HERAKLION, Greece – The USA Weightlifting team at the 2022 IWF Junior World Championships had a banner day Tuesday when its competition kicked off with two athletes – Leila Cook (55kg; Chicago, Ill.) and Hampton Morris (61kg; Marietta, Ga.) – combining for three medals, four personal bests, a junior world record and a senior American record in Heraklion, Greece.
With an impressive army of 18 American lifters still to compete over the coming six days, the U.S. team has all but matched its medalist count of three from the 2021 Junior World Championships.
Morris added to his already-incredulous list of achievements at the Indoors Stadium of Heraklion when he won the 61kg junior world title. Coached by his father Tripp, the 18-year-old is on a rare trajectory that could lead him to the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
The Georgia native won the 2021 youth world title in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he broke the clean & jerk and total 61kg youth world records. A month later, he won the Pan American title in his senior international debut. Six months later, he is now a junior world champion after breaking the clean & jerk junior world record in Crete.
“I want to make it to senior worlds later this year and then hopefully Paris in 2024,” Morris explained.
Morris surprisingly missed his first two snatch attempts at 116kg, unable to stand up the first and the second being ruled no lift by press-out, but was able to make his final effort. Placing sixth in the snatch, Morris wasn’t worried as he knew he could make some noise in the clean & jerk – his “bread and butter,” as U.S. teammate Ryan Grimsland (73kg; Lewisville, N.C.) called it from the stands.
Truer words were never spoken as Morris guaranteed himself a total medal after making his opening clean & jerk of 150kg, which was six kilograms higher than any other athlete’s opener. With a follow-up lift of 154kg, he locked in two gold medals, then went for the junior world record with a final lift of 160kg.
“I always knew that I had a shot at it, so it was just a matter of making lifts,” he said. “I’m really happy that I had the chance to make it.”
It was four kilos higher than Morris’ previous competition record and, in addition to the junior world record by one kilogram, also broke the junior Pan American, junior American and senior American records. He is now the only U.S. man with a junior world record and joins Olympic silver medalist as the only Americans with current junior world records.
Morris’ 276kg total matched his junior and senior American record. Turkey’s Kaan Kahriman earned silver with a 269kg total and Solis Daniel Stivin Caicedo of Colombia with 267kg.
“I feel great, I’m super happy,” Morris said. “I tried not to think about the snatches once they were over, but just kind of frustrated with myself for letting it happen like that.”
Two hours prior, Cook had a roller-coaster journey of her own in her world championships debut at any level. The 20-year-old was initially named an alternate to this team, but after an athlete withdrew and Cook was called up, she more than proved herself, though noted she did not head to Greece believing she was capable of a medal.
Like Morris, she is also coached by her father, Chris.
Competing in the women’s 55kg A session, Cook’s opening snatch of 75kg was called no lift, then very quickly overturned by the jury. She set a new competition personal record on her second attempt with 78kg, then missed her third snatch of 80kg. This is the third consecutive meet in the past five months where Cook has missed 80 on her final snatch attempt. She placed 11th in the snatch.
“I just need to stop taking 80 now,” Cook laughed.
She went three for three in her clean & jerk with lifts of 102kg, 104kg and 106kg. The latter gave her a new clean & jerk PR and the junior worlds silver medal in clean & jerk. Her 104kg total completed her hat trick of personal records and put her fourth in the total.
“It feels really good. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really up here,’” Cook said of standing on the podium. “That was crazy.”
Leila Cook celebrates her silver medal at the 2022 IWF Junior World Championships on May 3, 2022 in Heraklion, Greece. (credit: Stephen Galvan, IWF)