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Explosive, Smooth Movement Key In Weightlifting


Now, news from the Olympics in the world of weightlifting. This week, China's Zhou Lulu won a gold medal and set a world record in the women's weight category of more than 75 kilograms by lifting a total of 333 kilograms. That's 734 pounds.

To hear how it's done, we turn to Melanie Roach. She's a former Olympic weightlifter. I asked her to take us right into that moment when you prepare to face the weights.

MELANIE ROACH: You walk over to the platform. You walk over to the bar. You set your feet. Maybe you'll search out into the crowd and look for a place to spot. And then you'll grab the bar one hand at a time and get your back set. Stay over the bar and then you're going to rip like crazy.

CORNISH: Now, when I watched this online and watched videos of you online, essentially the athlete squats down and then heaves the barbell over his or her head. And then we see them rise up and lock their knees in place. And this is one of those sports where at every moment it seems like somebody could be horrifically injured, frankly...


CORNISH: I'm watching.

ROACH: Right.


CORNISH: I'm always sort of afraid.

ROACH: You're walking a fine line, absolutely.

CORNISH: What happens in that first phase when you're about to lift? What part of your body does the lifting?

ROACH: Well, a lot of it is your lower body. And, you know, I think sometimes I definitely had a habit of using my upper body. You've got to be really careful. It is very technical. The snatch lift in particular, which is the first of the two Olympic lifts. We do the snatch and the clean and jerk. And the snatch lift is a very finesse movement. It is still explosive but it has to be smooth.

So it's really important to get a good finish and the bar should float slightly over your head. And then you've got to be locked out nice and tight.

CORNISH: And at one point, the athlete sort of has the bar in front of them. They're in the squat position. And then all of a sudden they've got to kind of push their knees up. And in a way kind of toss the barbell into the air a little bit, as they're going on the way up.

ROACH: Right. You're referring to the second lift which is the clean and jerk. So that's a two-part lift. You're going to go up to your chest, squat down and come up. And then you have to stand, get nice and tight, and jerk it above your head. So that's a two-part move and that's where, you know, I prefer that move because, you know, you're little more solid, it's not just quick over your head. You have a minute to adjust. But I really like the clean and jerk.

CORNISH: And when you're done, you guys all kind of throw it down...


CORNISH: ...which always surprises me and also looks dangerous.

ROACH: Right. Well, you know, actually that's the good part is when you know you've made the lift. It's been successful. You let it down. And that's then you can move on and hopefully go for even more weight or celebrate your record.

CORNISH: What kind of mental preparation is needed for a sport like this?

ROACH: You know, something that benefited me leading into the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was that I discovered a certain, I guess, visualization that I used. I used a two-part deal where one part I would visualize myself as I did the lift, from my perspective, what it felt like. I'd close my eyes and imagine my body doing it. And I'd go through the Olympic lift on the platform at the Olympics in my mind.

And then I'd sit in the chair - again, this is visualization, not reality - but I'd sit in the chair and watch myself complete the lift successfully. So for me, visualization was a huge part of my success in Beijing. I imagined it perfect over and over and over every single day. And lo and behold, I go to the Olympics and I was able to make all six of my attempts.

CORNISH: Melanie Roach, thank you so much for talking with us.

ROACH: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's Melanie Roach, the first U.S. weightlifter in history to lift more than twice her body weight using the clean and jerk maneuver. Speaking of body weight, we should mention that Roach doesn't look like your stereotypical weightlifter. She's just 5-foot-1 and less than 120 pounds. But Melanie Roach says that's the great thing about the sport, anyone can be a weightlifter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.