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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Death of America's Golden Age of Weighlifting - By Jim Duggan

When I was trying to decide on a subject to write about, I thought about the many articles I've written for both this website, and also "The Dinosaur Files." Most of the time, I write about different training ideas, programs, or actual workouts that I've used. But one thing stuck out in my mind: Every article I've written has been dedicated to the idea of getting stronger. In other words, LIFTING. And just about every person who has ever trained with weights has envisioned themselves hoisting massive poundages. And while not everyone has endeavored to compete in the various forms of competitive lifting, those of us who have graced the platform have had many champions to admire over the years. Given the sorry state of Olympic weightlifting in the United States today, it may be hard to imagine a time when American lifters were a dominant force. However, about sixty years ago, that was exactly the case. There truly was a "Golden Age" of American Weightlifting. And one of the biggest names of that era was Norbert Schemansky.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Norbert Schemansky passed away at the age of 92. His death comes just five months after the death of another legendary American lifter, Tommy Kono, who passed away in April at the age of 85. These two gentlemen were two of the greatest lifters of all time. In fact, many lifting historians make a strong case for Tommy Kono being the greatest weightlifter of all time ( although, personally, I would make a strong case for John Davis, but that's another article.) In any event, for the United States to lose two of their greatest strength athletes within months of each other signifies the official end of a bygone era. And even though neither man had competed for over forty years, the legacy that each left behind will live on in the minds and hearts of all of us who love reading about strength, strong men, and physical culture.

One of my favorite books is "Mr. Weightlifting'" an excellent biography of Norbert Schemansky written by Richard Bak. It was written about ten years ago. The foreword was written by Al Oerter, another phenomenal strength athlete. If you can get your hands on a copy of this fine book, by all means do so. You will get a real appreciation for just how great an athlete Mr. Schemansky was, as well as an appreciation of his dedication and focus. He was the first weightlifter to win four medals ( one gold, one silver, two bronze.) He was a three-time world champion whose career spanned over twenty years. He got better- and stronger- as he got older, with best official lifts of Press-415 Lbs., Snatch-363 Lbs., Clean and Jerk, 445 Lbs.. What was even more remarkable was that, unlike today's sponsored athletes, he had to hold down a full-time job in order to raise his family. Imagine having to work for a living, while finding time to train, and still being able to compete with subsidized athletes from the old Soviet Union. A well-told story is about the time he returned home from the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. He had won the gold medal, yet there were no cheering crowds to greet him at the airport. In fact, he had to take a bus home. Can you imagine something like that happening in today's day and age?

There have been many articles written about his training, and the underlying theme has always been that Mr. Schemansky trained hard, and heavy on the basics. Heavy squats, pulls, and, of course, the lifts themselves. I remember reading one of his philosophies about training that stated that one shouldn't attempt maximum singles in the gym. Always strive to lift more in a contest, when it counts. I actually had pleasure of meeting Mr. Schemansky about twenty years ago. It was at the 1996 reunion dinner of the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen (AOBS). He was being honored that year, and I actually asked him for his autograph. The word about Mr. Schemansky was that he was not exactly the most friendly guy in the world, and that he could be caustic and abrasive. However, I found that not to have been the case at all. He could not have been nicer or more gracious. And I still have the autographed program. Incidentally, I am not a big autograph collector. In fact, the only other autographs I have are from Bruno Sammartino, Al Oerter, John Grimek, and Chuck Noll. There is one more thing that I would like to mention about Mr. Schemansky. He was a veteran of World War II, and saw action in Europe fighting for our country. A member of the "greatest generation," as well as a member of the "Golden Age of American Weightlifting."

We might all benefit from closer study of the greats of the Iron Game. I've always thought that anybody signing up to train at a gym or health club should be required to read the biographies of some our Physical Culture legends. It's sad to say, but there are far too many people lifting weights today that have never heard of John Grimek, or Bob Hoffman, or John Davis, or "Mr. Weightlifting" himself, the great Norbert Schemansky. The would learn first-hand about hard work, dedication, and persistence. Three qualities that will go a long way in helping you succeed in strength training. Or any other endeavor.
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT