Frank Spellman, America’s Oldest Olympic Weightlifting Champion, Has Passed Away

On Thursday this week, Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting Frank Spellman passed away at the age of 94.

Spellman set several Olympic records and earned a gold medal at the first post-World War II Olympic Games, held in London in 1948. Competing in the -75kg weight class, the 25-year-old Spellman was the only Olympian to successfully completed all nine of his lifts – three attempts each at the snatch, clean & jerk, and press – and set an Olympic record with his total of 390kg.

“I had goosebumps all over. It was very, very exciting,” he told USA Weightlifting in a 2012 interview. “It was one of those days that when everything seems to go right. No matter what I tried, it worked. That was extremely a wonderful thing. I’m a flag waver, and I wanted the United States to win and I was willing to try my utmost in making I made the most out of every lift. As it turned out, I was very fortunate. I had one of those days that every athlete wishes for.”

Like many strength athletes, Spellman spent his youth as a gymnast. After a chance meeting with a weightlifter, he was invited to try the clean and press, and during one of his first attempts at the lift he managed to clean and press 130 pounds at a bodyweight of 120 pounds.

“He said, ‘You’re not supposed to be able to do that,’” Spellman recalled. “Of course, I didn’t know. That sparked me.”

While his Olympic feats were remarkable in their own right, Spellman was perhaps best-known as one of America’s finest Jewish weightlifters. In addition to his feats at the Olympics, he won a gold medal in the -75kg weight class at the 1950 World Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish multi-sport event that’s held every four years in Israel.

In 1954, he established a new world record at the U.S. National (AAU) Squat Championships, when he squatted 510 pounds at a 170 pounds bodyweight

Spellman won his final championship in 1971 at age 49, and continued lifting well into his nineties, even after multiple bypass surgeries. At age 90, he claimed he could still perform seated presses of 110 pounds for reps. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living Olympic Weightlifting champion in the United States.

Featured image via USA Weightlifting.


Previous articleNew CrossFit Games Site Makes Following Athletes Easier Than Ever
Next articleCanadian Junior National Championships to Feature Top Weightlifters
Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. His first articles about health were on a cholera outbreak in rural Kenya while he was reporting for a French humanitarian organization. His next writing job was covering the nightlife scene in Shanghai. He’s written on a lot of different kinds of things, but his passion for health ultimately led him to cover it full time.Shanghai was where he managed to publish his first health related article (it was on managing diarrhea), he then went on to produce a radio documentary about bodybuilding in Australia before he finished his Master’s degrees in Journalism and International Relations and headed to New York City. Here, he’s been writing on health full time for more than five years for outlets like Men's Health, VICE, and Popular Science.Nick’s interest in health kind of comes from an existential angle: how are we meant to live? How do we reach our potential? Does the body influence the mind? (Believe it or not, his politics Master’s focused on religion.)Questions like these took him through a lot of different areas of health and fitness like gymnastics, vegetarianism, kettlebell training, fasting, CrossFit, Paleo, and so on, until he realized (or decided) that strength training fit best with the ideas of continuous, measurable self improvement.At BarBend his writing focuses a little more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.