Coaching at the 2016 USA Weightlifting Olympic Trials Part 2
Olympic Trials Part 2: The Clean and Jerk
During the intermission, we spent some time stretching out, eating a bit and rolling out. We were focused on a solid recovery from the snatch portion and some slight stimulation to get his body firing again for the clean and jerk. As he started to warm up for the clean and jerk, he was much more relaxed and in a very good mindset.
As I stated in the first of this series, Norik is a unique athlete. He warms up relatively slow but is very attentive to each movement in his warm up. Every rep must be better than the last and must feel strong and fast. Norik had been complaining of a slight bit of fatigue which I had attributed to his American record in the snatch.
His warm up series was relatively simple...bar work, 70k/90k/120k/140k/160k/170k/180k/190k...open at 197k, or so we thought. This was where it was exciting. I was loading the bar and checking attempts at the table. Norik likes to have a bunch of time between warm up attempts and platform attempts, particularly in the clean and jerk. With that being said, that is his preference, but keep in mind, he is an incredible athlete that can adapt to almost any situation.
When I had checked the cards, there were 4 athletes just prior to Norik at 196 or 197k. Norik had just taken the 190k clean and jerk in the warm up and the one athlete had just taken their weight on the platform while the three others bumped past Norik. Putting him onto the platform. When I ran back to tell Zyg and Norik he was up, Norik was a bit pissed and Zygmunt wanted him to take 197k knowing he would smoke the attempt either way. As his coach, I took a slight risk. I saw moving him to 198k would buy him at least one attempt, possibly two, and in my mind would ensure a better attempt on the platform. I moved the weight and Norik seemed a bit relieved and in turn sat down and recovered for a lift to get his mind focused on destroying the next attempt.
This is one of my favorite parts of weightlifting. I love the training process, I love designing programs, I love focusing on technical and strength improvements in athletes and I love the daily grind of training. BUT, my favorite part of coaching is standing at the bottom of the steps and mentally preparing the athlete to get on the platform to perform. When you have elite level athletes that are confident in their abilities, like Norik (and other athletes I coach like Hayley Reichardt), it makes that wait at the bottom of the steps even more fun. With Norik, it’s the leg slapping, the pep talk and then the breaking of the ammonia stick, when that stick breaks and he takes a few sniffs, the gears that are already turn, enter into full throttle mode, this is what makes coaching so fun. Norik went out and did what he needed to do, destroy 198.
Based off this opener, I had already figured out the next attempt to get his next goal, that was an American record total attempt at 202k. We knew that would also put him in a strong position to bring home the victory. At this point, there was a bit less jockeying at the table. Clearly, there was still movement on the cards but it became much easier to plan out his last two attempts. The weight was loaded on the bar, he had good recovery time between weights and felt strong taking 202k. Legs got slapped, I made some explicit comments to Norik prior to taking the platform, broke the ammonia stick and he went out and brought home his second American record of the night.
After the 202k, Norik had said his warm ups felt a bit slow in the back but the weights on the platform felt light and fast. He had one more goal for the evening and that was a 381k total. This was a special number and 209k would put him there...but we didn’t want to put him there right away. We wanted to guarantee the win before the 381k attempt. Kendrick Farris had just missed his second attempt and I had Norik at 206k. Farris moved his attempt to 206k, I moved Norik to 207k and Farris followed. As I was standing there, I realized Kendrick wanted to follow Norik’s attempts. I suppose Kendrick wanted to bring the gold home for the clean and jerk portion but I also believe Kendrick Farris is an animal. Despite missing his second attempt, I think he knew deep down inside, he could hit whatever we bumped Norik to on the platform. While at 207k, I discussed with Norik that we should definitely go to 209k because Kendrick would follow and I did not have confidence in Kendrick hitting that lift, especially after his miss at a lower weight.
This leads us back to what I was doing during warm ups. I had noticed in warm ups that Kendrick looked a hair shaky on his jerks. I had seen him doing his kick back jerks and not dropping in the hole. His miss on his second attempt was with his kick back jerk, not his squat jerk. Bumping Norik to 209k all but sealed the victory in my mind. Even if Norik missed 209k, I felt Kendrick wouldn’t make the jerk at that weight. He was shaky, using a different technique and already had a miss which would damper his confidence.
As we prepped Norik for his last attempt, his specifically asked for someone to yell for a bigger drive on his jerk while he waited to attempt the jerk. We walked out, gave him some good leg slaps, he took the ammonia and you could see the gears start firing. His clean was fairly strong, he came out of the hole and I gave my best yell to hammer the drive on the jerk...my anxiety was through the roof and this seemed like the longest 2 seconds I had experienced since my second son was born! Norik missed the jerk a hair forward. That feeling sucked but I felt confident we would walk away with the victory.
HOLY SHIT was I wrong. We stood in the back, watching on the platform screen. Kendrick had a decent clean on his attempt at 209k. Not super strong but not overly sloppy. I knew he would make the clean, the jerk is where I felt he wouldn’t achieve success. I forgot who was on the platform. I forgot it was Kendrick Farris, arguably one of the best American weightlifters ever, if not THE best. Kendrick made the lift and the rest is history.
The competition was incredible. Norik competed almost as well as he could have, Kendrick Farris competed like, well, Kendrick Farris. This was a great lesson in coaching and a spectacle to watch. The two men battled hard, Norik set an incredible American record at 374k, and it was apparent he had/has more in the tank. Not only was this Kendrick’s best meet of his life, it also set him up for a trip to Pan Ams where he secured his third trip to Pan Ams.
Now, for Norik, we wait and see how he recovers. What are his next steps and where will we see this great lifter go next. All great lifters cope with injuries, the greatest lifters come back and continue to progress their legacy. Now we wait to see, how long is his recovery, will he come back for another quad? Will he recover well enough to compete at the level he showed us this past year?