Elliott Denman’s third column for the Olympics is about the strong relationship between lifters and throwers. In the olden golden days, the US used to have a plethora of shot putters and weight lifters. Now, the weight lifting tradition is slowly going away. Elliot Denman argues that we need to bring it back!
by ELLIOTT DENMAN
LONDON – No doubt about it, America needs a few more latter-day versions of Gary Gubner, Ken Patera and Bruce Wilhelm.
All were mighty throwers.
All were mighty competitive weight lifters, too.
Look back to 1964.
NYU’s Gary Gubner, out of DeWitt Clinton High School, had been breaking shot records in profusion. And so had USC’s Parry O’Brien, already a two-time Olympic shot put king. And Dallas Long, O’Brien’s successor at USC, and young Terxan Randy Matson were making their own major moves up the charts, too.
The track and field world looked eagerly ahead to the duels just ahead in the shot put ring at the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Americans against the world.
Gubner, unfortunately to his many fans, never got to put the 16-pounder in the Olympics. Injuries crippled his hopes at the USA Track and Field Trials.
And so Long, Matson went on to finish 1-2, and Vilmos Varju of Hungary beat out O’Brien for the bronze.
But the story wasn’t over.
Gary Gubner, who’d followed the exploits of such NYU shot put predecessors as Bernie Mayer, Stanley Lampert and Irv Kintisch, had another major iron in the fire.
The mighty NYUer was good enough, strong enough to make the USA Olympic weightlifting team.
He went to Tokyo as a heavyweight division lifter, not as a thrower, and wound up fourth at the Games. He’d done have done better, for sure, if not for those nagging injuries.
Now, let’s fast forward.
To the magnificent ExCel Arena, where an array of Olympic indoor sports are raging.
While Americans are playing many prominent roles all over the Olympic spectrum, you’d be hard-pressed to see much of an American presence in the weightlifting venue.
It’s not the fault of Kendrick Farris, the only USA male Olympic lifter in the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
The 26-year-old resident of Sheveport, La. carries a lot bigger load of responsibility than any Olympian deserves.
Oh, there are two other American lifters competing in London – and they are ladies.
Title IX is one thing – but to have just one man here to represent the United States in Olympic lifting and be outnumbered by female teammates is quite another.
Farris lifts in the men’s 85-kilogram (205-pound) category while Sarah Robles of San Diego and Holley Mangold of Kettering, Ohio hoist their barbells in the women’s 75-kilo (165-pound) and-up division.
Women’s weightlifting is a relative newcomer to the Olympic program but the male lifters have been in the Games forever, since the Modern Games began in 1896 to be precise..
And once upon a time – it’s hard to believe this, given the current situation – Team USA actually ruled men’s world lifting.
Oh what glory days they were – the days of Johnny Davis, Norbert Schemansky, Tommy Kono, Isaac Berger, Pete George, Chuck Vinci, Joe DePietro, Frank Spellman and so many more.
Where have such athletes gone?
Why, why, why – half a century since its heyday as a global lifting power – does the America of 2012 have nobody like them?.
Let’s applaud Kendrick Farris as loudly as we can. He’s “carrying the flag” with all his muscle and all his might. But he’s all alone in that effort and that’s very, very sad.
All those powerlifting tournaments in the world do nothing to help the American Olympic weightlifting outlook. Powerlifting is a whole different ballgame.
And where are all those mighty football players when it comes to the Olympic brand of lifting? Oh, they’re pumping iron in a way that’s no help whatsoever to American’s Olympic outlook.
They’d rather be fourth-string linebackers at State U. – probably hoisting tons of iron in the gym all year long – than give Olympic lifting even a passing thought.
Come to think, why don’t America’s shot putters and track and field weightmen in all categories ever give serious weightlifting competition a serious try, too.
His might easily be a ticket to some future Olympics for a male shot putter stuck at 62 or 63 or 64 feet – and no realistic chance of ever reaching the level of a Reese Hoffa or a Ryan Whiting or a Christian Cantwell or an Adam Nelson. Or a female thrower not really ready to head off Jill Camerena-Williams or Michelle Carter.
There’s a definite correlation to the various categories of “the iron game” that hardly any American musclepeople ever care to notice.
There’s got to be another Gary Gubner, a future big-Games traveling companion of Kendrick Farris, out there somewhere.–