PATTAYA, Thailand -- CJ Cummings was hoping the culmination of six years’ hard work of competing – and mostly winning – on the international stage would lead to his first senior-level world medal Saturday night at the 2019 IWF World Championships.
The 19-year-old is already a four-time junior world champion and two-time youth world champion, with 16 medals from those worlds counting snatch, clean & jerk and total, and has been competing at the senior worlds since 2015 when, at 15, he was the youngest athlete in a field of nearly 750 lifters.
But at what was primed to be his senior worlds breakthrough, Cummings again fell short. Still, he had a personal best placement. After finishing 30th in 2015, failing to put up a total in 2017 and being 10th last year, Cummings was ninth in the men’s 73 kg. at Pattaya’s Eastern National Sports Training Center.
“It wasn’t the best. I would say it’s, in my opinion, sh--ty, but it was an alright performance,” Cummings said honestly.
He was poised for an outstanding performance, having twice broken the snatch and total junior world records – and three times raised the clean & jerk junior world record – this year alone. His clean & jerk record was a mere 3 kilograms from the senior world record.
Cummings’ junior world records – which are also senior American, junior American and junior Pan American records – are 154 kg. snatch, 194 kg. clean & jerk and 347 kg. total.
At worlds, he made his first two snatch attempts at 145 kg. and 150 kg., then increased to 155 for his third, to raise his record, but missed.
“To me it was there, I just rushed it,” he explained of the third attempt.
Cummings then missed his first clean & jerk of 183 kg., again feeling rushed saying he didn’t have enough of a break to prepare, then made a second attempt at 183.
His plan going into the meet was a 195 clean & jerk, to raise that record as well. He didn’t plan for a missed clean & jerk, notably his better of the two lifts, though.
“When I missed the first one it put me in a bit of a hole, and I wanted to stay in the fight so that’s why I took that big jump from 183 to 191, just to stay in the fight,” said Cummings, who missed his third attempt and would settle for a 150 snatch (10th), 183 clean & jerk (10th) and 333 total (ninth).
In the end, the clean & jerk and total he hit earlier this year at the Pan-American Junior Championships, would both have been good for silver.
His performance in Thailand is only increasing his drive toward the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“It fuels me a lot – the Olympics is going to be a different atmosphere but many of the people here will be the same contenders at the Olympics, so I kind of see my competition and it gives me something to train for and motivate me to push and do more,” Cummings explained.
Things change for Cummings when he gets to senior worlds.
“I felt more relaxed and more nervous at the same time, but overall I feel more nervous at senior competitions and senior worlds,” he admitted.
At youth and junior competitions, and Pan American championships, Cummings has the highest starting lift and is the last to go in his group; at senior worlds he’s among the first to go given his lighter starting snatch compared to the rest of the field.
“It definitely humbles me because I’m used to going last, so to come out and go first and actually have to be in the battle, it humbles me more and it motivates me more to go in the gym and get better,” he said.
Still, Cummings is keenly aware that senior worlds has never been his friend.
“I know I won’t always have the best competition, but it is frustrating because the past years I’ve never had a good experience at the senior worlds. It’s frustrating, but I’ll have my day someday.”
He’s hoping that day comes in 10 months in Tokyo.
Weightlifters qualify for the 2020 Games based on their IWF Absolute Ranking, which combines points they earn at select competitions over an 18-month period. Cummings is currently second on the last published 73 kg. Absolute Ranking list, from which a total of 13 men qualify, and is a virtual shoo-in for the Olympic team. (Click here for a full explanation of weightlifting’s Olympic qualification system.)
Cummings is at the tail end of the busiest season of his nine-year weightlifting career, primarily in preparation for what’s likely to be his Olympic debut. Thailand marked the fourth international meet of 2019 for him, more than any year prior, and fifth in less than 11 months. He needs just one more to meet the Olympic qualification criteria.
“I guess you get tired of it, with jet lag, so I’m just trying to keep it mellow, keep a pace, get me used to it more often,” he explained. “This is a big year leading up to the Olympics next year, so I just have to prepare myself for it.”
The teenaged sensation knows it will all be worth it, though, once he stands under the lights at the Tokyo International Forum.
“It would mean a lot to me – my first time at the Olympics, representing,” Cummings said. “It’s a whole different ballgame; it’s not only weightlifting but you’ve got a whole bunch of sports, a whole bunch of top-level athletes there, so just to experience that and put on a show, it’s a blessing.”