Constructive Criticism of the 2018 Pan Am Trials Session: Part 1
Before we really get rolling into the critical side of this blog, I would like to make a few things quite clear. When I begin to criticize something, it means I care. It means I want the institution or individual to improve by learning and changing and thus growing from the criticism. When my critical voice is no longer heard, it generally means I have stopped caring and that individual or group is simply inept and not able to grow from their past experiences.
Ecuador 2017 to the Pan Am Trials Session 2018
In 2017, I was fortunate enough to be named as a coach for the 2017 Junior Pan American Championship team. I had five lifters, three men and two women selected for the team competing in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I had no idea what to expect as this was only my second time coaching internationally. Team USA’s first lifter to compete was 48k lifter and subsequently my athlete, Hayley Reichardt. I was appalled when I arrived at the venue and the competition had yet to have been set up. The stage was virtually empty, they were still hanging banners, the platforms in the warm up area were still being pieced together and some of the bars in the warm up area did not spin!! This blew my mind...never would this happen in the United States during a major competition. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to the 2018 American Open Series 1, specifically the Pan Am Trials session. I awoke at 5:30AM on Friday to prepare for the long day. I had to organize some issues for my business’ stand at the Arnold (Earth Fed Muscle) and plan transportation and set up for my employees AND for my athletes competing in the Pan Am trials sessions. Weigh ins began at 7:00AM in what was believed to be room 226. (The exact numbers may be off slightly.)
Throughout the week, communication regarding the Pan Am trials was poor. There was consistent confusion between what was actually happening and what the websites were communicating. Finally, Thursday night came around and again we were told to go to a specific room for weigh ins at 226. Upon arrival, it was discovered that the weigh ins were not happening in the previously noted room but instead in another room down the hall. Not a big deal but my thoughts veer toward other sports. Would USA Wrestling guide Jordan Burroughs or Kyle Snyder to weigh in at the wrong room? Would they come to the event with four scales instead of six?
I had three lifters lifting in the men’s side (Jacob Horst, Jordan Wissinger and DJ Shuttleworth) and one lifter competing on the women’s side (Hayley Reichardt). DJ missed weight which is inexcusable on his part as an athlete and my part as his coach. However, Jake and Jordan weighed in as expected. Jordan did not receive the allotted number of passes to enter the Arnold Expo area because, “We ran out.” Poor communication regarding the start times, wrong weigh in room, not enough credentials in the back...things were starting to get haphazard and disorganized. As a business owner and coach, I like to make sure all things are checked in my system of operations prior to taking on a serious task. Do I mess up? For sure, BUT if I am responsible for a major task or responsibility, rest assured I will be setting things up and making sure EVERYTHING is set to proper standard.
Back to the trials session. We arrived in the back of the Rogue Strength stage to a chaotic mess. It eerily reminded me of my bedroom growing up and if you ever met my mother, you would know that that means it looked like a bomb went off. There were cables everywhere, bowed wooden platform inserts, electrical boxes on or just behind platforms and bars laying all over concrete. It was just past 8:00AM and I took a step back. Maybe I was still pissed that DJ didn’t make weight. Maybe I was being overly critical of an event that had a 4 time world champion (CJ Cummings) competing and I should try to calm down.
The brain works in mysterious ways and I immediately felt as though I had been in this situation before. Indeed I was. I was in this exact situation in Ecuador. I made sure my guys got the platform with the least amount of bend in the insert and started to clear out cables and one of the electrical boxes. As I grabbed one of the bars lying on the concrete, I saw three bars without a center knurling. REALLY?!!?!? Some of the bars in the warm up room of the Pan Am trials session DID NOT have a center knurling and they were men’s bars. The parallels became more and more similar to Ecuador. Some of the most elite men in the United States were expected to fight for spots on the Pan Am team while warming up on bars that were illegal. (Imagine USA Track and Field expecting their shot putters or discus throwers to warm up with implements that were not legal under international standards….)
As the warm ups began to progress around 8:30, there was a maintenance man walking around, drilling in the platforms as lifters were preparing to lift on the biggest stage of their life. Fortunately for my lifters, we had grabbed an IWF legal bar that had center knurling and immediately herded all of the weights we may potentially need and grabbed the platform closest to the steps. Why would we want a platform in the highest trafficked area? Because there was no board in the back!!! There was no “attempt board” set up until exactly 9:00AM. At that point, the attempts board became a 13” screen laptop. Ironically, they spent 5 minutes trying to figure out the password to get into the laptop to use it as a board.
