Chatting with Two-Time Olympian Chad Vaughn, a Legend in American Weightlifting

In the history of American weightlifting, few athletes have achieved Chad Vaughn‘s level of success. Consider his resume:

  • 2X Olympian (2004 and 2008)
  • Pan American Games Gold Medalist
  • 5X Senior World Team Member
  • 9X US National Champion
  • Current American Record Holder in the C&J at 77KG (169lb) category – 190 KG (418lb)

I had the chance to chat with Chad on the phone last week while he was in-between coaching duties. Beyond weightlifting, we talked about the adversity in his life, obstacles he was able to defeat in order to become what I consider a legend in American weightlifting. These days, Chad is still a great athlete; however, a majority of his time is spent coaching and trying to help people enrich their lives through weightlifting and other causes he’s a proud supporter of.

How did you get started in weightlifting?

I was a sophomore in high school, and we had a young strength coach who was learning the Olympic lifts and teaching them to my team. I was always at the gym and I was becoming faster and better than everyone else on my team. After the season, we went down to Texas (from Oklahoma) for a competition and that is where I met the Spoon Barbell Club. Coach Richard Flemming really got me going and kept me going in the sport.

What are you most proud of in your weightlifting career?

I have been coaching for 6-7 years, and it has given me time to examine myself and a lot of things people do not know. I am proud of all the lessons I learned from training, the ups and downs it provides. I am proud of the obstacles I had to overcome in life in order to be successful. I was born with a clubfoot and had surgery on my right foot, it required me to have a cast for the first year of my life. I have about half the range of motion in my right ankle as in my left. This kind of adversity helped make me a successful athlete; overall I am very proud I was able to get tougher – mentally, physically, emotionally – than my limitations and rise above. I always tell people they have to push their “super hero” button and rise above, I feel I was able to push mine.

I remember an epic competition between you and Oleg Kechko at the 2005 Arnold. Can you walk us through it, what do you remember about it?

This was an exceptionally fun meet for me, and it was a great competition, but it often gets overshadowed by all the other accomplishments that I had (Olympian, Pan American Gold Medal, and Multiple National Championships).

I did not know Oleg would be there until a few days before, and I looked up to him. He was an Olympian (1996) and I was coming off my first Olympic team (2004), plus he coached my wife Jodi, and we got to know each other. We both made similar snatch attempts [152.5KG for Chad and 150KG for Oleg], then things got heated and we rose to the occasion. Especially in the Clean & Jerk, where I made 195KG (429lbs) and he made the same weight. [Based on results from the 2005 Arnold Championships, Oleg was lighter in body weight and edged out Chad for a better Sinclair formula. First place prize money was won by Dmitry Klokov.] It was one of my first big competitions in the 85KG weight class and it was good experience for future battles I would have, but most importantly it was a lot of fun.

You set an American Record (190KG at 77KG) at the 2007 Arnold, and you competed there many times. What are your thoughts on what the Arnold means to American weightlifting?

I haven’t been to the Arnold Weightlifting Championships in a few years now, however at the time is was extremely meaningful. It was new, and it was a way for athletes to do what they love and make some money at the same time. As weightlifters, we are used to having debt from competing and this was the beginning of how a lot of competitions are today. In that regards, it was ahead of its time.  

What are your thoughts on the new leadership of USA Weightlifting? New people, new policies; how do things compare with 10 years ago in your opinion?  

Again, over the last few years as a coach I have been on the outside looking in (as compared to being directly affected by the leadership’s decisions). Ten years ago or so I thought it was always the same politics. I like Phil Andrews (USA Weightlifting’s CEO) and I am excited for USAW based on what he’s done. Some of the other hires caught me off guard, we will see how it goes.

Leading up to the 2016 Olympics, the big news was failed drug tests of athletes from previous Olympics. When you were competing internationally during that time, did you feel that was a noticeable problem?

Absolutely yes! Through the years it has been frustrating – you will be around other athletes in conversation and they would not even try to hide it from us [Americans]. I perceived it was part of their system to use drugs and beat the test. I assume more people would be caught if everyone was tested at the Olympics, but not everyone is tested.

