The Bar is Loaded #2: 26 Organizations and Counting
I spent my freshman year of college at a mine engineering school in Golden, Colorado. It was during my first semester geology class I was introduced to the term ‘hypo center’. A hypo center is the initial point of rapture deep in the earth that precedes an earthquake. I’m sure this all makes for interesting reading but what’s this have to do with the multitude of powerlifting organizations? Simply put – I was an eyewitness to the hypo center that created the organizational chaos you enjoy today.
I’d like to start the conversation with a brief – and I mean brief – powerlifting history. There’s plenty more depth and expert analysis on this subject via the internet.
Powerlifting as an organized sport has only been around for about 45 years. Prior to this it was simply known as the “odd” lifts. These were an assortment of deep knee bends, back presses a.k.a. floor presses, deadlifts, one-armed lifts, curls, etc. Around 1964 the A.A.U. agreed upon the squat, bench & deadlift as the powerlifts and established rules, weight classes and eventual records. In 1978 the United States Olympic Committee concluded that all sports seeking recognition should have their own governing body (the irony to present day conditions should be painfully obvious). The United States Powerlifting Federation (USPF) became our governing body recognized by the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). The USPF was considered by most to be inconsistent at best in their fair application of drug testing and their ever-changing interpretation(s) of the rules. Because of this, the American Drug Free Powerlifting Association (ADFPA) was created in 1981 primarily from a moral position. And in a counter move a Chicago lifter, Ernie Frantz, founded the APF (circa 1983) on the premise of no testing. So there ya go – a brief history lesson of our sport’s “organized” beginnings..
Life in powerlifting began to move along. Lifters were approaching and making single-ply lifts once thought physically impossible (1000 lb squats, 900 lb deadlifts, 700 lb. benches), powerlifters were gaining notoriety in strongman competitions and the professional wrestling circuit, steroid use was still underground and only whispered about, and good folks were doing their best to build lifting organizations that supported good lifting – this includes the most prolific meet promoter in USPF history – drum roll please…… Rich Peters. And then the tremors started.
The USPF executive committee held their national meeting in July 1988. I attended with three votes (state chairman, national athletes’ rep and a proxy). The organization had just concluded a legal battle with Ernie Frantz over exclusionary practices. To recoup costs, the USPF had decided to dig deeper into the meet promoters’ pockets concerning shared revenues. Due to all the internal bickering and inconsistent drug testing, Rich had started NASA providing lifters a chance to get off steroids through his staged approach (note: I lifted in the first Natural Winter Nationals in 1987 ~ ‘open’ was defined as six months clean). However, it wasn’t Rich’s intent to split. Rich wanted to unify the USPF under one banner. Establish an umbrella organization so to speak. This would provide a true national championship, a framework that brought confidence to the international community and flexibility for the lifter while providing sub-organizations under the umbrella supporting different needs (raw, equipped, tested…. hmmm). The executive committee of the USPF laughed at the proposal. They believed there was no need for such a structure. It was their way or the highway. They were simply indispensable. That was it – plain and simple: the hypo center.
Rich left the USPF and sunk his heart and soul into NASA. Brother Bennett and company continued to take the moral high ground in the ADFPA, and the APF continued to provide a platform for non-tested events. The USPF was left to its own demise. My take is lack of professional leadership and an overall elitist attitude in its president and the executive committee was the causal factors in the USPF losing IPF sanction (which was subsequently grabbed by the USAPL – formerly ADFPA).
With my apologies to Bob Dylan – the times they were a changin’ (if you don’t know who Dylan is twitter your dad and ask). Organizations established their own rules and interpreted existing standards differently. Gear use began to vary from association to association, and the division framework differed as well. Then the egos of mice and men took over (I smell a trend developing). Yep, ego and misguided pride. Don’t like the depth rule here, start up your own organization; want to use triple ply rubber – initiate a federation; can’t stand weighing in at the prescribed time – create a league; want to drug test only in leap years – uh, you get the point. It’s gotten so bad that one meet promoter allowed unlimited attempts in a lift. Well, I say ‘unlimited’. The rule is – or was, I don’t know anymore – lift until you missed two consecutive attempts (insert pregnant pause here).
Listen, I don’t necessarily think having different organizations is all bad. This is America. We are not a socialist country (not yet anyway). We have the freedom to create and choose. God bless America! But there is a risk with this much dilution: the majority will fail – its pure economics. There is a finite pool of lifters out there competing (estimates are anywhere from 12,000 to 18,000 in sanctioned events), and there are now 26 (sic) national and/or regional organizations trying to attract these lifters. Do the math. There is no way a quality powerlifting organization can maintain records and a decent web site, conduct a quality national championship event, support a youth and/or high school program and grow with its lifters with just 400 members. So it is natural to see how organizations come and organizations go. So what’s a lifter to do? How do you choose?
I’ve given this a great deal of thought and I’ve concluded this should be a value-based decision. What do you value as a lifter: fair and honest drug testing? no drug testing? use of multi-ply? raw? distance from home? family atmosphere? competition? And, your values may not tie you exclusively to one organization. For instance: you may value top level competition once a year. You may be a female bencher whose set all the records she can in ‘her’ organization and wants to test herself on a strict world stage environment. She wants to see what its like to lift against the best the World has to offer. That’s value-based.
If all powerlifters made this decision – the decision of where to lift – a value-based decision, we would soon realize something: most lifters share similar values. Soon organizations would converge to a dozen or eight or (dare I say it)….. four! Heck, if everyone’s lifting decisions were all value-based, we may just find ourselves lifting in one big organization with several sub-group an …… wait for it….. wait for it……. umbrella organization so to speak. J.
Let me leave you with this: if you want to secure the future of powerlifting – find that organization that fits your values and support them. For me, that’s a fair and honest drug-tested environment. For me, that’s a lifter-friendly environment that supports God, family and country. For me, that’s an organization with a robust calendar of events. For me, that’s an organization that I have a substantial voice in no matter what my level of lifting. For me, that’s NASA.
And, if any punk-ass, piss-poor training, character-assassinating internet jockey wants to take a shot – well.. I’ll save that for next month.
Once again, I really appreciate your feedback on the first column and this truly is a privilege for me. If you have comments, suggestions or feedback you can find me at email@example.com or on the NASA Real Power Forums.