How to Give Weightlifting Mass Appeal (w/JP Nicoletta)

Today I’m talking to a friend I’ve had the pleasure of working with for years. JP Nicoletta is USA Weightlifting’s Coaching Education Manager , and he’s perhaps even better known internationally as being one of the sport’s most accomplished color commentators. JP has pushed the boundaries of what weightlifting broadcasts can do to inform and make the sport more accessible for viewers. He’s also called some of history’s most impactful lifts and world records. We chat about what good commentary can do for strength sports and what’s next in the world of weightlifting broadcasts.

JP Nicoletta on the BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Tao talks to JP Nicoletta about:

  • Finding weightlifting on accident, and how the snatch and clean & jerk are more mainstream than ever (2:00)
  • How the weightlifting community can be even more fun after your competition career (6:00)
  • Joining USA Weightlifting full time (9:40)
  • Discovering weightlifting color commentary and going from local to national to international competitions (12:00)
  • The most memorable moments JP has called for weightlifting broadcasts (16:30)
  • Improving weightlifting color commentary and how to make the sport more appealing for spectators (22:40)

Relevant links and further reading:

Editor’s Note: BarBend is the Official Media Partner of USA Weightlifting. The two organizations maintain editorial independence unless otherwise noted on specific content projects. This is one such project. 



Being in the room for that to 220 in Anaheim was mind blowing. Sean called it best when we did it. He said, “When we were growing up, this was a mythical number.” The idea of somebody snatching 220 kilos was like a joke, we never thought it would happen.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “Barbend” podcast, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by


Today I’m talking to a friend I’ve had the pleasure of working with for years. JP Nicoletta is USA Weightlifting’s coaching education manager. He’s perhaps even better known internationally as being one of the sports most accomplished color commentators.


JP has pushed the boundaries of what weightlifting broadcasts can do to inform and make the sport more accessible for viewers of all experience levels.


He’s also called some of histories most impactful lifts, and some pretty big world records. We chat about what good commentary can do for strength sports, and what’s next in the world of weightlifting broadcasts.


Also, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast, so if you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the Barbend podcast in your app of choice. Let’s get on with the show.


JP, every time I sit down, I feel like we have to talk about weightlifting. Every time I sit down with you because we’re normally about to do commentary on a weightlifting session. This is a little different. We’re doing a podcast together for the first time. I really appreciate you taking the time to join me.


For those who haven’t known you for many, many years like myself, how did you first build your passion for weightlifting? How did you first get involved in the weightlifting community? I think that’s important context for what you do today.

I literally fell into it. I mean, literally. It’s a wonderful thing now I think when we talk about weightlifting amongst the community of moving a barbell around. People who are involved in powerlifting. People who are in a gym setting, if you talk about weightlifting, now, the snatch, the clean and jerk, people generally know what you mean.


They generally know what you’re talking about. In 1992 when I found it, it was really by dumb luck, when I found weightlifting. By that, I mean nobody really knew much about the sport. It was very cottagey.


I know numbers now and in context, and going back to it, USAW around that time, was something around 5,000 people, give or take, in the early ’90s. Now, it’s almost 30,000.


Those are the people who are actually part of USAW. It doesn’t speak to the people who are involved in weightlifting in some form, either through CrossFit or other things that they do, strength and conditioning, so on.


When I started, it wasn’t like this was big or that it was easy to find. It just so happened that I grew up in a place in Queens that wasn’t far from a major training center, at the time a major training center, Lost Battalion Hall.


It just so happened, when I was 16, I was old enough to get a waiver to join a health club, I joined a Gold’s Gym, and one of the four trainers there was a guy named Nick Curry, who the Curry family is very heavily involved in weightlifting.


I overheard him talking about it one day, I said, “Nick, you got to show me how to do this.” He tried to show me how to do cleans, and he let me put 45-pound plates on the bar. I fell backwards, made a huge crash, the bar rolled backwards on me.


I got up, I was like, “I want to do this again.” He said, “No, no, no. Can you come with me on Tuesday night? I’ll take you to my gym. I’ll introduce you to my brother-in-law.”


His brother-in-law is Artie Dreschler who is an incredible piece of history in weightlifting. I was so lucky to be introduced to Artie, but I got the itch immediately from that. I like to say I literally fell into it, and I did. Once I did it once, I was hooked. That was it.

David TaoDavid Tao

How long…Not to say you aren’t still an athlete because I know you are still training in weightlifting, but your athletic career, the prime of your athletic career, when did you transition out of that, to being involved in weightlifting more as a technical official, a commentator, and now as a full-time administrator as well?

We were about using certain words, like prime…


When you talk about passion and falling in love with something, there’s a lot of funny things I could mention with this, but it was something I had the itch for, so I refer to it I have the itch for weightlifting. I fell in love with it right away.


I competed from the age of 16 until about I was 29. I think my last competition I was 29. One of the things that I realized along the way, and I can tell you the exact moment, which that most people don’t experience something like this, but I knew at the moment when I was watching something special, and I knew that I was not it.


