Weightlifting in Olympics: Everything you need to know

A part of the Olympics programme since 1896, weightlifting has evolved over the years to become an enthralling display of human strength and determination.
By Rahul Venkat

One of the most fascinating sports to watch, weightlifting is an embodiment of the depths of human strength and courage.

A sport driven as much by technique as raw strength, weightlifters are accustomed to lifting as much as twice or in some cases, even thrice their bodyweight. One wrong lift can cause multiple injuries.

A historic sport that traces its roots to Africa, South Asia and ancient Greece, the modern version took shape sometime in the 19th century.

The governing body of global weightlifting, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) was formed in 1905 and holds the Weightlifting world championships for both men and women every year, with the exception of an Olympic year.

While the sport’s name is quite self-explanatory, it is not quite as simple as declaring the winner among whoever has lifted the heaviest weights.

Rules and scoring in weightlifting

There are two stages in modern Olympic weightlifting – the ‘snatch’ and the ‘clean and jerk’.

The snatch is where the weightlifter picks up the barbell and lifts it above his head in one singular motion.

In the clean and jerk, the weightlifter is first required to pick up the barbell and bring it up to his chest (clean). The lifter  must then pause and extend his arms and legs to lift it above the head (jerk) with a straight elbow and have to hold it there until a buzzer is sounded.

A weightlifter is given three snatch attempts and three clean and jerk attempts each. A weightlifter’s best attempt at snatch and the clean and jerk are then added up and the one with the highest combined weight lifted is declared the winner.

In case two participants have lifted the same combined weight, then the one with the lower bodyweight is declared the winner. In the event of the bodyweight also being equal, the one with lesser attempts will be the winner.

A participant is allowed to increase the weight for his next attempt after a successful lift. The one who decides to lift the lowest weight in the first attempt is allowed to go first and he must attempt to lift within one minute of his name being called out in any tournament.

The barbell is made of steel and the heavy weights, covered with rubber, are added to the sides.

Weightlifters are allowed to use tapes to cover parts of their body – like the wrists and thumbs – to prevent injury. They also often rub chalk on their hands to make it dry before a lift, which prevents the barbell from slipping.

Weightlifting at the Olympics

Weightlifting forged an early connection with the modern Olympic Games. It was included in the inaugural edition in 1896 at Athens, Greece as part of the field events in track and field athletics.

The 1896 Olympics had two weightlifting events – lifting with one hand and lifting with two hands. Great Britain’s Lauceston Elliot was crowned as the ‘one-hand’ champion while Viggo Jensen of Denmark was the first ‘two-hand’ Olympic champion.

However, weightlifting was excluded from the 1904, 1908 and 1912 Olympics, only making a comeback at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, and has had a permanent presence since then.

The one-hand event was discontinued after the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Olympic weightlifting earlier held the ‘clean and press’, the snatch, and the clean and jerk events. However, starting with the 1972 Munich Olympics, the clean and press – a variation of the clean and jerk with a three-step process - was discontinued due to difficulty in judging the techniques of weightlifters.

Weight categories, ranging from 60kg to 82.5kg were introduced at the 1920 Olympics.

The lowest weight category (52kg) was started at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, an edition which also saw the introduction of the +110 kg category, the highest.

While the sport was reserved only for men at the Olympics, a women’s weightlifting event was introduced at the Olympics for the first time at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

That edition was a historic one for India as Karnam Malleswari became the first and to date, the only Indian weightlifter to win an Olympic bronze in the 69kg category.

Karnam Malleswari was also the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal.

Karnam Malleswari (right) won bronze in the 69kg category at Sydney 2000.

At Tokyo 2020, there will be seven weight classes for the men – 61kg, 67kg, 73kg, 81kg, 96kg, 109kg and +109kg while the women will compete in the 49kg, 55kg, 59kg, 64kg, 76kg, 87kg and +87kg.

Most successful Olympic weightlifters

Among male weightlifters, Greece’s Pyrros Dimas is the most successful Olympian, having won three gold medals and a bronze medal spread across the 82.5/83/85 kg categories in different years.

Another Greek weightlifter Akakios Kakiasvilis and Turkey’s Halil Mutlu and Naim Suleymanoglu have won three Olympic golds each.

