By Bob Takano—Member USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame
The American Open is the second highest national event regularly conducted by USA Weightlifting. Like all national level events in any sport it should provide an opportunity to focus attention on the very best athletes in the sport. For many weightlifters it is a final opportunity to improve year-end national rankings in a drug tested event, and thus put them a step closer to qualifying for future international events, residency opportunities at the Olympic Training Center, record setting opportunities and financial recompense. It has also provided coaches with further opportunities to improve their own standings, and to achieve more accolades and competitive experience for their athletes and teams.
In short it is a last hurrah for the year for the very best competitors. So often in the past it has been graced with exceptional, record setting performances that sent enthusiasts home full of hope for the upcoming new year.
The entry deadline for this year’s event was yesterday and the start list was posted. The count revealed what so many had dreaded—the entry list is enormous, bigger than anyone had imagined. At this point there are 917 athletes entered for this year’s edition of the American Open.
This trend toward larger starting fields was evident in the 2012 event held at Palm Springs, CA. Whereas the very largest national events of the past had rarely, if ever, exceeded 200, the start list for Palm Springs was 275. This necessitated the use of 2 platforms on the first day. It should have been an indicator of things to come. The trend was confirmed in the 2013 event in Dallas which drew over 400 entrants, even though a lesser number arrived because of a snowstorm. This confirmed that 2012 was not an anomaly.
In the intervening 3 years, not enough has been done to moderate the trend and now we’ve come to 2015 with a gigantic 917 athlete start list.
The Bigger the Better…….right?
Some of us who have been in the game for a few decades have started grousing about this issue for several national events now, and yet there are many who wonder what all the fuss is about. Bigger means better to them, just like more likes, more clicks. I think that some have lost sight of the objective of holding a national level event.
A national level event should be for the purpose of providing a venue and circumstance that will allow the best athletes to achieve their best performances. That should be the primary focus. Part of achieving that goal should be to provide a psychic ambience at the event that allows the top lifters to perform at their best.
We have 15 weight classes being contested. Within each class there are probably only about 10 athletes who have a chance at a medal, qualifying for an international team, qualifying for a bed at the Olympic Training Center, setting a national record or qualifying for some type of financial aid. Those 10 are also talented and focused enough to contribute to the psychic ambience of the event. 150 lifters fall into this category.
The other 750 are not providing much in the way of enhancement. For a large percentage of them, this is an opportunity for self-actualization or merely socializing. The latter very much affects the overall mood of the event.
A strain on the resources
This year’s event in Reno will begin on December 3. The World’s Championships in Houston will conclude on November 28. Many of the officials, and a large number of volunteers will be attending and working in both events. They will miss the Thanksgiving holidays. If November 29 is a travel day, as is December 3, then the American Open begins shorthanded and those present may well be exhausted.
Most of the sessions of December 4 and 5 will be four platform events. Each platform will require loaders, officials, announcers and scorekeepers at a very minimum. No matter how dedicated and committed the volunteers, the sheer amount of time required will eventually lead to mistakes.
The set-up for four platforms will require four warm-up facilities which means even more duress for the set-up crews and take-down crews, not to mention even more barbells and platforms that will require set-up and management.
Those who were present at September’s University Nationals were witness to numerous technology breakdowns that made it difficult to process the 500 or so competitors at that event. That event had 3 platforms. The addition of another platform for Reno will increase the stress on the existing Eleiko scorekeeping system and the newly formed technology committee who will be responsible for operation. This could lead to breaks in the flow of competition and hence disruptions in the performances of the competitors.
A gathering of tribes is cool…………
While weightlifting national events have always been occasions for gatherings of the various weightlifting tribes around the country, the tribes have grown larger and there are more of them. The national events have become larger and more impersonal. This may simply be an unwelcome result of our newly gained surge in popularity.
While having a large audience is certainly desirable, the ultimate scenario would be to have large audiences at championship high level competitions. Our current situation involves a co-mingling of lesser level competitors and pure spectators. Many of them are here simply to watch their friends lift and are not always staying to watch the A sessions.
Perhaps things will work out for the better in the future, but our current situation dictates that there should be a re-direction of our energies to conducting national events for the greater benefit of the elite level competitors. While we are not in the position to provide them with large monetary rewards, we can provide them the esteem that comes with the conducting of exclusive events for them.