Olympic Weightlifting: Everything you need to know

Weightlifting has been a part of the Olympics for over a century and is a sport that truly tests one’s physical strength and conditioning, with some participants lifting up to three times their own body weight.

At the 2020 edition of the Olympic Games set to happen in Tokyo, there are 14 gold medals up for grabs in the sport, spread across seven weight categories each for men and women.

And while nations like China and Iran have been dominant over the past few Olympics, Tokyo 2020 could serve up a different story. Here’s a quick look at the sport.

Rules of Weightlifting

In a nutshell, weightlifting is comprised of two lifts — the ‘snatch’ and the ‘clean and jerk’ — and the athlete with the highest cumulative weight after both lifts is declared the winner. Sounds simple enough, but there’s more to it.

Snatch is a single motion lift where competitors need to lift the weights over their head in a singular action. The clean and jerk lift, on the other hand, is a two-stage process where participants must first bring the weights up to shoulder level before hoisting it over their head and holding that position until a buzzer is sounded to indicate a successful completion.

Prior to the event, athletes need to inform the officials on the weight they intend to carry for both the snatch as well as the clean and jerk lifts. Each participant is given three tries for each style of lift, with the highest successful lift of those attempts taken for the final score. Athletes can increase their weight in their second and third tries only if they manage a successful first lift.

While the sport mainly tests an athlete’s strength, weightlifting is also a game of strategy where athletes need to plan their weights and may need to prioritise lifting more in one style of lift to better their chances of winning medals.

Uplifting the Sport

A recorded history of weightlifting can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Greek civilisations, and the sport carries its true meaning of determining an athlete’s strength in picking up heavy weights even during the present day.

Weightlifting was included in the modern Olympics ever since its inception in 1896. It was then reintroduced after a span of eight years during the 1904 Olympics as an athletics event.

The 1920 Games in Antwerp held weightlifting as a recognised event where it was no longer a part of track and field. Weight categories were also organised: 61kg, 67kg, 73kg, 81kg, 89kg, 96kg, 102kg and (109kg or more) were the categories endorsed according to Olympic guidelines.

Over 14 nations made the cut and four years later in the Olympic Games in Paris, the two-hand press and two-hand snatch were included. Eventually, the one-hand form saw its exit from the sport as a lifting category and was never included since.

India's Iron Lady leads the way

After testing various forms of determining past winners, the ‘snatch’ and the ‘clean and jerk’ were made the official categories during the modern Olympics.

Also a highlight of the modern Olympics was the strength and determination shown by female athletes in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. This was the first-ever sporting event in which women participated and had seven different weight classes: 49kg, 55kg, 59kg, 64kg, 76kg and 87kg or more.

Karnam Malleswari won India’s first medal ever for weightlifting at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
Karnam Malleswari won India’s first medal ever for weightlifting at the 2000 Sydney OlympicsKarnam Malleswari won India’s first medal ever for weightlifting at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

Karnam Malleswari won a bronze medal in the 69kg category at Sydney 2000.

To this day, it remains India’s only medal at the Olympics in that discipline, but top Indian weightlifters like Vikas Thakur, Pardeep Singh, and Punam Yadav all have Commonwealth Games medals to their names in their respective weight categories.

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu with her 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu with her 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalSaikhom Mirabai Chanu with her 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal

Heading into Tokyo 2020 though, one of India’s chief prospects is Manipuri weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, who won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and also clinched the top prize in the World Championships held a year prior to that.

Come 2020, the youngster will now be aiming to end India’s 18-year-medal drought in Olympic weightlifting.

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