By Jim Schmitz
U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team Coach 1980, 1988 & 1992
Author of Olympic-style Weightlifting for Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD
The 1979 U.S. National Weightlifting Championships were held in an ice hockey arena in Totowa, New Jersey. Tom Hirtz, lifting in the 82.5-kilo class, wins the snatch with a beautiful lift with 152.5. He starts to warm up his clean & jerks with 70 kg, and his low back goes into spasms and he is in excruciating, paralyzing pain. We massage his back, we stretch him, but nothing works—he can’t even get up off the floor. Meanwhile the clean & jerks have started, Tom can’t get off the floor, and I’m thinking, “What a shame, such a great snatch and he can’t clean and jerk!”
Tom begins rolling on the floor with his knees pulled to his chest, and I’m asking him, “ What do you want to do?” He says his back is starting to loosen up and maybe he could do one clean and jerk—what does he need to win? The weight is now up to 170, so I say, “I think you can do this and it might be enough.” Tom gets up, walks around, goes through the clean and jerk motion without any weight and just psyches up and goes out and makes a solid, but painful lift, just shocking everyone and winning the National Championships. One thing that I think helped Tom, besides his fierce determination and toughness, was that this was an ice hockey ring and there was a covering over the ice that we were lifting on, but the floor and the arena were very cold, so his rolling around on the floor probably was like packing his back in ice. Still, he had to go from 0 kg to 170, and that was fantastic.
At the 1979 Pan Am Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tom Stock, USA’s super heavyweight champion, made three beautiful snatches, 160, 165, and 170 kg, to go ahead of Canada’s Mark Cardinal, who had done 167.5. Tom was sitting pretty, feeling strong and confident; then he stood up to take his first warm-up clean & jerk with 70 kg, and his back just cramped and went into spasms. He fell backward onto a bench and against a pole that was holding up the warm-up room tent. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but my first thought was the tent was going to fall down. It was about 106 degrees and Tom had been sweating profusely throughout the competition, and he had gotten dehydrated and severely cramped in the low back.
We packed his back in ice and he drank about three gallons of water, and we just waited. He was scheduled to open with 200 and the weight was close to being called. Finally they called Tom to the platform, he stood up, did the clean and jerk motion with no weight, and said, let’s go do it, no warm up, zero! He pulled in the 200, but it knocked him backwards and on his butt, hard. This really fired up Tom. He walked off stage and the look in his eyes was of the fiercest determination that I have ever seen. He came out and put the 200 away, hard and ugly, but successfully.
Coming back, he said he'd just rest and take whatever he needed to win. Meanwhile, Cuba's Francisco Mendez, 1979 Junior World champion with a 387.5 total, who unfortunately bombed here in the snatch, and Cardinal were doing their thing, thinking Tom didn't have a chance. We determined that 215 was about all Tom could do and that it should be enough to win. He stood up, went through the clean & jerk motion with no weight, then went out and made a beautiful lift with the 215, just amazing to everyone who was backstage and saw the pain and suffering Tom was going through and the anguish the coaches were going through. This meant Mendez and Cardinal both had to do 217.5 and they weren't able, so Tom got three golds—snatch, clean and jerk, and total 385 (a PR). Just another fantastic finish.
At the 1982 U.S. National Championships, Ken Clark was in third place after the snatch and needed the American record (AR) of 210 in order to beat Rich Shanko for the championships in the 100-kilo class. Ken's best at that time was the American record at 208. Ken went out and made a beautiful lift for the win and the record in both the clean & jerk and total. One year later, Ken was in the exact same position, third place after the snatch. Shanko had had another great day, setting an AR total of 370 with lifts of 165 and 205. Ken once again only snatched 157.5, but opened with a solid 205 and waited for Shanko to finish lifting and then take what he needed for the win. After Shanko missed his clean with the AR attempt with 211, Ken needed 212.5 for the victory. He took it for his second attempt, but missed the clean miserably. Once again it came down to his third and final attempt in order to win the National Championships and it would take another American record! Ken was determined, got fired up, and went out and made a hard clean and an even harder jerk for the championships. This was his second fantastic finish in a row over the same lifter and with another American record.
That's why, lifters and coaches, and the Hall of Fame Yankee catcher Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over 'til it's over!'" In other words, lifters and coaches, NEVER GIVE UP!
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Jim Schmitz’s gold-medal articles on weightlifting and weight training are regularly featured in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.
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