Morghan King competes at the 2019 IWF World Championships on Sept. 19, 2019 in Pattaya, Thailand.
Gyms across the United States might be temporarily shuttered, their benches and weights gathering dust amidst the spread of coronavirus, but there are still opportunities for athletes to keep lifting.
There are even still opportunities to compete — virtually, of course — thanks to the efforts of USA Weightlifting staff, coaches, referees and others to keep people engaged and fit as the fight against the virus continues.
“I’m proud of the way we’re reacting and moving things in a positive direction as much as we can to keep people active as much as we can,” USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews said. “Our goal is let’s be proactive now, and we anticipate that this activity will help us when COVID-19 allows people to return to the gym and to weightlifting.”
In many parts of the country, gyms were among the first businesses to close. As soon as leadership at USA Weightlifting realized they might have to postpone nationals, scheduled for May, they immediately started thinking of how to handle the coming crisis both financially and in a way in which they could continue to serve their members.
One of the first things they come up with was the idea to host online competitions. The American Open Series Online Qualifier allows weightlifters to submit videos of their lifts, which will then be judged by national and international referees and can be used to qualify for a series of competitions including the 2020 nationals, which will now be held in December, as well as the 2020 American Open Series 2 & 3, 2020 youth nationals, 2020 world masters and 2020 Pan American masters. One online competition ends March 31, and a second, identical competition will run April 1 through 30.
The next online competition is the Virtual Super Championships for weightlifters who qualified for nationals and will be held May 14-17, the same weekend the in-person meet was to take place, in order to honor all the hard work members have already put in toward the competition. Those lifts will be judged by three referees and three jury members.
The organization had some experience hosting online competitions, such as the High School Throwdown in which athletes could upload video of their best squat, bench press and power or full clean and vie for the title of America’s strongest high school and strongest high school athlete. This is the first time the governing body has done an official qualifying competition online, however.
“It’s a really great system,” said Jenny Schumacher, an international level referee and member of the USA Weightlifting board of directors who’s helping judge the competition. “Basically what it does is takes the place of any local meets. We had anywhere from two to 20 meets all over the country going on every weekend. This is a great way to keep things consistent, or at least as close as we can.”
There is no fee to enter the open competition, but USA Weightlifting is collecting donations for its COVID-19 relief fund to help gym owners and small businesses who are facing financial hardships because of closures.
Download the Team USA app today to keep up with weightlifting and all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.
“Those guys are suffering so we’re trying to do what we can to help with information and resources, and we put together an advice group with CPAs, legal experts and business consultants to help gyms get through this they best they can,” Andrews said. “The intent is to use the money to help people get through this crisis, pay rent, pay payroll, etc., and keep gyms open because you look back to the Olympic Games and where do people come from? They come from local gyms. We rely on their survival for our survival, so it’s very important to support local gyms across America and help them stay open and save jobs as well.”
USA Weightlifting has also been keeping its members engaged with social media campaigns including “What’s your why?” in which they asked people to share their reasons for starting weightlifting and why they keep going, and #keeplifting, in which people are sharing photos and videos of themselves lifting whatever they can these days.
Andrews said he’s seen photos and videos of people squatting their dogs, their kids, even appliances.
“The value of this is to keep people able to work out, able to lift, and for a lot of people it’s an escape from day-to-day life right now, an escape from the news or an escape from all things COVID-19,” Andrews said.
Schumacher said over the weekend that she had judged fewer than a dozen submissions to the online competition, but that it wasn’t for lack of trying. With a large number of referees volunteering to participate, she said, by the time she logs on most submissions have already been reviewed by the requisite three officials.
“The great thing with social media now is the awareness of opportunities and what’s going on and also the way people are reaching out to offer comfort, offer help and support one another in their journeys,” she said.
Coaches have stepped forward and offered to share online instruction, Andrews said, while others have offered to share training plans and ways to work out without equipment. Others are sharing their ideas for improvisation, such as making a kettlebell out of a bucket and some dirt.
“We’re just trying to be creative every day,” he said. “What’s impressed me has been the coaches and the athletes, and the response to this as a community has been outrageously good.”
The Chinese Weightlifting Association donated 500 masks to USA Weightlifting, which in turn had them sent to UC Health in the organization’s hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.