Dmitry Klokov sat down for an interview with Zygmunt Smalcerz.
If you can help with the translation / summing up interesting parts, it would be greatly appreciated by every ATG reader.
Check out Dmitry’s other interviews here.
Update: Thanks to Vadim Pakhutkin for translating.
Zygmunt started as a gymnast. Then switched to weightlifting only as a freshman. He abandoned gymnastics mostly because he’s too short and judges tend to give higher scores to taller athletes.
He’s saying that Polish system has/had always been very technique-focused
Zygmunt was mostly self-taught and he would go to Moscow and just buy Russian books and yearbooks.
He was perfectly ready for the 1976 Olympics (at 52kg) too, but bombed out on the snatch, starting at 100 kg.
In 1978 he started coaching juniors, and the club he coached at soon became very successful. He quit professional weightlifting at the age of 37, mostly due to the fact that he started weightlifting very late (when he entered the Academy of Sports – athletic university/institute – around 20 years of age).
He worked as the Polish national team head coach twice — first at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and second time at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The reason for such a big break in-between was that only one Polish lifter managed to get a medal in 1996 (Cofalic), and the federation president wasn’t happy about that and decided to fire Zygmunt.
He continued coaching and worked with Szymon Kołecki. However, Beijing wasn’t a successful year either: only Kolecki won a medal, whereas Dolega, despite being fully prepared for gold, decided to ignore his coach’s tactical plan, and go for the snatch record, which, according to Zygmunt, was completely unacceptable at the Olympics (Dolega only finished 4th) — “it’s all about the medals, not the records”.
Zygmunt says that Dolega is very self-confident, which sometimes clouded his tactical judgement.
After Beijing, the federation president dismissed Zygmunt yet again, and this time around he wasn’t able to find any work in Poland, which led him to search for coaching opportunities abroad. That’s how he ended up in the US he became the head coach in 2010 (in the Olympic training center in Colorado).
Klokov asked his opinion on why American weightlifting became so unpopular and unsuccessful. Here are the main problems according to Zygmunt:
- weightlifting is not popularized in schools, unlike, for example, wrestling, which is very big in America (Klokov did not know that, and was surprised to hear that wrestling events can sell up to 10,000 tickets).
- America needs Olympic medalists, so they could act as role models for kids.
- Bad financial support. Klokov was shocked to hear that there is no “national team” in the Russian sense of the word, and that in order to compete at Worlds, for example, American lifters have to pay for plane tickets, hotels, etc, out of their own pocket. Klokov said that in Russia, local coaches complain a lot even when the government refuses to cover all costs and accommodations for the U16, U15, U18 juniors who want to compete at nationals, “so we’re having it easy, folks”.
- No career opportunities, which forces very promising kids to pursue big professional sports instead.
On the bright side, below are the opportunities and recent successes, according to Zygmunt:
- In light of Houston set to host the 2015 Worlds, some sponsors became more interested in supporting US weightlifting.
- In lieu of her own role models, America uses Russian lifters for this purpose, which is arguably just as effective. Klokov was very happy and surprised to hear about the extent of his cult following in America. He said it motivates him a great deal.
- Zygmunt also attributes much of weightlifting renaissance to crossfit. Zygmunt likes crossfit and supports its development, even in Poland.
- Zygmunt still considers financial incentives to be the main driving force behind any possible resurgence of the sport.
Klokov also asked Zygmunt why is it that in America, powerlifting is so much more popular than Olympic weightlifting. Zygmunt didn’t give an exhaustive answer (they were running out of time already), but said that powerlifting events are televised, which is very important, and there is much greater sponsorship involved.
A lot of good coming out of these seminars.
Thanks to all those who translated/summarized.
Very interesting that they would fire him. Twice.
He seems like one of the best worldwide coaches in the last 10 years. I thought the Polish team did great under him.
I agree. But in Poland – where the weightlifting is so strong – I think winning “just” one medal at the olympics is a disappointment. I thought Rigert did a great job in Russia too but that wasn’t enough either. Although in my opinion russians had very bad luck in London.
Really interesting interview. Great points mentioned by Zygmunt too. I’m not 100% aware of the situation in Canada, but I think it’s comparable to the US to an extent, only substitute professional sports with just hockey (jk).
The First Pull’s interview with Christine Girard really opened my eyes on the subject. Weightlifting seems to be gaining popularity in some of the bigger cities where crossfit has really taken off, but I don’t think there is much outside of a few areas. I think we’re really unorganized as far as weightlifting is concerned, no national training centre or anything like that (according to Christine’s interview). I actually remember her winning bronze and it wasn’t even televised. The olympic coverage was dreadful here, Italy vs. some other country men’s water polo was being televised when Christine won bronze.
I’m really glad Dmitry, Ilya and the Norwood crew are doing these seminars. Not everyone has access to that level of instruction. I can only hope that the seminars are so successful they do more in the future. I think they’re doing a great job of promoting the sport, which is something it so desperately needs in US & Canada.
Unless the NFL quits offering American strength/athletic freaks millions, travel, fame, and women, Olympic Weightlifting will never been more than a fringe sport here with mediocre international results. It’s that simple. You see our elite guys begging for money and hawking wrist bands to raise travel funds. But had he made strong safety for the Saints he’s be deciding which of his Land Rovers better matches the suit he’s wearing to JayZ’s birthday party this weekend.
Evgeny Filatov says
Sad, but true. Until weightlifting gets good sponsorship or at least some sort of scholarships (like for any other sport) – it will remain a sport “on the outskirts.”
Same situation to a point for football/soccer in the rest of the world. Track and field is an almost forgotten sport except every four years during Olympics. US colleges were giving only football scholarships till late 1940’s. Even now most colleges cut track, swimming, wrestling programs so there will be enough money for football.
Solution: 1. Most US parents do not let their kids play football due to (head) injuries. Soccer is the king among boys and girls. 2. Competition is good! Must package sport so it become more popular.
IWF should jump on popularity of cross fit. I suggest new exhibition event: three wight categories (70, 100, 130kg) do cross fit events in the next championship.
Evgeny Filatov says
Here is a shot of Mr. Smalcerz in action:
Have you posted up the interview with Dmitry interviewing Oksana Slivenko?
Would be cool if someone could translate this as well.
Zbigniew Wieczorek says
Andrzej Cofalik -Correct spelling of polish medallist at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996