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Chinese Women's Olympic Weightlifting
March 4, 2012 10:31 AM   Subscribe

It’s a very specialized set of sports that the Chinese focus on but they simply kick absolute ass at them. ... If you look at the 2008 Olympic weightlifting results in Beijing... the women didn’t just squeak by to win a medal; most were simply so far ahead of their competition that it was a joke. In most cases, the Chinese women took their first attempt after everyone else had already finished lifting for the day. And they came out and just dispatched their weights in perfect form, setting new world records and winning medals with abandon.

Chinese women won the gold medal in 4 of the 7 weight classes.

48 kg (105.8 lb): Chen Xiexia - seen here setting a world record of 120 kg (264.5 lb), two and a half times her bodyweight, in the clean and jerk.

58 kg (127.8 lb): Chen Yanqing - seen here setting a world record of 111 kg (244.7 lb) in the snatch. The price she paid is described in this Wall Street Journal article.

69 kg (152.1 lb): Liu Chunhong - who set world records in both the snatch and the clean and jerk.

75 kg (165.3 lb): Cao Lei - who set Olympic records in both the snatch and the clean and jerk.
posted by Trurl (52 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
They are coming strong in chess, too. Talented youth are identified and trained, just like the USSR did. The women's world champion is a 14-year old Chinese girl. I wonder if they do chess boxing?
posted by thelonius at 10:33 AM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I assume there's some sort of ironclad system in place to confirm that the weights do in fact weigh what they're purported to, and haven't been surreptitiously swapped out for lighter fakes? Yes?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2012


That was an interesting article but I could have done without some of the racial generalizations. Or at least there could have been more citations or evidence? At one point it seemed like they were saying that Chinese people don't love their children. I hope that was a mistake or that I mis-read it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:57 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The WSJ piece on Chen Yanqing is kind of chilling, describing how she was chosen from her poor farming village to train at an athletic boarding school. Her father's words about his world-record-holding daughter? "A rich person would never let his child do this."
posted by Navelgazer at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


I somehow managed to miss what went down when the "amateur" requirement was removed, but I've been assuming it's because of the obvious disparity with states that either have effectively no private sector in the first place or at least a huge government presence in the employment pool. The ability for a state to claim someone is a factory worker when in fact they've been employed fully time as a gymnast or whatever since they were five years old made something of a mockery of the amateur concept.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:59 AM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq, At a lifting meet they'd lift the exact same plates as everyone else, just more of them because they're more awesome. An international meet is a hard thing to fake.
posted by Shutter at 11:00 AM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds like Barry Bonds is getting a job as Goodwill Ambassador to China.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 11:02 AM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I assume there's some sort of ironclad system in place to confirm that the weights do in fact weigh what they're purported to, and haven't been surreptitiously swapped out for lighter fakes? Yes?

Yeah, I thought it was kind of weird when that pizza guy delivered 10 jumbo large pizzas. One at a time. Directly to the platform. While the Chinese team surreptitiously ate them in a huddle. On the platform. Over the weights.

The weird part was how the empty pizza boxes they got rid of weighed 20 kilos each...
posted by P.o.B. at 11:13 AM on March 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm reading the rest of the series, it's pretty interesting. Oh, and I think it's funny when he writes about America being a bunch of different cultures in comparison to places like China. Where people often speak mutually unintelligible languages.
posted by wuwei at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Something so inspiring and humble in their astounding athletic performances. Liu Chunhong is particularly amazing and endearing.
posted by nickyskye at 11:25 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume there's some sort of ironclad system in place to confirm that the weights do in fact weigh what they're purported to, and haven't been surreptitiously swapped out for lighter fakes? Yes?

Watch the clean-and-jerk videos again; that's not some rattan garden pole holding those weights she's lifting, it's a solid steel bar. And you can see how it much it bends from the weights at the end.

No, these are not faked.
posted by mhoye at 11:30 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I somehow managed to miss what went down when the "amateur" requirement was removed

I'll assume you know that was only put in in the first place so English toffs could compete in the Olympics without having to compete with nasty muscular working class folk who had the unfair advantage of years of physical hardship.
posted by srboisvert at 11:31 AM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Liu Chunhong is particularly amazing and endearing.

