First Olympic Weightlifting Meet: A Reflection

This weekend I competed in my first olympic weight lifting “meet” or competition.

I would like to share some thoughts about the sport, my experiences through it, and how to apply the lessons to other areas of life. I wrote a pretty lengthy post after my first backpacking trip to document my experiences, and I will do the same here with “Oly.” As I grow in both sports, I know I’ll want to look back on my early days… so this “journal” is as much for you as it is for my future eyes. I want to document and capture these details while they’re still fresh in my mind. I’m breaking this into two different blog posts, because the total volume ended up being WAY longer than I thought it would be. The next posts talks about the lessons I learned and how I’ll apply them in life and in lifting. This post talks about how the actual meet went. I’m writing this knowing that most of my family and friends don’t know about this sport… so: lifters, please excuse the excess detail; “civilians,” please feel free to ask me any questions, I’d be happy to answer them as best as I am able!

TL;DR version of this post: I successfully lifted 4 of my 6 attempts. Snatch: 40 kg make, 44 kg make, 49 kg miss. Clean and jerk: 50 kg make, 55 kg make, 58 kg miss. Total = 99 kg. It was an awesome day and one of the best days of my life. I laughed a TON with my crew and at myself. I’m very grateful that I was brave enough to sign up to compete, and I’m excited to keep growing in this sport.

If you’re curious and want more details, let’s begin.

First of all, what olympic weight lifting is NOT – it is not body building, it is not (necessarily) going to the Olympics, and it is not power lifting. Power lifting is three completely different lifts – the dead lift, back squat, and bench press. What olympic weight lifting IS – two lifts – the snatch, and the clean and jerk. In both lifts, the objective is to get the weight from the ground to over your head. It seems scary and illogical to want to do that… but I promise, it’s fun and feels empowering! In the snatch, you move from the ground to overhead in one fluid motion. In the clean and jerk, you lift the weight in two movements: the clean is from the ground to your shoulders, and the jerk is from your shoulders to overhead. At a meet, lifters have 3 attempts at the snatch and 3 attempts at the clean and jerk. Your total score is the sum of your heaviest successful snatch and your heaviest successful clean and jerk. The person with the highest total wins. Seems simple enough.

A bit of backstory: I started doing CrossFit in March 2014. I really enjoyed the sport, and then I incurred a shoulder injury in September 2017. I thought it was no big deal, but as the days went on, it became progressively painful to comb my hair, answer the phone at work, and even sleep on my side at night. I missed doing overhead lifts and had to slowly get back into CrossFit. As I healed my shoulder with physical therapy, exercises from my chiropractor, and a lot of time and patience, I eventually regained my mobility. I started consistently attending the Oly class at my gym in November 2019. I forgot how much fun it was, how frustrating and challenging it could feel, but ultimately, how rewarding and powerful it felt to throw weights overhead. Since then, I haven’t been back to CrossFit, and I’ve really been enjoying my time with the Oly class.

When I registered for my first meet in December 2019, I was very much a beginner, and honestly, I still am. My technique was very slowly getting more and more dialed in, but it was far from where I wanted it to be. I heard that a handful of people from my gym were signed up for a meet in February 2020. I thought I was too new to compete, but I talked to my coach and one of my friends from back home, and they encouraged me to sign up. They said the more meets you do and the sooner you do them, the better you will get at the sport. I looked at the registration for the competition. I was trying to figure out which weight class I should sign up for; at the time, I weighed 145 pounds and wanted to compete in the 64 kg = 140.8 pounds class. I thought, “Welp, I have ~2 months to lose 5 pounds. That seems reasonable.” I signed up and marked it on my calendar – my first meet was 7 weeks away. I was curious what the amount of time would feel like, so I counted backwards to see what I was doing 7 weeks ago – and it was actually the first day I went back to Oly! I laughed at the timing of the universe and went to bed.

I immediately noticed a difference in my training after committing to the competition. My coach was right; it wasn’t just training for the sake of training anymore – I had an end goal in mind, something to train TOWARDS. I went to class consistently, especially during my graveyard weeks. I read articles and watched videos about competition mentality and advice for first time lifters. I supplemented my lifting with swimming to reset my body a bit and give my joints a much needed break. I trained hard and had a ton of fun while doing it. I experienced “newbie gains,” hitting PRs (“personal records”) every few weeks. It felt like such an encouraging and exciting RUSH of quick and delicious progress!

Meet week arrived before I knew it. Between the holidays and a solo trip for my 30th birthday, I admittedly didn’t focus too much on losing the 5 pounds I needed to in order to make my weight class. I stressed out a bit and considered hitting the sauna, doing a water load, and limiting myself to 1 meal a day. I messaged the meet hosts, told them it was my first meet, and asked if I could still lift even if I was overweight. They said yes, I would be able to, I just wouldn’t be able to win in either weight class. Perfectly fine with me! My goal for the meet was just to give it my best effort, learn how the sport works, and hopefully go 6/6. I knew I had no chance of winning in either weight class, so I did my best to stop stressing out about my weight.

The day of the meet ended up being one of the most fun and best days of my life! I let myself see a completely different world and I jumped right into it. There was so much going on and I was trying to take it all in; the dust is still settling, even a few days later. I’ll share my experiences at the meet, and then all of the lessons I’ve realized in the days afterwards.

I made weight at 63.16 kg and all that stress was for nothing! I watched two ladies from my gym lift in the sessions before me. They did so well! I hope to be as strong as them someday. Soon enough, it was my session. I went to the back/warm up room and started stretching. I could now see what everyone was telling me the whole time – a competition is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from training in the gym. There’s an audience, everything is timed, and there is just a different, additional kind of pressure while trying to perform already complex and unnatural physical movements with heavy weights. As I said, I’m a beginner, and I wasn’t expecting to lift “heavy” that day at all relative to everyone else in my class.

