunity. So this opportunity for exposure and to go represent my country at the Olympics is a huge honor, not only for me but for my family, country, and small town,” Cummings said. He’s tied for the fifth best total (347 kg.) in the 73 kg. class, but only 2 kg. behind second place. And he just turned 21 in June. No American male weightlifter has medaled in the Olympics since 1984. Phenom C.J. Cummings could change that.
Opening Image: C.J. Cummings winning his fourth straight Jr. World Championships in 2019 / USA Weightlifting