She has the gamine charm of a Mary Lou Retton - albeit one who could lift Bela Karolyi over her head.

In that link, it's just shy of 350 pounds she's holding up there. And she looks like she could keep doing it for as long as you would like.
posted by Trurl at 11:34 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume there's some sort of ironclad system in place to confirm that the weights do in fact weigh what they're purported to

State-supported dope/age/sex shenanigans make for much more plausible conspiracy theories.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:37 AM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll assume you know that was only put in in the first place so English toffs could compete in the Olympics without having to compete with nasty muscular working class folk who had the unfair advantage of years of physical hardship.

Well, not quite. It actually meant that those who excelled were toffs because they were the people with the time and resources to train. Similar effect, but rather different method.
posted by howfar at 11:37 AM on March 4, 2012


I can't tell if Sys Rq is being serious. It's the Olympics.

I'm all aboard for the pizza box scam. Those Chinese weightlifters are in for the long con.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:39 AM on March 4, 2012


ugh I'm probably in the same weight class as Chen Yanquing above and my best snatch at the top of my game was a lousy 30kg. That is one dedicated lady.
posted by zennish at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2012


Hey look, it is possible that a country with 1+ billion people is able to muster a few ladies with genuine talent without all this paranoid conspiracy theory stuff needed.
posted by stbalbach at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


ffff Yanqing. Obv. spent too much time typing in English.
posted by zennish at 12:04 PM on March 4, 2012


This is the kind of thing that, while not unexpected, makes the Olympics less and less fun for me.

I'm a fan of the "unknown comes from nowhere to thrill the crowd" narrative (even if it was never quite true), but state-sponsored training camps, recruitment of kindergärtners... it makes it hard to even _pretend_ it's a fair competition.
posted by madajb at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2012


HEY I FROZE A FRAME AND YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THE WIGHTS ARE HOLIGRAMS
posted by benzenedream at 12:15 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved watching them in 2008. Such beautiful beautiful form. Liu Chunhong just floats the bar over her head with her massive massive forearms.
posted by ch1x0r at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll assume you know that was only put in in the first place so English toffs could compete [...]

Interesting assumption, though I've no idea why you make it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:48 PM on March 4, 2012


Talented youth are identified and trained, just like the USSR did.

Those dirty Commies!
posted by stinkycheese at 1:02 PM on March 4, 2012


but state-sponsored training camps, recruitment of kindergärtners... it makes it hard to even _pretend_ it's a fair competition.

Sorry, but the best training should win the Olympics. Since they are representing their country, well, countries either make it a priority or they don't.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:05 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Identifying and cultivating talent, where it's entirely voluntary on the part of the child and family are one thing. What amounts to forced conscription and, effectively, child labor in the service of geopolitical stature, is another.

(Not to suggest I fully understand how it works now or has in the past. I'm just attempting to clarify the dichotomy which I *think* we're discussing.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:08 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If the very specialized set of sports that the Chinese focus on are ones where doping has historically given a particular advantage, I certainly wonder whether this just means a so far undetected new advance in doping. I wish I didn't feel so cynical about it, but I remember the hype in the 90's about 'Ma's Army' of distance runners. Hopes raised for war on drugs as Ma's army beats Olympic retreat is a year 2000 article detailing the end of Ma's army.
posted by Azara at 1:15 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Wall Street Journal article said nothing about forced conscription. It was made very clear that the family was offered a choice, and elected to send their child away for training to get her (and possibly themselves as well) out of a life of poverty as a farmer.

Of course, the Wall Street Journal was doing its best to frame everything in as damning a light as possible. I have no idea what the real situation was like, and after reading that article, I still have no idea.
posted by kyrademon at 1:19 PM on March 4, 2012


I was almost certainly attempting to push buttons with "forced conscription"; that's probably an unfair rhetorical tactic, calling to mind as it does unequivocally evil practices in some parts of the world, and I withdraw it.

Having said that, it should be borne in mind that there are shades of 'voluntary'. When you're very poor and the totipotent state offers to take your child away for a lifetime of hothouse training, perhaps you can indeed say no. But there are many kinds of pressure at work there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:26 PM on March 4, 2012


Hey look, it is possible that a country with 1+ billion people is able to muster a few ladies with genuine talent without all this paranoid conspiracy theory stuff needed.

