Olympic weightlifting needs an advertising campaign!

It's no secret that the United States, once an international powerhouse, is not even a blip on the world weightlifting scene. And while many people have many opinions on exactly why this is, one thing is clear: very few Americans know anything about Olympic weightlifting.

By the numbers, in 2008 fewer than 2,500 men and 900 women of all ages competed in USAW-sanctioned meets. In contrast, 279,000 people wrestled in high school last year. More than one in thirteen 77kg lifters qualified for last year's Senior Nationals, while only one in 44 high school wrestlers makes a college squad. With such a large disparity it's not surprising the U.S. won zero weightlifting Olympic medals in 2004/2008 (we won nine in wrestling).

And it's not just that people don't participate; many don't even know what the sport is. When I tell someone I am a weightlifter, usually an explanation of what the lifts are follows, including full-body demonstrations. I'm pretty sure I was one of the first people to ever do cleans in my high school weight room; I learned about them in a Bigger Faster Stronger clinic.

With the recent popularization of CrossFit, we have seen an upswing in Olympic weightlifting competitors; people who liked training the lifts and were curious about the sport. Given how many people lift weights recreationally, it's reasonable to assume that other people would also be interested. But commercial and collegiate (non-varsity) gyms around the country don't have appropriate equipment, nor do many high schools.

Shane Hamman was dubbed the
"Strongest Man in America" and
was even featured in an Allstate
What we need is a concerted effort to increase the visibility of the sport. The more people become aware of it and of its health benefits, accessibility, and relative safety, the more people will come out and try it. The more people that get into it, the more gyms will start purchasing the equipment. The more available the equipment and knowledge, the more people will incorporate the lifts into their training. The more people who train these lifts, the more embedded they will become in our exercise lexicon.

We need more figureheads like Shane Hamman, more press coverage, and more education for younger kids. We need rec teams and school teams so kids have a choice. Kids and adults alike could relate to Kendrick Farris if he were made into a media icon like Shane. Olympic athletes already have tremendous credibility, and we are fortunate enough to have many outstanding individuals to choose from.

What can you or I do? Well, like all things it's easy to talk and harder to walk. Unfortunately USA Weightlifting doesn't have enough money to even dream of putting together a good campaign; I would argue that the campaign would bring the people which would bring the money, but I digress. If you aren't already involved in the sport, why not try it out? If you are a part of a club, why not try posting flyers or other advertising? If you're a parent, why not ask your kids if they're interested? If you're an elite athlete (and you're reading my blog, awesome!) maybe your local radio sports show would be interested in talking to you. Whatever you do, just being another active person makes a difference.

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