The History of Olympic Weightlifting


Although the first weightlifting competitions date back to the 19th century, early images show athletes lifting heavy objects for recreational purposes many years prior to this. In ancient Greece, Egypt and China, humans lifted heavy stones and bags of sand to test their strength against each other.

It wasn’t until 1891, however, that the first male weightlifter was crowned world champion based on lifting the most weight, regardless of his size.


Early Olympic weightlifting

Weightlifting featured at the first Olympic Games in 1896, although it was lumped in with athletics. It was missed out of the 1900 Games, but was back on the agenda again in 1904.

Early weightlifting competitions at the Olympic Games consisted of one and two-handed lifts, with no divisions of weight. The first winner of the one hand competition in 1896 was Launceston Elliot, and Viggo Jensen took the crown for winner of the two hands contest.

Weightlifting was omitted from the Olympic Games until 1920 in Antwerp, when it featured as a category in its own right. 14 countries competed in this event that consisted of the one hand snatch, the one hand clean and jerk, and the two hands clean and jerk. At the following Olympic Games in Paris in 1924, the two hands press and the two hands snatch were also included, giving the contest a total of five lifts.

In these early contests, competitors were not regarded by their size or weight, and it was only in 1932 that five weight divisions were introduced.

One hand lifts were abolished in 1928, leaving only three disciplines in the competition – the clean and press, the snatch and the clean and jerk.


Modern Olympic weightlifting

Olympic weightlifting changed in 1972, when the clean and press was dropped from the competition – there was some ambiguity over how this should be judged. This left just the snatch and the clean and jerk to feature in the competition.

The snatch involves lifting a barbell from the ground to an overhead position, whilst the clean and jerk consists of lifting the barbell from the ground to overhead using two movements, namely from the ground to the shoulders, and from the shoulders to overhead.


Women’s Olympic weightlifting

Women have had a fairly late arrival in Olympic weightlifting, only making a debut appearance in the competition at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. However, women have been winning championship contests in weightlifting since around 1987, although the Miss Universe bodybuilding contest dating back to 1965 has had a role to play in promoting females in this genre of sport.

In today’s Olympic Games, there are eight weight classifications for males and seven classifications for females.

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