By this point, I was outwardly expressing my disdain toward anyone that would listen. The trials session was set up very poorly. Workers were still screwing in the competition platform, even after some lifters had taken their opening attempts. As Jacob Horst attempted his first snatch, I found a wood splinter behind the platform that was about four inches in length and had stuck to the bottom of his foot for a bit. I threw the splinter away to prevent anyone else from having a slight malfunction while approaching the bar. The men’s session did go a bit long, but for the most part, the meet was run relatively smoothly after the ridiculous start. A bunch of misses slowed things up but the crowd was incredible and the lifters rose to the occasion and competed well despite the delayed set up.
On came the women. We were informed the women’s session would begin five minutes after the men’s session ended. I was stressed a bit at this point, I knew Hayley would be one of the first lifters and I did not know if she would warm up in time for her opening attempt. The cards were promptly laid out after I expressed a bit of panic and things began to run a bit smoother. The women’s session was absolutely awesome. The crowd was huge, they were into every single lift, the lifters were putting on a good show and the judges were calling a decent meet….until Quiana Welch snatched 109k, only to be stolen away by the judges. (This will be investigated in Part 2 of my three part series.)
My final complaint of the Pan Am trials session is in regards to the United States Doping Agency. I am unsure if this responsibility lies on them or USAW, but I am fairly certain not one single athlete was drug tested from the two sessions. I had three athletes tested during the AO1 event held inside the Arnold hall but none of my athletes were tested from the Pan Am trials. This seemed odd as I had 10% (3 out of 29 lifters) of the population that competed during the Trials session and only .008% (9 out of 960 lifters) of the population that competed during the AO1 portion of the competition. The odds were simply more in favor for my athletes to be tested during the Trials session. For that reason, I investigated further by asking 7 coaches whether or not their athletes were tested from the Pan Am Trials session. None of those coaches had an athlete drug tested from the Trials session and all of them noted they felt USADA was doing a good job testing athletes in the main hall. With that being said, I could be wrong and I could have missed the drug testers pulling athletes aside for testing but I highly doubt that is the case.
- Do not make it an option for athletes to compete on the main stage of the Pan Am trials session. If the athlete wants to make the international squad, they must compete on the main stage and they should not be able to opt out if they have been invited to compete in the trials session. With that being said, if there is an outlier that is not invited to the main stage but hits a qualifying total large enough to make the team, that lifter is still allowed to be on the team.
- Make the schedule and process clearer for the event.
- If the competition begins at 9am, the platform workers and set up should commence at 6am or even be done the night before after the Expo is closed. This leaves ample time to make sure the platforms are arranged properly and all of the electrical stuff is out of the way. DO NOT make excuses that individuals are tired. This was a let down to the best lifters!
- Bars that are not real men’s bars (no center knurling) should not be allowed in the warm up area. It is my understanding that Rogue was informed of exactly what was needed and failed to get all of the right bars...BUT, USAW should also be checking this to ensure their athletes have proper equipment.
- Get a larger screen for back stage. They are affordable from any local electronics store.
- Make sure the scale is placed in the proper room that is specified on the information packets/website or make sure to bring 6 scales, not 4.
- Make sure the competition platform is properly secured before competition begins and vacuum the carpet surrounding the platform.
- Make sure there are enough credentials for athletes and coaches.
- Communicate to USADA where the event is being held if indeed there was no one that actually got tested from the Trials session.
Positive Side Note
This event was still an incredible event. I worry that the production company that runs the Arnold may not let USAW back into the main hall because it was a debacle that ran well over schedule, BUT if they do let USAW back into the main hall, this could build into one of the best Olympic weightlifting events of the year. The crowd was incredibly involved and the announcing was also entertaining. If USAW improves from this year’s Trial session, this event will prepare our lifters well for high pressure situations and enable them to compete optimally on the international stage!!! Kudos to USAW and Mark Cannella for having this idea and running with it. By clearing up the glaring mistakes, the sky in turn becomes the limit for this popular event.
In part 2 and part 3, I will have a much shorter review of the American Open Series 1 competition held in the weightlifting halls and a broad analysis surrounding the Quiana Welch uniform “violation.”