I am glad more people are aware, but at the same time it is sad. The moment is lost, it was taken away from the athletes. We will never know how good Oscar Chaplin III or Shane Hamman would have been on a level playing field. Would we have sucked as much as all the critics said we did? Or would Shane have an Olympic Gold Medal? I was tested roughly 15 times a year for almost ten years between USADA [US Anti-Doping Agency] and WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency], other countries only have WADA and we have seen they are not on par with USADA testing.

You were one of the first elite American Weightlifters to own a CrossFit gym and be part of the CrossFit movement; how did you first get started in CrossFit?

When I was training for the 2008 Olympics, I would drive from my home in Austin, TX to Dallas, TX to train with Richard Flemming. At the time, he was teaching weightlifting classes at one of the first CrossFit gyms in Texas. I didn’t know what CrossFit was at the time, so one day I went early to help him before one of my workouts and it changed my life. There was a group of people who participated in a snatch class, then stayed around to watch my two hour workout. I find that most people in CrossFit want to find information and try to draw knowledge to get better. That was what drew me into it, and from 2011 to this year I was the owner of CrossFit CenTex and Jodi and myself still coach there today.

In 2011 you started selling your own line of t-shirts that said “OLY-athletes” and the USOC made you stop selling then, why was that?

We received a “Cease & Desist” letter that said “OLY” was a copyright infringement of the Olympic Committee. We were forced to change the name of the company or disband, we chose to dissolve and move forward.

In 2015 you set American Masters records [Snatch, CJ & Total at 77KG in the 35-39 age group]. As you get older, what are you doing differently with train to keep yourself healthy?

Nothing drastically different, the biggest issue to training consistently. The last couple years my personal training has been a lower priority for me. Right after 2012 when I just missed out on going to the Olympic Games, my main efforts went into coaching instead of competing and training, so my workouts went from 9 per week to about 3 or 4 per week. Right now I have a routine that is consistent and helps me to stay healthy and lift OK weights.

A video posted by Chad Vaughn (@olychad) on

As a masters weightlifter I am hoping to be able to make training a higher priority for me, because I do have goals that are doable for me such as the world records (77KG 35-39 years old) if I decide to commit myself. I need to dedicate more time and efforts but also plan on why I want to do this, in order to motivate myself. There is a cool factor to having master’s world records and other positives, there is a lot of good I can do to help people by pushing myself to achieve my own goals.

How did you get involved as a weightlifting coach? What do you enjoy about coaching?

I got involved coaching through CrossFit, I knew after the 2008 Olympics that I wanted to teach weightlifting at a CrossFit gym. I had great experiences with Richard Flemming leading up to the Games, [and] I knew it was a great way to spread my love of the sport and help people. Around 2009 – 2010 we started doing seminars with Ursula [USAW Sr. International Coach Ursula Papandrea]. Ursula was also a big motivating factor for me to get into the CrossFit community and we have been enjoying ourselves ever since. Today I am coaching weekly classes, seminars and online.  

You and Jody have been active advocates for Barbells for Boobs. Can you talk about your work with the cause?

Our gym has been a supporter of Barbells for Boobs for a long time, before we owned CrossFit CenTex. The community has been able to rally behind it and has raised a lot of money for Breast Cancer awareness and early detection through the organization. I don’t personally know anyone with breast cancer, however we got to know the owner and the work they are doing and we fell in love with the cause. Every year we have a Barbell for Boobs event and weightlifting competition in order to raise money and provide a lot of good for a lot of people.

A video posted by Chad Vaughn (@olychad) on

Another organization I am proud to be a part of is Steve’s Club, which is a national program to help at-risk or underserved kids. I was first introduced to this group when I was in Philadelphia for a seminar and I was really intrigued by the idea. CrossFit CenTex opened the first branch in Texas and it is a cause I am looking to get more involved in.

Featured image: @olychad on Instagram