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weightlifting


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Eugen Sandow (1867—1925) strongman and physical culturist

 

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A competitive sport in which contestants in variously defined categories of body-weight aim to lift a bigger weight than any other contestant. The weights are attached to a barbell that the lifter must lift to his or her shoulders (‘clean and jerk’) or above the head (‘snatch’). Forms of weightlifting have existed in many informal contexts in which individuals might challenge other individuals to contests of strength, lifting stones, rocks, or boulders (such as stone-lifting in Basque regions of France and Spain, linked to wagers and prizes), and in routinized display forms such as kangding. The popularity of weightlifting was established in 19th-century strongman acts in circuses and music-halls, and it developed its own particular professional trajectory in the careers of the likes of Eugen Sandow. The formalized procedures of modern weightlifting were defined and developed when the International Olympic Committee stimulated the formation of the Fédération Haltérophile Internationale (International Weightlifting Federation, IWF) in Paris in 1920, to standardize the rules of the discipline. World championships were established in 1922, changed to the European Championships in 1924 and then back to the World Championships in 1937, when the USA won the title, soon to be overtaken by the lifters from the USSR and other East European communist societies at world and Olympic events.

While weightlifting can claim a long, strong Olympic pedigree, its credibility has long been threatened by the obvious use by successful competitors of performance-enhancing drugs and stimulants. After the Barcelona 1992 Olympics, though, the IWF changed all of the weight categories, also introducing new ones after the 1996 Atlanta Games: this was designed so as to start afresh in relation to world and Olympic records, and so cleanse the sport of its tainted reputation from decades of drug abuse. Women's weightlifting was introduced at the Sydney 2000 Games, where Chinese lifters took four gold medals of the seven available; at Athens in 2004, they took three golds, but not in the heavyweight division, after world-record-holder Shang Shichun was stripped of her record and 2003 world title and suspended for two years after testing positive for drugs. This obviously tarnished the achievements of her countrywomen, and raised questions concerning the ethics of China's relentless assault on the Olympic medals table. In men's wrestling, Russia dominated at Beijing 2008.

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