When you think of weightlifting, historical notions may lead you to think of a particular image of a burly, mustached strongman in singlet and sweat. This image has been changing for many years, riding the wave of increased personal health and fitness. Now, it’s putting new, fresh faces in the sport, many of them female, challenging the idea of strength.
“Olympic weightlifting is one of the oldest sports in the world, next to track and field,” notes Margo Tuohy, trainer and co-owner of Studio 223 in Chatfield. “Competition to lift the heaviest weight has been recorded throughout civilization. The first male world champion was crowned in 1891. A women’s championship did not exist until 1987.”
Wanting to make an impact on area youth, Studio 223 kickstarted the area’s Olympic Lifting Youth team in 2016. Both the girls and boys teams are already making impressive strides. Competing in meets locally throughout the year, the girls team qualified for the state competition held this past March 11 at Lakeville South High School. This elite group required athletes participating to meet either qualifying totals or receive ranking in the top three in their weight class and meeting the top three minimum.
Lifters each took three attempts at two different lifts; the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk.” The composite score of their best lifts determined ranking and the aim is to be the one who lifts the heaviest weights. Participating in three of the eight weight class divisions were sophomore Devann Harris, freshmen Abigail Hinkley and Jett Tuohy, and eighth-graders Stephanie Bradt and Rylee Burnett. The team, coached by Julianne O’Brien, ended the competition with all five girls walking away with a high ranking, placing seventh or higher.
In the 58 kg (128 lb) weight class, Abigail Hinkley took the championship with a combined total of 110. In the same class, Stephanie Bradt and Rylee Burnett followed closely behind taking sixth and seventh places, with scores of 88 and 84 respectively. In the 63 kg (139 lb) class, Jett Tuohy snagged second place with 116. In the 75 kg (165 lb) class, Devann Harris earned second place with a score of 90.
Tuohy says all of the students, which also includes Kevin Bradt, Gage and Jack Tuohy, and newcomers Nathan Allen, Marley Harris, and Lexi Hinckley and Marley Harris, are at different levels and times in the sport. “It’s a very technical sport,” she adds, noting the required skill and overall strength. Students from both the girls and boys team make a dedicated commitment to the team and their training, including early morning practices at six and seven a.m.
Training consists of practicing the competition lifts and accessory work such as Romanian deadlifts and pull-ups. Easier said than done, the snatch lift requires the lifter to lift a weighted barbell vertically, in front of their body, to a position over their head, in a clean fluid motion, all while squatting and moving their body into a position under the bar before assuming a standing position. The clean and jerk is comprised of two lift portions. In the “clean,” the lifter hoists the weighted barbell vertically to a position above the clavicle. From there, the lifter completes the “jerk” portion of the lift, where they lift the barbell vertically again, up over their head into a standing stance. The training takes a substantial amount of dedication, respect, and proper training, but can aid largely in an individual’s overall health, mobility, and athleticism.
“There’s a huge amount of athletic talent in the Chatfield youth and olympic lifting is a way for them to further themselves in their favorite sports and in life,” says Margo Tuohy. “The greatest highlight of what we do is empowering teenagers to be the healthiest versions of themselves.”
She hopes interest in the sport will continue and that the local team will garner a recognized place within the state. “In the short period of time, Chatfield was put on the map as encompassing some pretty amazing athletes in the Olympic Lifting Youth world. These athletes are incredible.”