My coach and helper timed my warm ups such that I would be ready to lift when it was my turn to be on the platform in front of the crowd. I am an easily excitable person at baseline – I am passionate about life, I’m just a big “little kid” at heart, and I have fun whatever I’m doing. In this sport, though, being excitable isn’t necessarily the best thing. I had to actively put in effort to keep myself calm, settle my nerves, and try to keep my racing heart rate as low as possible. It was a completely novel environment and experience, so of course there were nerves, anxiety, and stress… but there was also a lot of excitement, wonder, and curiosity about how everything would go down.

It was finally my turn to lift. This weight is measured in kg (I know, hard for us Americans LOL). I declared that I would open my snatch at 39 kg, but I guess I was lifting well that day, so my coach called that I would open at 40 kg. The announcer called my name, and the 1 minute clock began. I walked onto the platform, took a deep breath to settle my heart as best as I could, and approached the barbell. I aligned my feet, gripped the bar with my left and then my right hand, and set my body. After that, I have no clue what happened!!! It was a successful lift, but I know it felt… not quite right, kind of ugly. I know the effects of adrenaline on the body, but I had never experienced THAT much of it in THAT short a time period. I wasn’t completely in control of the bar like you’re supposed to be, but I somehow was able to snatch it overhead. I went to the back room and was cracking the hell up with my coach and helper – they said I got too excited and ripped the bar off the ground instead of controlling it. I honestly blacked out during the lift hahaha, but I finally did my first lift on the platform!

Snatch attempt #2 was 44 kg. I knew what it felt like to be on the platform now, and I was able to slow my heart rate more thoroughly. I controlled the bar much better, and hit another successful lift.

Snatch attempt #3 was 49 kg. My coach made me wait until 30 seconds of the clock ran out so that I could get more rest. I felt so excited to try this weight and also wanted to just DO IT and get it over with. It was tough to be patient, but to also channel all of that energy. I knew that this would be a PR, so I took a deep breath and tried to not let it get to me. I got the bar off the ground and overhead, but I let the bar get too far in front of me; it was too far away for me to pull myself under it and to stand it up. I failed this lift.

Everyone else finished their snatches, then there was a break before the clean and jerks started. I couldn’t believe how quickly this was all going! Felt a little bit like being at the airport – hurry up and WAIT – but so much more fun. It was almost my turn to lift on the platform again, so I started warming up this lift. I declared and opened my clean and jerk with 50 kg. Took my deep breath and approached the bar. Successfully cleaned and jerked it, and I’m glad my coach yelled at me to “hold” it overhead until I received the “down” signal from the judges – I was so excited, I was ready to just throw the bar down.

Clean and jerk attempt #2 was 55 kg. I forgot if it was this or the next attempt, but while I was on deck backstage, I was so pumped to just DO IT. We were cracking up and my crew told me I had to wait until the loaders finished loading the bar with the new weight, I couldn’t go out there and finish it myself. They finally had the bar prepared. I cleaned the 55 kg, jerked it, heard the “down” signal, and went back to wait my turn for my final lift of the competition.

Attempt #3 was 58 kg, which also would be a PR, and I tried to not let it affect me. I was sad that it was my last lift, and I wanted to nail it! I was used to the feeling of excited nerves as I approached the bowl of chalk in front of the platform. I cleaned the 58 kg and stood it up. The jerk has always been a challenge for me – I tend to dip forward, which causes me to drive forward instead of up, and press instead of jerk it solidly overhead in one fluid motion. I knew it was “heavy,” and I ended up changing my mechanics instead of staying disciplined with what the movement should have been. I failed the lift because I pressed the bar up instead of jerking it.

Just like that – it was all over! All that stress, all that adrenaline, those 3 months of training – it felt like it was over in a FLASH. I felt so ecstatic that I put myself out there, that I had a pretty successful first meet, and had such a HUNGER FOR MORE. My team came back stage to congratulate me, and I felt so grateful for all of their encouragement and support. I surprisingly wasn’t tired (the adrenaline was probably still in my system), and I wanted to go workout since it didn’t feel like I got a full workout at the meet. My crew joked that I should have lifted more on the platform if that’s how I felt. I went home that night and looked up future meets for which to sign up. Will see when my 2nd meet is!

Overall, I consider that day a complete WIN. My total was 99 kg. My most successful snatch was 44 kg = 96.8 pounds. My PR snatch in the gym is 100 pounds, so I hit 96.8% of my best that day. My most successful clean and jerk was 55 kg = 121 pounds. My PR clean and jerk in the gym is 125 pounds, so I hit, funnily enough, ALSO 96.8% of my best that day in this lift as well. Considering the new space, new experience, and all that adrenaline, I’m pretty damn happy that I hit that amount of weight. I’m a little sad that I came SO CLOSE to successfully hitting my 3rd attempts of each lift – but now I know what I can focus on in future training. And really work on NOT changing my movements just when it’s a new and scary weight.

I’ve been doing this sport for 3 months and now have some baseline numbers for my career. I feel so grateful for my gym, my coach, my team, and my family and friends for all of their support and encouragement. I feel proud of MYSELF for sticking my neck out and doing something new! I ended up loving it, but even if I hated it, it would have been a win merely for pushing myself and trying something new. I’m at a point now where I watch my videos from a couple months or even weeks ago and can see how much I have progressed. I can’t wait to look back on these videos years from now and compassionately laugh at how green I was in that bright red singlet. Cheers to lifting well and lifting heavier in the years to come!

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