Need To Know: Weightlifting

What's the most weight anyone's ever lifted at the Olympics? Can Canadian strongwoman Christine Girard take the final step onto the podium? Here's what you need to know about weightlifting.
Canada's Christine Girard snatched 106 kg and clean-and-jerked 132 to win gold at the Pan Am Games last fall. She weighed less than 63 kg. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

Fast Facts

Dates: July 28-Aug. 7

Venue: ExCeL complex

Medal events: 15 (8 men’s, 7 women’s)

Athletes: 260

The Basics

Ever lifted twice your body weight? The top weightlifters in the world regularly exceed that level in order to compete for an Olympic medal.

The competition works like this: Athletes perform two different types of lifts — the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the former, the bar is lifted over the head in one motion. The latter is a two-stage lift in which the athlete brings the weight up to his shoulders, pauses, then hoists it above his head.

Each athlete lifts the most weight he can in both types of lifts, the numbers are added together, and the highest total wins. If there's a tie, the lifter with the lower body weight takes it.

Weightlifting was part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, with women’s events introduced in 2000. One of the more anticipated events in the sport, the men’s +105-kg (super heavyweight) class, features athletes battling for the unofficial title of "world’s strongest man."

Retired Iranian super heavyweight Hossein Rezazadeh is still the world record holder in total weight and the clean-and-jerk. He lifted a combined 472 kg (about 1,041 lbs) in the clean-and-jerk and snatch segments at the 2000 Olympics. Rezazadeh set the clean-and-jerk record of 263 kg at the 2004 Olympics.

Canadians To Watch

Christine Girard has weightlifting in her blood. With siblings who have competed at various levels, and a family-tree connection to acclaimed Quebec strong man Hugo Girard, Girard has the pedigree to succeed in the sport. The Rouyn-Noranda, Que., native missed out on a bronze medal in Beijing by three kilograms, but has since rebounded strongly with golds in the 69-kg category at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and 63-kg (her usual division) at the 2011 Pan American Games. She’ll have to watch out for the likes of North Korea’s Pak Hyon-Suk (the defending Olympic champion at 63 kg), and Russia’s Svetlana Tsarukayeva (the 2011 world champ).

George Kobaladze is on a good run heading into London. The Montreal athlete won bronze at both the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2011 Pan Am Games in the men's +105-kg competition. The Georgian-born Canadian will have his work cut out to make it three winning years in a row, with the Iranian duo of Behdad Salimi (2010 and 2011 world champion) and Sajjad Anoushiravani (silver at the 2011 world championships) standing in his way. 

International Athletes To Watch

Few weightlifters can claim celebrity status in North America, but in Russia, Dmitry Klokov is a star. Klokov has earned fame for being a regular on the international podium in the 105-kg weight class. Russia has a proud weightlifting tradition that has produced superstars such as Vasily Alekseyev, who between 1970 and '77 set 80 world records, and winning is in the Klokov family tree: Dmitry’s father Vyacheslav is a former world champion in the heavyweight category. Klokov comes to London with a Beijing Olympic silver medal under his belt, along with a pair of silvers from the last two world championships, and a 2005 world title. Hoping to knock him off are 2011 world champion and Russian teammate Khadzhimurat Akkaev, as well as defending Olympic gold medallist Andrei Aramnau of Belarus.   

North Korea's Pak Hyon-suk found herself in a pressure-packed situation at the 2008 Olympics. After the 63-kg lifter missed on her first two attempts to hoist 135 kg in the clean and jerk, she was successful with her final try to win gold by just one kilogram. At the 2011 world championships, Hyon-Suk finished fifth, missing out on a podium finish by 5 kg. Possible rivals in a stacked division in London are reigning world champion Svetlana Tsarukayeva of Russia and Kazakhstan’s Maiya Maneza, who holds the world record in the clean and jerk.

Canada's Medal Outlook

One medal is a realistic goal for the Canadian team, with Christine Girard the strongest candidate to reach the podium. George Kobaladze has a slight chance in the +105 kg category.