I remember I was watching Oscar Chaplin at a senior nationals. I remember watching him do…I want to say it was like a 142-5 snatch, we were half kilo increments back then, but he was doing something winning yet another nationals.


He was already an international athlete. I looked at him and I said, “You know, I’m watching something, I do something similar, but I’m not that.” I knew it. It was one of those things where it didn’t matter, I still loved it. It wasn’t like a self-defeating, demoralizing feeling.


It was one of those things where I knew in my early 20s, this is something that I love, but it’s really going to be something I enjoy doing as opposed to ever hitting a pinnacle. A few nationals, great. Things like that was always fun, but I found later the joke that talking about weightlifting, which I got to do a lot of, is a lot easier than doing weightlifting.


Coaching, being a technical official in many ways from my 30s, now into my 40s, I’ve been having as much or more fun as I’ve ever had, being part the community. David, you and I have done a lot together. You’ve gotten to enjoy some of that with me.


It’s a lifelong thing that I think very few people in life are lucky enough to find something that they really have an affection for, and that they stay with for a long time.


David TaoDavid Tao

I think people who might be new to weightlifting or strength sports in general, because this isn’t something that is specific to weightlifting. You could say the same about the powerlifting community, for example. It’s the itch, but also it takes a village.


It’s not just athletes in the primes of their careers, and it’s not just coaches working with those athletes. It is the technical officials. It is the event organizers. Weightlifting, more than a lot of strength sports, is a bit centralized in that there is one governing body for the sport in the United States.


You couldn’t say the same about powerlifting, where there are literally dozens, if not hundreds of different governing bodies that run competitions. In America, it’s USA Weightlifting, and there are tiers to that organization. There is structure within that organization, not to get in too much into weightlifting politics.


There are a lot of different opportunities for folks to stay involved with the sport after they are done competing. In fact, it’s really necessary for the survival of the sport.

Very much so. One of the things that was really pleasing to me in…I had become a national referee in 2014. I had been locally, if you will, at smaller meets officiating, since I was an athlete, because we would always help out. I never got the national referee certification until then, because honestly I didn’t want to pay to enter…I didn’t want to pay to go in.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I love it.

I’ll just get my ref card. I did it, and one of the things that was so nice was that there were so many people that I didn’t know I knew that I didn’t know knew me. They were so nice and so supportive, and it really was a wonderful experience again then. I’ve since gone up to Cat 1 IWF, and I’ve done the commentary stuff, and now work for the office.


To be engaged in the community and so many people that are not actively athletes anymore, they might be master’s athletes, but they’re playing. They’re doing it for their own joy and fun, but they were really great to me. Some of them said the exact same thing you just mentioned, David, “I feel like I need to give back.”


I remember when I was competing and people were here doing this for me, and I love it. A lot of those officials really do feel that way. It’s one of the real genuine and wonderful things about the sport here in the United States. It’s not just the great weightlifting that we’ve been doing recently.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I want to talk about commentary and weightlifting color commentary in just a second, because that really is the crux of this podcast, and I think something that I’m really excited to jam with you on. Before that, I think it’s worth talking a little bit about you’re fairly recent transition.


Although it’s been a few years now from being involved in the sport as a volunteer, as a technical official, as a coach, previously as an athlete, to being an administrator full-time and working for USA Weightlifting. I actually knew you when you were undergoing this career shift.


You packed up life here on the East Coast, moved to Colorado and began working for USA Weightlifting full-time. Tell us a little bit about how that opportunity came about, and what you do as an employee of the organization now.

  1. Now, I’m the director of coach education for USA Weightlifting. Funny story there, before I shifted out of a career working in finance, I was still obviously involved in weightlifting, but I was a course instructor, under the coach education program after my predecessor who had turned me down as a instructor later added me.


Which was funny because I’ve a very good relationship with Conroy now. When I was doing the courses for a little while as an instructor, I loved it.


I couldn’t believe that there were so many people that were interested in learning about weightlifting. There were so many people that were paying to learn about weightlifting, and that there was an opportunity to talk about weightlifting.


In a lot of ways, being a course instructor and being involved in the Coach Education Department for weightlifting is an extension of what I love to do in commentary because I get to talk weightlifting. Obviously, in the courses, we were focusing more on technique, coaching, and things like that.


When the opportunity for the coach education position came available, I did want to do it, and it was a major shift. I joined the office in 2016. The office did something interesting at the time. They hired both myself and Dr. Anna Swisher, who has also been in the Coach Education Department with me since 2018. Excuse me.


We have had a blast, and we have had a lot of fun expanding the program, continuing to do what we’re doing with the courses, doing camps, symposium, just a lot of stuff. With the development of up-and-coming coaches, obviously, that’s where I’m focused for the full-time position.


Commentary for weightlifting meets was one of those things. When the opportunity came up, I got a cold sweat, and I have to do this. I’m dying to do this.

David TaoDavid Tao

 Let’s talk about that first opportunity, because now you are known as…You are the King of Weightlifting Commentary in the English language, at least in North America. Let’s put it that way.

I think they’re a some very good ones.

David TaoDavid Tao

There are some fantastic folks. When names pop up, as far as the most accomplished veteran commentators in weightlifting in the national and international levels, your name comes up, that’s not me paying lip service. It’s very true.