China’s Chen Yanqing (58kg) and South Korean Hsu Shu-Ching (53kg) are the most successful women weightlifters at the Olympics, both having won two golds.

Olympic weightlifting records

Here are the weightlifting records at the Olympics.

Category, weight, name, nationality and edition of the Games:

Men

56kg

Snatch - 137kg - Halil Mutlu (TUR) - Sydney 2000

Clean & Jerk- 170kg - Long Qingquan - (CHN) - Rio 2016

Total - 307kg - Long Qingquan - (CHN) - Rio 2016

62kg

Snatch - 153kg - Kim Un-Guk (PRK) - London 2012

Clean & Jerk- 177kg - Óscar Figueroa (COL) - London 2012

Total - 327kg - Kim Un-Guk (PRK) - London 2012

69kg

Snatch - 165kg - Georgi Markov (BUL) - Sydney 2000

Clean & Jerk - 196kg - Galabin Boevski (BUL) - Sydney 2000

Total - 357kg - Galabin Boevski (BUL) - Sydney 2000

77kg

Snatch - 177kg - Lyu Xiaojun (CHN) - Rio 2016

Clean & Jerk - 214kg - Nijat Rahimov (KAZ) - Rio 2016

Total - 379kg - Lu Xiaojun (CHN) - London 2012

85kg

Snatch - 180kg - George Asanidze (GEO) - Sydney 2000

Clean & Jerk - 217 kg - Tian Tao (CHN) - Rio 2016

Total - 396 kg - Kianoush Rostami (IRI) - Rio 2016

94kg

Snatch - 187kg Kourosh Bagheri (IRI) - Sydney 2000

Clean & Jerk - 224kg - Szymon Kolecki - (POL) Beijing 2008

Total - 407kg - Milen Dobrev - (BUL) - Athens 2004

105kg

Snatch - 200kg - Andrei Aramnau (BLR) - Beijing 2008

Clean & Jerk- 237kg - Ruslan Nurudinov - (UZB) - Rio 2016

Total - 436kg - Andrei Aramnau (BLR) - Beijing 2008

+105kg

Snatch - 216kg - Behdad Salimi Kordasiabi (IRI) - Rio 2016

Clean & Jerk - 263kg - Hossein Rezazadeh (IRI) - Athens 2004

Total - 473kg - Lasha Talakhadze (GEO) - Rio 2016

Women

48kg

Snatch - 97kg - Nurcan Taylan (TUR) - Athens 2004

Clean & Jerk - 117kg - Chen Xiexia (CHN) - Beijing 2008

Total - 212kg - Chen Xiexia (CHN) - Beijing 2008

53kg

Snatch - 101kg - Li Yajun (CHN) - Rio 2016

Clean & Jerk - 126kg - Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon (THA) - Beijing 2008

Total - 225kg - Yang Xia (CHN) - Sydney 2000

58kg

Snatch - 110kg - Sukanya Srisurat (THA) - Rio 2016

Clean & Jerk - 138kg - Chen Yanqing (CHN) - Beijing 2008

Total - 246kg - Li Xueying (CHN) - London 2012

63kg

Snatch - 115kg - Hanna Batsiushka (BLR) - Athens 2004

Clean & Jerk - 147kg - Deng Wei (CHN) - Rio 2016

Total - 262kg - Deng Wei (CHN) - Rio 2016

69kg

Snatch - 128kg - Liu Chunhong (CHN) - Beijing 2008

Clean & Jerk - 158kg - Liu Chunhong (CHN) - Beijing 2008

Total - 286kg - Liu Chunhong (CHN) - Beijing 2008

75kg

Snatch - 128kg - Cao Lei (CHN) - Beijing 2008

Clean & Jerk - 154kg - Cao Lei (CHN) - Beijing 2008

Total - 282kg - Cao Lei (CHN) - Beijing 2008

+75kg

Snatch - 151kg - Tatiana Kashirina (RUS) - London 2012

Clean & Jerk - 187kg - Zhou Lulu (CHN) - London 2012

Total - 333kg - Zhou Lulu (CHN) - London 2012