by Thom Van Vleck
First, please notice I said “different”. Not BETTER, just different. Al Myers came up with the concept for Old Time Strong Man contests to bring something different to the USAWA. I really like the idea. This does not mean I don’t like the regular USAWA. On the contrary, I like the idea a lot! But I have also been a fan of Strongman Contests as well. I also think a lot of the other USAWA members do as well. The OTSM brings that strongman flavor, but does something to it that no strongman contest does. It allows for the events to be loaded to weights that will suit any age group, skill level, weight class, or gender. Basically, it makes Strongman accessible to everyone, makes it quantifiable (for record keeping purposes that are legit), and brings it in line with the USAWA tenants that we all appreciate (drug testing for one!).
One of the things I like about the OTSM format is how the lifter is allowed several chances to complete a lift within the one minute time limit. I think this adds some real excitement and drama to the meet. Several successful lifts in this meet would not have been allowed in the format used by not only the regular USAWA and IAWA meets, but in any Olympic or Powerlifting contest. For example, John O’Brien called for 300lbs on his final Appollon’s Axle attempt. He pulled the weight, racked it, then missed the jerk….however, he still had time, so he pulled a second time, racked it, and made a very solid jerk. This was the only 300lb lift of the meet in the Appollon’s Lift. For those watching, it is really exciting to see something like that! I know the limits placed on earlier meets was a time factor, but usually the lift is made quickly and it really doesn’t take much more time with the few times the whole minute is used.
Another thing I like that this format has over regular strongman contests is how you can start with any weight you want. It brings the best part of a regular weightlifting meets in a Strongman format. You get three attempts, you can start at any weight and go up to weights that are within your ability. In most strongman meets, you have one weight for all…..and in my book, “one size does NOT fit all”. This way, you can have a meet where young and old, the super strong and the weekend warrior, can all take part.
A third thing is the relaxed rules. Most USAWA regular lifts have pretty strict interpretations on how the lift will be performed, with good reason. But for the novice lifter or most spectators, this can lead to confusion or frustration when the complete a lift or see a lift completed only have it turned down on a technicality. To those of us “in the know” we understand perfectly….but for many a slight press out leaves them shaking their heads. OTSM has many lifts where the lifter can get a weight up multiple ways with few rules. As a result, very few lifts are turned down upon completion. This is very spectator friendly in my book!
Now, I do want to take some time to address some criticisms I’ve heard about the OTSM. Some have to do with the very nature of it (relaxed rules, etc). Not much I can say about that. It is what it is. But some things I can address. I have heard concerns that we have enough in the USAWA already. Why do we need more. Well, first of all, that’s the very nature of those that have come to the USAWA! Guys who were satisfied with the Olympic lifts stayed with those lifts, but there were a group of guys who weren’t and powerlifting was born…and so on. The USAWA adds lifts every year! I would argue that’s just who we are. Plus, have you ever watched the Olympics….how many swimming styles do we need to compete, gymnastics events, running events?!?! Nobody complains about why we need a 200 meter champion when we already have a 100 meter champion. It’s just more ways to have fun and enjoy sports. Track and Field has two shot put world champs every year…indoor and outdoor. No big deal.
These seem to be the key differences to me. It adds a nice wrinkle to all the USAWA offers and I think can serve as a way to recruit new blood to the larger organization. I think a lot of new people could get “hooked” into lifting through the OTSM and then as they became more “weightlifting savvy” we could draw them into the more structured lifting of the USAWA! So, please, even if you don’t want to lift in the OTSM, help the rest of us out by supporting it by either helping at the meets or at the least supporting it through recommending it to others! OTSM is still very much an experiment…..whether it stays is really up to everyone in the USAWA! More fun for everyone!