Very true, but in a country with a long, long track record of doping, I think a bit of skepticism is natural.
posted by smoke at 1:49 PM on March 4, 2012


If the very specialized set of sports that the Chinese focus on are ones where doping has historically given a particular advantage, I certainly wonder whether this just means a so far undetected new advance in doping.

In my view, the specialized set of sports the Chinese have focused on are the ones with multiple weight classes or multiple events, not necessarily ones where doping is particularly effective. See diving. This way they clean up on the medal count.
posted by Durin's Bane at 2:01 PM on March 4, 2012


the look in Liu Chunhong's eyes...what concentration and determination.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:49 PM on March 4, 2012


My random East Germany sporting infrastructure trivia seems relevant here. East Germany was never much good at football because it wasn't effectively dope-able. There was massive emphasis on winning medals and doping was a way to ensure that, so they were mostly interested in dope-able individual competitions. Where am I going with this? Well, I'm agreeing with Durin's Bane--the way to win loads of medals is to concentrate on the individual events for the same reason those events tend to be the dope-able ones--there are fewer variables. Your guy just has to be better than the competition and if you've got a zillion people to pick from, your chances of finding a guy who's better than the others is improved.

Of course, then you can dope to be extra-sure. But I don't know that anyone dopes in diving. (I had a google. The only person I can find being caught was an American who failed a drugs test after smoking pot.)
posted by hoyland at 2:59 PM on March 4, 2012



If the very specialized set of sports that the Chinese focus on are ones where doping has historically given a particular advantage, I certainly wonder whether this just means a so far undetected new advance in doping

Yes, like ping pong. Obviously doping going on there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:59 PM on March 4, 2012


wuwei writes "I think it's funny when he writes about America being a bunch of different cultures in comparison to places like China. Where people often speak mutually unintelligible languages."

You mean like Canadian and American? Or New York and Southern?
posted by Mitheral at 3:36 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but the best training should win the Olympics. Since they are representing their country, well, countries either make it a priority or they don't.

Well, no, the best _athlete_ should win the Olympics, which is why watching someone with talent and determination beat an industrial product is so fun.

Myself, since the Olympics is full of sports I know nothing about and watch once every 4 years, I root for the underdog.

But it does appear that your view is the predominant one.
posted by madajb at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2012


Yeah, this is bad. (from WSJ article)
But her father advised Yanqing's coach to be strict with her. "No pain, no gain. Kids from poor families can stand the hardship. Yanqing is always a strong girl," Mr. Chen recalls telling her coach. "I hoped she could do well as quickly as possible so that our [financial] burdens could be relieved.
posted by Glinn at 5:33 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It also has multiple quotes from the parents about how much they loved her and missed her.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:37 PM on March 4, 2012


smoke: "Very true, but in a country with a long, long track record of doping, I think a bit of skepticism is natural."

Yeah if only the Olympics would test for doping we wouldn't have these concerns.
posted by stbalbach at 5:41 PM on March 4, 2012


That seems kind of disingenuous, stbalbach, when you take into account the truly epic number of athletes that have competed - and won - in the Olympics only to be subsequently caught and banned for doping, after the fact, including a prodigious percentage of the Chinese swim team in the nineties.
posted by smoke at 5:58 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


look, it is possible that a country with 1+ billion people is able to muster a few ladies with genuine talent without all this paranoid conspiracy theory stuff needed.

That's so cute, stbalbach. To preserve that naive world-view, may I suggest you stay far away from the Googles?

The fact that they draw from a larger pool in no way clears the government of suspicion of cheating.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:48 PM on March 4, 2012


watching someone with talent and determination beat an industrial product is so fun

I don't think Chinese athletes are lacking in talent and determination, and I don't think it's fair to call them an industrial product. They aren't robots with no hearts, though that's the impression I get when hearing people discuss Chinese Olympic athletes.
posted by lali at 6:56 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


watching someone with talent and determination beat an industrial product

If you watch the Cao Lei video, you'll see the training room and equipment she had. "Spartan" is the adjective that comes to mind.

