If you watched the Olympics last summer — and paid attention to some of the slightly-under-the-radar events — you might have noticed something surprising about the athletes going for gold in weightlifting: They nearly all looked really different from each other. Chances are, a particular body type pops into your mind when you think about what a swimmer or a gymnast looks like. But in Olympic weightlifting, people of every body type imaginable can be seen competing at the highest levels. (It's true in amateur competitions, too.)
"There are body structures that we say are 'made for weightlifting,' but [not having that structure] doesn't stop anybody from being able to perform the lifts, which is the best part," says James Wright, Jr., a Brooklyn-based USAW certified coach specializing in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit training.
"Weightlifting is a very well-rounded sport," he explains. "There's speed, agility, strength — it's everything in one." That means that, yes, having a certain body type can be an advantage, but it's not as much of an advantage as you'd think. When it comes to lifting, staying determined and putting in training hours leads to faster, more significant improvements than it might in other sports.
Plus, the sport itself is pretty straightforward: There are just two lifts — the "snatch" and the "clean and jerk" — and each athlete gets three chances to perform them. So the goal is to push yourself to do each type of lift with the most weight you can handle while keeping your form on point.
All of this is what opens up professional Olympic weightlifting — even on an elite scale — to a much wider variety of body types than, say, pro swimming or running. Don't believe us? Continue on to see some of the amazing athletes who've made up the past few women's USA Olympic weightlifting teams.