What are the Olympics? What does it mean to be an Olympian? How do you become an Olympian, and who decides which sports get to compete for a spot in history?
The Olympics was one of the Panhellenic sporting events of Ancient Greece. Every four years, a holy truce was called, and athletes and spectators from all over Greece would travel to Olympia to participate.
The Games were a huge event, much like today. They were political, religious, cultural… if you were an athlete, they were the pinnacle. If you were a social climber, anyone who was anyone would be at the games. If you were an artist, you would visit the games to show off the quality of your work.
It’s commonly believed that only men could compete in the original Olympics and that it was a hugely misogynistic event, but women could actually compete as charioteers.
Other sports included various running races (including one version where the runners would compete in armour), discus, long/broad jump, wrestling, boxing and many others (oddly, if you died during a boxing match, you were declared the winner.)
The modern Olympics began in 1896, and have grown and grown in the years since. Like the Ancient Games, the modern Olympics are a huge event – being selected as host is a huge honour, and countries compete for years to be selected.
As a spectator, the Olympics is the greatest show on Earth (sorry Dawkins.) More than 10,000 athletes competed at the London Olympics in 2012: 10,000 of the most highly trained athletes in the world, competing for the glory of their countries, glory for themselves, and to be remembered into the future.
It doesn’t matter what sports you’re interested in, if you have even a shred of competitive spirit, seeing the eight fastest men in the world racing, or the top pole vaulters battling to add just a single centimetre to one another’s best jump is going to excite you.
What does it mean to be an Olympian?
I don’t know that I can tell you that, but I know that for most, it is their entire life coming together at one moment.
The Olympics is simultaneously the culmination of hundreds of thousands of hours of practice, decades of sports science research, and 3000-year-old traditions (the Olympic Flame is still lit from the sun in Olympia by a priestess, then carried by foot across several countries before reaching the Olympic Stadium.)
Excuse me for getting soppy, but I truly believe that the Olympic Games are one of the wonders of humanity.
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
The Olympic Creed
So I guess that brings us to the Olympic Motto. Citius, Altius, Fortius; Higher, Faster, Stronger.
What does it mean to be an Olympian? It means you go the highest, move the fastest, you are the strongest. It makes you one of the smartest, best-prepared, and most dedicated athletes on the planet.
If you’re still not excited for the Olympics, you probably aren’t a competitive athlete.
Powerlifting and the Olympics
Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, however is included as a Paralympic sport. We are also in the odd position where the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships is overseen by the Commonwealth Games, but is not actually included in the games.
Recently, AIMS (an organisation affiliated with the IPF) signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Olympic Committee, allowing all affiliates to be included in the Olympic Movement Directory. This is not, as many people have claimed, the same as IOC recognition, however it is an important step towards becoming an Olympic Sport.
Becoming an Olympic Sport would be the best thing for the growth of powerlifting. Powerlifters (in most countries, at least) receive nothing from their governments, not for training, not for competitions, nothing. It’s hard to promote yourself in your community when you first need to explain what it is that your sport is. The first question I get asked when I tell someone I compete in powerlifting is usually: “Oh, you put it over your head, like at the Olympics?”
Everyone knows what weightlifting is, even if they can’t name it, but the average person has never even heard of powerlifting. It would be a long road to being a “household name” sport, and simply being an Olympic sport would not be the be all and end all of it, but it would certainly help.
When there is a chance of a medal at the Olympics, there is much more on the line than for a “hobby sport” (I hate that term) like powerlifting. In some countries, there are financial rewards for medalling ($800,000 for a gold in Singapore) however the real financial incentives come from corporate sponsorships.
It’s not all about the money though. I think that the growth of powerlifting does nothing but good. When you put athletes on TV in front on young children, it influences them; why do you think New Zealand persists as a rugby power house? It’s because (among a number of other things) little kids watch the Mighty All Blacks play on TV when they’re young, and grow up wanting to be Dan Carter, or Jonah Lomu.
Why should we be recognised?
The process to being included as an Olympic Sport is not exactly straightforward. There are a number of criteria which should be met – added value; youth appeal; attractiveness for TV, media and the general public; gender equality; minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas, infrastructure and operational costs and complexity.
Starting with the last criterion; minimal impact on the number of events/quotas, infrastructure, operational costs and complexity. Powerlifting is one of the simplest sports in existence, behind perhaps running events.
Derived directly from the old caveman sport of “who can lift the largest rock”, operational complexity should not be an issue. Given the existing infrastructure for weightlifting, the marginal cost of adding powerlifting is minimal. The same event hall can be used, most of the equipment is the same. Additional costs (personnel aside) would be getting some powerbars, metal plates, and suitable racks. Although adding powerlifting would add a large number of events (each weight class would be considered a separate event), the weightlifting hall usually goes unused after the weightlifting is finished, and so wouldn’t slow down the overall operation of the Games (it wouldn’t lengthen the critical path).
At the last IPF Classic World Championships, 689 lifters competed, of whom 291 (42%) were women and 398 (58%) were men. While not perfect, that’s damn good. When you consider that some of the other sports under consideration are men-only, that’s a strong plus for powerlifting.
While not the most attractive sport in the world, powerlifting is popular. The IPF has 280,000 Facebook likes. The IWF, by comparison, has just 78,000. There were 250,000 live views of the 2016 IPF Classic Worlds, and if you factor in viewing parties that means something like half a million people endured the average streaming quality on Goodlift to watch powerlifting. That’s popular – that has to be good for TV and media.
Remember, the Olympic motto is “Higher, Faster, Stronger.” Stronger. Criteria aside, if we go back to what the Olympics is all about, it’s about going higher, going fast, and being stronger. What exemplifies strength better than powerlifting?
Despite not even being formally IOC recognised, powerlifting is the perfect fit for the Olympics. I am holding my breath for Tokyo to elect to have powerlifting as a sport in 2020; Japan has always had a strong presence in powerlifting, so the time seems right. There’s not a lot we can do, but sit back and wait now.
Read more from Rory Lynch at www.twowhitelights.com