No way she made it out of that room with world-class levels of both talent and determination.
posted by Trurl at 7:06 PM on March 4, 2012


* without
posted by Trurl at 7:17 PM on March 4, 2012


Glinn, to put that quote in context, the Chinese system is as much a process of selection as development. You start with a bucketload of kids, pick out the best of them for further training, rinse and repeat. The ones who wash out get very little for their efforts (and, often, injuries). I'm pretty sure the father meant that if his daughter was going to do this at all, it would be better for her not to wash out. Her coach would be doing her a favor by pushing her to succeed. (I'm not saying this is a good system; I'm just saying that if this story has a villain, it's definitely not her parents.)
posted by d. z. wang at 8:06 PM on March 4, 2012


Because yeah, Chinese people are just emotionless robots with no determination whatsoever. That's some racist bullshit.
posted by wuwei at 12:36 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean for fuck's sake, do people saying this even realize what it takes to perform at an elite level?
posted by wuwei at 12:37 AM on March 5, 2012


God damn, that eight year old in the first link is unbelievable.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:44 AM on March 5, 2012


Having said that, it should be borne in mind that there are shades of 'voluntary'. When you're very poor and the totipotent state offers to take your child away for a lifetime of hothouse training, perhaps you can indeed say no. But there are many kinds of pressure at work there.

ahem
posted by teekat at 7:47 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom: "The fact that they draw from a larger pool in no way clears the government of suspicion of cheating."

The Chinese are not the only ones who cheat. Problem is global.
The Olympics are very good about testing.
AFAIK, no Chinese woman weightlifter was found to be doping.

The thread is more than "suspicion" it contains outright incredulity. There is a difference between "trust but verify" and "guilty by association". Unless someone has actual evidence of systematic doping by the woman's weightlifting team, it's disrespectful of the natural talent of these athletes to suggest they won by cheating. Anyway when it comes to weightlifting = muscles = steroids and these ladies don't have the typical roid look, though I supposed there could be some secret juice they invented right? It never ends when ones world view is pre-set.
posted by stbalbach at 9:08 AM on March 5, 2012


I don't think Chinese athletes are lacking in talent and determination, and I don't think it's fair to call them an industrial product. They aren't robots with no hearts, though that's the impression I get when hearing people discuss Chinese Olympic athletes.

Certainly the women in the link are far more dedicated than I have ever been about anything ever and, of course, barring outright cheating, they win because they are better than everyone else. I did not mean to imply otherwise.

But I was talking about the general idea of state training (as practiced in China and under the old Soviet system), beginning with selection at a young age, removal from home and village, concentrated training in one sport. It's very much an assembly line process, with kids who don't measure up unceremoniously dumped.
posted by madajb at 9:12 AM on March 5, 2012


Did anyone go back and read the previous 7-8 entries in the series? Very well thought out and broad piece.

As it happens, I'm a Level 1 USA Weightlifting coach. That's not saying a lot, we're talking about 2 days and $500 to get the certification. All I had to do was not hurt myself or anyone around me, get a bar above my head, and take a 45 min written test.

But.... I will say that I was underwhelmed by the way USAW teaches the Oly Lifts. There's a set, prescribed break down. It's been a while, but let me give you a rough example off the top of my head:

To learn the snatch lift:
First learn the overhead squat
Then learn the the clean grip press.
Then learn the snatch grip press.
Then learn the 5 or snatch progressions which include:
Snatch from upper thigh.
Snatch from above knee.
Snatch from below knee.
Slow lift off position.
Then learn snatch from the ground to an over head squat.
Finally finally learn the squat snatch.

So that's about 8 prelifts to learn the actual lift. Keep in mind this doesn't help you with any technical problems you might have: ie failure to achieve full triple extension before get the bar above your head. To really fix those problems with explosiveness, you really need a whole different set of drills. I entered the program knowing that my bar path is too far from my body, and my second pull in the lift is a bit jumbled. I didn't fix either of those problems after the course.

Compare that with the way someone like Dan John teaches the lifts. He teaches you effective hip extension then tell you to get the bar over your head. (Watching that video helped me quite a bit.)

I think one of the reasons we might suck in weightlifting is because we make entry into the sport too complex. People are afraid to start the sport because they think it's harder than it is. Get people less afraid of the lifts, then more people will pick up the sport.
posted by Telf at 6:57 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


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