Tokyo Strong: An Analysis of a USA Weightlifting Project

 

Over the last 24 hours, the CEO Of USA Weightlifting Phil Andrews has reached out to coaches that may potentially have an athlete in attendance at the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo. His email was in direct regard to “Tokyo Strong,” a proposed project to raise finances through donations to USA Weightlifting along with other expenses that I would assume have been budgeted for previously. Andrews’s direct email was a question of whether this project was worthwhile or if the project should cease to operate and potentially take efforts elsewhere within the corporation of USA Weightlifting. To cut to the chase, Andrews provides direct analysis of the project in his email as such:

 

“We essentially have two choices at the Games:

  1. We have our training facility, like Lima, where our whole team can train at our schedule, critically WITH personal coaches.
    1. The other advantages are media access related and being able to dictate training time, but the real reason here is the personal coaches.
    2. Note since we are receiving donations for this project, this money can’t actually be spent elsewhere.
  2. We use the village, like 2016, and the accredited facility. However, personal coaches will not be able to access this facility, except for the day of competition (although coaches of athletes going early in the competition may be able to get in there ahead of time).
    1. We have fought hard to get 8 personal coach credentials, which are like gold dust in the Olympic Games.
    2. Note, athletes will still have to stay outside the village until the closing ceremony
    3. Note, Personal Coaches cannot stay in the Village, so will live separately.”

Simultaneous Conflicting Beliefs

The purpose behind Tokyo Strong seems warranted and found with good intention. It would be ideal for Olympic athletes to have access to training with personal coaches in direct proximity to their individual athletes. Personal circumstances cloud my judgement however, since the national governing body (NGB) of USAW is not funding personal coaches, like myself, to attend the Senior World Championships this year. It is contradiction to place value on the presence of personal coaches at the Olympics, but not in the meets leading up to it. Regardless, I am ecstatic to see the NGB place value the presence of personal coaches for Tokyo. As I crept through the email, a few things came across in a very strange manner.

CEO Phil Andrews wants to hear what the coaches have to say about the topic. That is absolutely fantastic, and he has always been open to letting constituents speak their mind. However, as an owner of three businesses, there are a minimal amount of financial details presented. As someone who values calculated decisions with my athletes AND calculated decisions in my businesses, I would like to see a few key aspects prior to formulating a conclusion. These are all key aspects that I believe MUST be answered prior to anyone being able to weigh in entirely and provide an absolute basis for their conclusion.

 

      1. How much money has been raised thus far regarding Tokyo Strong?


I am suspicious that Andrews brought to light coaches who are questioning the project (me being one of them, more so questioning the financial aspect, not the principle) because the funds to be raised have not come near the amount necessary for the project to have success. An easy out could potentially be to put it on the disgruntled coaches (me being one of them) while in reality, the fundraising is not happening fast enough for the commencement of the project. I could be completely wrong about my conclusion but that does not change the main point: how much money has been raised thus far for Tokyo Strong?


  1. What money has been budgeted and set aside to finalize the project that would be out of pocket expenditures for USA Weightlifting? What other areas would that budgeted money be taken from within the USA Weightlifting budget?

Andrews has already recognized that some money will be spent out of USA Weightlifting’s pocket for the project. ZKC barbell sets must be ordered, I assume other training gear, tables, etc must also be ordered for optimal performance of the building. Knowing how much money would be spent out of pocket and providing that transparency would be fantastic and make the decision-making process more effective. It would also enable USAW constituents to analyze and see what other programs out of pocket costs may be undercutting. Is this budgeted expense the reason why a Junior World Bronze medalist who has made a Senior Pan Am team does not receive a stipend? Is this extra expense preventing Senior World team members from having their coaches be funded to the Senior World Championships? Perhaps, but we would not know unless there is more clarity regarding the situation.


  1. Has there been a precedent for the success of camps like this in the prior experience? Is the evidence statistically significant? 

In the past, USA Weightlifting has held on-site camps or adaptation camps. For instance, in 2018 they held a camp in Germany prior to leaving for Turkmenistan. Harrison Maurus competed well and he attended that camp, CJ Cummings also competed very well and he did not attend the camp. My lifter Jordan Wissinger attended the German camp but did not compete well. Is there any research or data to show us that there is a significant improvement in performance if you attend a camp of this regard? This evidence would help in the decision-making process. 


  1. Would all of the athletes use the camp? 

Would every athlete use the camp? It’s tough to decide if Tokyo Strong should continue with a focus on only 8 potential athletes. However, it is the Olympics and that is part of the mission statement so again, on the surface, I would support Tokyo Strong. Then my question becomes, would every athlete use the camp? I venture to believe that at least one of the main male competitors would not use Tokyo Strong in their preparation for competition. 


  1. What happens to the camp after 2020?

I have heard a plethora of ideas behind what they would use the camp for after 2020. This is something that needs to be addressed and have a proper plan. When owning a business, the key to success is understanding what happens if it succeeds, what happens if it fails and what is the fallout or post-mortem? All of these issues must be addressed when planning something of this magnitude. By knowing a potential post-mortem, by hearing what could happen in a best-case scenario and what could happen in a worst-case scenario, coaches will be able to provide greater analysis of the situation. 


  1. Are there other areas within USA Weightlifting lacking the support that proper donations could be used to further the mission statement of USA Weightlifting?

There are plenty of coaches who feel as though they are not supported and their athletes do not matter in the current environment of USA Weightlifting (myself included). Is there a way to support the development of Youth and Juniors and elite seniors that are on the Senior World team and don’t receive a stipend that could be alleviated through lucrative donations? We have Games Eligible athletes who are not currently on a stipend and whose coaches are not supported for travel to the biggest senior-level international competition of 2019 (Senior Worlds). This is something that should be addressed and perhaps finding a way to raise donations to support more of these elite athletes would present us with a greater showing in Tokyo.

 

By no means do I say nix Tokyo Strong. What I am asking for is clarity. I struggle to value the decision-making process of a corporation that consistently neglects to book proper flights for athletes and coaches, that consistently forgets to add athletes to their WhatsApp and CoachMePlus+ programs and that even forget to pay their athletes for international medals. If these simple tasks are consistently mishandled, how can we further trust our leaders without more details regarding the process behind Tokyo Strong?

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