It's over, already. Another bronze medal total and my first national silver medal in the clean and jerk. My points helped contribute to another East Coast Gold national title. I'm already home and back at work, back to the everyday routine. What was last week an all-consuming, looming culmination of three years of training is now just a memory, gone forever with only a couple of small pieces of metal on string to prove I was there.
I suppose I might look at it differently if I had met my own expectations. I'm sure my teammate and buddy Phil Sabatini has a different perspective, a man who swept his weight class, made almost every lift, and set all-time personal bests, fresh off of a fourth-place Pan American berth. He'll still be happy, excited, and basking in the glow before getting back into it and preparing to join the world team in September.
I on the other hand feel like I have twice now missed a golden opportunity. I made only three of my six lifts, with only an opening snatch at 118kg and my last two clean and jerks at 147kg and 150kg. I knew I could have done close to 130kg and 160kg, and while that's not enough for the world team, it's not far off. I haven't totaled below 270kg since 2009, and I thought I was a better lifter than that.
The funny thing is I placed as well as I should have hoped. I would have needed a significant PR to place in the snatch, and 30kg more to upgrade my clean and jerk medal. While I was within easy reach of the overall silver, based on the start list I was lucky to medal at all. This was an incomparably tougher and deeper weight class than last year, and I came home with more hardware amidst the heavy competition. I earned a clean and jerk spot on the podium, receiving only an upgrade when Mike Cerbus bombed.
But as is clearly a pattern with me, I'm never happy if I don't live up to my own potential. My prior two meets were six for six outings, with totals at 280kg or above with weights that didn't feel all that heavy. I knew I was strong enough to beat that, and maybe I wouldn't have been happy with much less. Back injury be damned, I've still snatched more weight in training, and I didn't miss any lift here because it was "too heavy." I wanted to see a 290kg total with PR snatches and clean and jerks. Making only three lifts and totaling 14kg under my best feels like I'm backsliding.
But that's stupid. I can beat myself up for not having a good meet. I can be disappointed because there seemed to be no good reason I missed snatching 121kg twice and because missing my opening clean had me fighting just to stay in the medal hunt, let alone the meet. But I think it hurts most because I tried to do my best and still I came up short, and I'm not 100% sure I know why. Is it the weight cutting? I thought I solved that, but maybe I screwed it up this time. Is it nerves I never knew I had?
I look at all this in the context of my goals. I said going into this meet that it's only a stepping stone in my career hopes, not the endpoint. What's the purpose of competing in Nationals if you're not ready to qualify for the world team? I was there to gain experience and to get better, if not to get a little glory on the way. I can't deny I learned from it, and adding to my tiny National medal collection will certainly begin to cement my place in the upper spheres of the sport. Heck, I even got my name in the Peoria paper as a "professional" weightlifter.
More importantly, I shouldn't let this detract from my vision of my international qualification timeline. Yeah, I missed my 121kg snatches, but they all felt light, as if 130kg and more was possible if only I had more solid technique. Yeah, I only clean and jerked 150kg, but the way things have been going it feels like the sky's the limit. There's a very, very good reason I shouldn't have hoped for much more, and that's because my training was thrown waaaaaay off from that back injury. I had over a week of nothing but rehab, and much longer before I got used to the same weights again. I nearly overtrained in a last-ditch attempt to get the technique back that slips so fast in my time off, and my back is still not fully healed. I'm still not ready to back squat again; who knows how badly that affects things.
So it's back to the grindstone again. It's time to refine my technique and repeat it, over and over, until it's always the same, like Olympian Natalie Burgener whom I watched easily win the prior session. I will continue to strengthen all the areas necessary in order to bump up the lifts towards my theoretical potential. I will continue to compete and get better and smarter until I am the guy everyone admires for his poise and competence under pressure. I will put myself into position to make those international teams, and while I may not do it in a meet this year, I WILL have that capability to do 300kg+ by the end of 2010. I won't let the inexorable march of time and loss of opportunity affect my ability to focus and to continue to strive to surpass my competition. I'm still new, and there's still a lot of space left for me to improve.