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Page last updated at 17:16 GMT, Thursday, 16 September 2010 18:16 UK
Hoang Anh Tuan carries weight of past failure

Hoang Anh Tuan

By Simon Rea, Open University

In what other sport do you see athletes shifting three times their body weight at furious speed above their heads?

Weightlifting is one of the most spectacular Olympic sports - the expression "strength at speed" is as dramatic when it fails as when it succeeds.

The World Weightlifting Championships which take place in Antalya, Turkey this weekend feature Great Britain's Natasha Perdue and Vietnam's Hoang Anh Tuan whose progress to London 2012 is being tracked by World Olympic Dreams.

Next month British eyes will be following the rising East London teenage star Zoe Smith, to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

A sport of two halves

Olympic weightlifting consists of two events - the clean and jerk, and the snatch.

Both lifts involve the athlete moving the loaded bar from the ground to above their head. The clean and jerk being performed in two movements - the 'clean' to the chest and 'jerk' from the chest to above the head.

Zoe Smith
Zoe Smith is England's youngest ever weightlifter at a Commonwealth Games

The snatch involves the bar moving from the ground to above the head in one movement and is the more complex of the events.

The athlete can choose what weight they start at for each lift and they have three attempts at their chosen weight. If their lift is successful they can choose the weight of their next lift and it must be at least 2.5kg heavier.

The athlete's overall ranking is calculated by the combination of the maximum weight lifted in the two events.

This element of choice adds a tactical aspect to the sport as the athlete and their coach need to decide on when they take their first lift - successful lifts can build confidence but may burn up energy that is needed for the heavier lifts that will decide the medals.


Weightlifting was part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and the medals table has been dominated by the Soviet Union, China, the USA and Bulgaria.

However, the sport dates back to at least 3000BC when Chinese writers describe soldiers lifting weighted objects as part of their military training.

Its first international recognition as a sport came in 1891 when London hosted the first World Weightlifting Championships.

Female competitors were only accepted to compete in the Olympics in 2000 and there are still around twice as many male competitors as female.

This is despite identical makeup of muscle, bone and connective tissue which means men and women are equally suited to weightlifting.

What makes a successful lifter?

Firstly, height (or the lack of it) is crucial to success - the perfect weightlifter will have short arms. The shorter the arms, legs and spine then the shorter distance the bar will have to travel.

Secondly, the development of power is key to success. Power is dependant on the speed and force of the muscle contraction. An individual possesses two types of muscle fibres - slow twitch and fast twitch.

Simon Rea
Simon Rea: Success is about 80% dependent upon psychological factors

Fast twitch muscle fibres will contract (or twitch) at twice the speed of slow twitch fibres and are at least twice as large; thus they will produce greater forces at greater speeds.

All successful weightlifters will have a greater proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres than the general population.

The biomechanics of a correct lift involves different phases. Despite the importance of the arms and legs as levers, the majority of the power for the lift is produced by the back and the gluteal muscles that contract in the early phases of the lift.

'Bombing out'

If ever there was a sport that is a fight of mind over matter it is weightlifting and a lifter must truly believe that they are capable of lifting the weight successfully.

It is suggested that at the elite level success is about 80% dependent upon psychological factors, thus weightlifters need to be psychologically strong.

Confidence allied to competitive experience helps the athlete win the mind over matter battle. Weightlifters talk about the dreaded phenomenon of 'bombing out' when negative thinking sabotages their ability to successfully lift a weight.

The lifter must completely believe in their ability - many lifters rely on their imagery skills to picture themselves successfully lifting the weight before actually attempting it.

Olympic weightlifting followers describe it as the ultimate sporting challenge as the athlete relies on just tactics and simple equipment, forcing them to push their body to the absolute limits of their strength and discover what their physiology and mind will allow them to achieve.

Simon Rea is an academic in Sport and Fitness at the Open University working to develop online teaching materials for the study of sport. In previous roles as a personal trainer he has worked with athletes to develop Olympic weightlifting techniques.

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see also
Weightlifter ready for Games challenge
10 Aug 10 |  Scotland
Teenager earns Commonwealth call
05 Jul 10 |  Weightlifting
Slideshow: Big lift for Hackney
25 May 10 |  2012

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