First off, my interest in iron game history is simply a hobby, and I just consider myself a student who is always learning new things. So I would be first to admit that I don't know all the facts about iron game history. However, in my 38 years as an iron game enthusiast, I've obtained a lot of information. Aside from the books I've obtained for reference, I've also been in contact with several iron game historians around the world who at times have provided me with some interesting and relevant facts. Thus I've written this series to help interested parties become more aware of their iron game heritage.
In early days of the iron game, back in the late nineteenth century, in an effort to organize iron game events into a legitimate sport "it was all called weightlifting". That includes events like shot putting, tug-of-war, as well as the exercises performed with dumbbells and barbells. Early on the throwing events found a home in track and field. So that left the barbell and dumbbell crowd to form their own group.
Starting in the late nineteenth century, pioneers of "weightlifting" attempted several times to form an international federation, even trying to combine it once with wrestling. However, it wasn't until 1920 that a permanent international governing body was finally formed. And this was after some 30 years of trying. During those years from 1891 to 1923 there were no less than 22 world "weightlifting" championships held, and during that time as many as 33 different exercises were tried out as contest lifts.
Now, it's only been recently, within the last two or three decades, that really strict boundaries have been drawn separating iron game sports. And this is unfortunate, because these boundaries have created prejudices that have diluted an already limited market of activity.
Now many may, or may not be aware, that it was the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) that was the first international governing body for Powerlifting!
In 1968, at the Mexico Olympics, the IWF congress voted for adopt complete control of Powerlifting. This was primarily due to the efforts of then IWF General Secretary, Oscar State of Britain. Now, it should be noted that Mr. State had many political adversaries within the IWF hierarchy. Thus, a year later at the World WL Championships in Lima, Peru, these adversaries took advantage of the absence of Mr. State at the 1969 IWF meetings!
Because of an illness Mr. State was unable to attend those meetings, and this gave his political adversaries the chance to get Powerlifting removed. They used testimony from the IWF medical committee doctors, who deemed Powerlifting too dangerous.
Now it's my opinion that the IWF should have studied PL more! By jumping the gun with their prejudices, they did a lot of damage to the iron game! First, I think they should have kept control of Powerlifting, simply because their affiliation with the IOC would have kept PL's credibility intact.
Secondly, I believe that if the IWF had not been so narrow minded, they could have found a viable option to a decision that eventually did permanent damage their own sport of Olympic lifting! That being the discontinuing of the Clean and Press.
I don't think anyone thought of it at that time, but a very viable solution for the Press would have been to remove it as an Olympic lift, and then put it over into Powerlifting as a replacement for the bench press. Also, as time went on, I believe that a Clean and Press and Deadlift combination might have become a viable second strength sport in the Olympics. This of course would be impossible today because too much time has passed, and with the passage time different and new activities become more popular.
Now what is really sad about a lot of what the IWF does is that it is the IOC that really dictates IWF doctrine. And what's even sadder is that most of those individuals on the IOC have never had any contact with an iron game sport what-so-ever.
Examples of decisions that weren't really in the best interest of the sport are:
Most recently the IOC dictated to the IWF that they WILL have only 250 athletes total in the next Olympics. Thus the IWF was forced to reduce the number of weight classes to 15 total. This was to accommodate the new women's WL. Now the negative results of dropping several classes is that a lot of good deserving male Olympic lifters will never get an opportunity to represent their countries in the Olympics.
Going back further to the 1960's, the IOC complained that WL contests were getting too long. Thus there was pressure to drop the press. This was voted on three times by the IWF congress, in 64, 68, and finally in 72 when the press was finally removed. In some respects the removal of the press was a trade-off to appease the IOC hierarchy.
Also at that time, the length of three-lift OL meets prevented adding more weight classes. Thus 100kg/ 220lb. class was not added until 1976 after the press was dropped. The fact is no major IWF changes can be made without these non weightlifting people on the IOC approving them first.
As another example, going back even further to 1920, and the first participation by the IWF in the Olympics at Antwerp Belgium. Back then SPOTTERS WERE USED IN OLYMPIC LIFTING. However, the following year, at the 1921 IOC meetings, a dictate was given to the IWF to get rid of them.
The IWF was also told to GET RID OF THE ONE HANDED LIFTS. However, they did not comply right away, but instead added two more lifts for a total of 5. The two new lifts being the two hand clean and press and the two hand snatch. The one handed lifts were dropped after the 1924 Olympics, because of a second ultimatum by the IOC. As a point of interest, there were only 5 weight classes back then, 60kg, 67.5kg, 75kg, 82.5kg, +82,5kg.
Now, considering the history of the relationship between the IWF with IOC, it's apparent that the present Powerlifting community has a monumental task to get Olympic acceptance. First, without considering any other issues, there is no way the Olympic movement will allow a second strength sport with 3 lifts and 21 weight classes. And just considering this one issue, would Powerlifters tolerate having a bunch of outsiders dictating to them and forcing unwanted changes in their sport?
More strength to all strength athletes.
Bibliography: "The Lost Past, The History of the IWF" by Gottfried Schodl, President of the IWF
Consulting Historian: Gherado Bonini, Italy
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