by Marty Gallagher
Ken Patera military presses a 1st attempt press with 456. At the time, the world record press was 483 held by Vasily Alexeev. Ken went on to press 472 on this day. Note complete lack of layback used to push through the sticking point. Imagine the triceps and shoulder strength needed to push 470 pounds overhead in this super-strict fashion.
When Mark Rippetoe is asked to pinpoint the single biggest reason for the sorry state of American Olympic weightlifting, he responds unhesitatingly and without equivocation, “American lifters are weak!” You can’t get more succinct, pithy or pointed than that four word summation. American Olympic weightlifting coaches are in danger of going to the 2012 London Olympic Games by themselves. The USA is in the embarrassing position of not yet qualifying a single men’s lifter for the upcoming Games. Anyone want to bet that our USA Weightlifting coaches (who should be hiding in shame) go to the London Games anyway? Watch as the coaches and managers (without any athletes to coach and manage) march proudly in the opening ceremonies and wine and dine on the taxpayer dime. Is this not ridiculous? That coaches without athletes might participate without a trace of irony or embarrassment would happen because no one calls them to account. Amongst the entrenched athletic aristocracy the standard smug retort is: “Any foreign lifter that places above an American is obviously on drugs (beating the most sophisticated testing known to man), and were it not for these drugged athletes we would rule the world. Plus, as a consolation prize, while we Americans might not field the strongest team (or the thirtieth strongest team) we are certainly the cleanest team.”
Well, isn’t that comforting! There was a time when American Olympic lifters were super strong – strong to the point that if a wayward snatch, clean, or jerk or an overhead press got slightly out of the groove, these powerhouse athletes had such a super abundance of super-strength they would simply power the errant barbell back into the prescribed motor pathway. A technique lifter is capable of lifting more, as a percentage, of his available strength, than the stronger lifter with poor technique. However, while this strategy is seductive (lift more thru continual honing of technique) it is ultimately flawed: being able to harness 97% of very little available strength is admirable; however the precision technician loses to the uber-strong goon that only harnesses 72% of his strength using horrific technique. The former might be super efficient snatching 300 pounds while the later ridiculously inefficient snatching 400. Unfortunately for American lifters, style points are not awarded in Olympic weightlifting.
One of the finest examples of “strength overcompensation” occurred in Canberra, Australia on November 26, 1988 when Leonid Taranenko set the all-time clean and jerk world record of 266.0 kilos, 586 pounds, in the clean and jerk. That record has not been exceeded to this day, a quarter of a century later, and remains the most weight ever lifted overhead by a human. The story behind the lift is that Taranenko had not intended on extending himself at this competition. However when the meet promoter approached him and told him he would pay $5,000 dollars for a world record clean and jerk, Leonid got real motivated real quick. He was not in top shape but highly motivated: he wanted the cash and as a result extended himself way past his capacity on that particular day. How hard he fought to save this world record (when he normally would have let it go) is a story worth retelling in detail later. The point is this: the technique Taranenko exhibited on this lift, the most weight ever lifted overhead by any man, was terrible! He used his excess strength to overcome a badly out-of-position barbell thru every phase of the historic lift. He had to bounce his way out of the squat clean after he was pinned by the massive poundage. On his second bottom bounce, he barely caught traction and recovered. On the jerk, things got even worse; he had to step awkwardly to his left to dramatically save the lift. Without an excess of power this lift was lost. Readers can look at the lift on YouTube.
Video frame shows just how out of position Taranenko was with the 586 jerk. Excess strength (and a $5,000 payday) saved this lift. Excess strength can overcome a host of technical miscues.
Another “strength over-compensator” was the late, great Sultan Rakhmanov. He stood 6’1”, weighed 330, and simply manhandled world record poundage. Three time world champion, Olympic champion, Sultan was a genetic wonder found in Uzbekistan and brought to fruition by the mighty Big Red Soviet sports machine. Sultan was a powerhouse and relied on overwhelming strength to overcome technical shortcomings. He was world record level in all three lifts. Adequate technique combined with overwhelming power.
Here is a sampling of the lifts Ken Patera was capable of at his awesome peak….
May 25 Training Camp (The Squat) : Chicago, IL
June 7-9 Starting Strength Seminar : Wichita Falls, TX
July 12-14 Starting Strength Seminar : Denver, CO
August 9-11 Starting Strength Seminar : Springfield, MO
September 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Brooklyn, NY