Obviously, you had to get started somewhere. For a lot of folks, they get started in the sport at the local level, and then they move up through the ranks internationally. Was that the case for you for commentary? What was that first competition and how did that first opportunity come about?

Something like that, because if you think about the USAW production and streaming of our national events, we’ve come a long way with those. The start was there. Originally, I forget what year, I want to say 2012, 2013 was probably around the time when we started streaming the national events. It was a choppy experience for a while, getting the streaming right.


I don’t know if you remember the days, if you’ve ever watched it, where the stuff would just freeze. In any case, we got past that, and then eventually they started allowing some commentary and doing some commentary. I heard it once, and I said, “I really want to do that.”


I contacted, I think at the time, it was Carissa Gump who was in charge of it, and I said, “I really want to do this.” She said, “OK”. With some delays, some travel stuff and the opportunity to get there, the first time I did it with Sean Waxman was in 2014. We did American Open final, couple of sessions there. I was hooked.


It was something I knew I was in love with, and the ability to speak to the sport that you love. The ability to highlight things that not everybody knows about when they’re watching and understanding.


When I grew up as a kid, my family asked me if I was wrestling. It started with a W. They didn’t even know it was weightlifting. They still ask me how wrestling is going. The ability to present the sport through my lens, and to say things about athletes that I wish was said about myself.


If I was on TV, what would I want somebody to say about me? That kind of thing was in mind, and just sharing some anecdotes or being genuine when we communicate, I thought was really important in a sport where people don’t know much about. I got to do a bunch of national meets. You and I, David, did the 2017 Pan Ams in Florida?

David TaoDavid Tao

We did it in Florida? Yes. We started doing commentary together in early 2017 in Kansas City. I think it was our first time on the mic together. We had a very prolific year. We had that very long, what felt like a very long Pan Ams in Miami, but it was really kind of…


David TaoDavid Tao

…it wasn’t in Miami proper. Let’s put it that way.

South Florida, how about that? [laughs]


In between there, when the IWF gave Weightlifting or the World Championships to the city of Houston in 2015, after doing some sessions for the United States. Phil and Susie Sanchez, at the time, Susie was working for the city of Houston, the sports commission there for Houston. Phil was still doing events in 2015 for USAWs before he became CEO.


When the World’s was coming together for 2015 in Houston, they wanted some help for the TV production. They recommended a few of us to assist, and we did. We were spotters. They gave us…It was about five of us.


I remember Jonas Westbrook, David Boffa, myself. They gave us the mop-up sessions. At the time, it was the first time the TV crew that did World’s was actually working weightlifting. They didn’t fully know the sport, so they needed some help with understanding what was going on.


We were in the back room, in the production truck. If you will, it was really a room. Helping them understand what the flow was, what’s going on, what they need to be covering, and so on. They had hired, at the time a, couple of other commentators.


They told us later. They didn’t tell us then that they realized that their B team was actually there A team. That company did the World’s feed for the productions in ’17, ’18 and ’19. They continue to bring us back for each of those World’s.


Primarily, David Boffa, Sean Waxman, and myself, Jonas Westbrook, was in 2017. He was one of the key commentators also and we’ve had Cheryl Haworth mixed in a few times as well.


It was kind of a core group which we put together. A lot of the things that we got to do with it gave us a real good education. It also gave us the platform to just kind of be us and express how much we love doing it. I still love doing the USAW events, too. Anything I can cover weightlifting, I’m happy to.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk a little bit about some memorable moments in weightlifting history that you’ve been able to do commentary on live. Your face, folks, you can’t see JP right now, but his eyes just lit up the size of dinner plates, because I’m sure there are a million thoughts running through his head.


If we had to kind of distill it down to a few key moments that looking back, you consider yourself either particularly lucky to have witnessed and do commentary on, or particularly proud of calling what might some of those be?

There’s a lot you forget because there’s so much that we’ve gotten to see. I got to tell you, one of my greatest joys of being a commentator for an event was the 2016 Nationals and Olympic trials in Salt Lake City. Getting to do that was such a big deal for us at the time, and that whole experience was a dream come true.


In a lot of ways, going to a World Championship, and being on air at a World Championships was as well. I really have an affection for that Olympic trial. It was the first time we did a really big production internally. I thought it was great.


One of my favorite lifts from that session from the women’s side was the Morghan King 100 kilo clean and jerk, where it was pretty obvious that she was going to make Rio off that lift. Just the vibe and the energy in the room was amazing. We got to call that. That was great.


The easiest and lowest hanging fruit of enormity, being in the room when Lasha snatched 200 kilos for the first time.

David TaoDavid Tao

220 kilos.

 220, excuse me, my God. 220 in ’17…

David TaoDavid Tao

By the way, folks, that’s the first time and the last time I will ever get to correct JP Nicoletta on a weight-lifting related number. So, I’m going to bask in that for a second, but sorry go on. [laughs]

Enjoy, but I’m thinking ahead of myself. Being in the room for that 220 in Anaheim was mind blowing. That was amazing. We’ve gotten to see him do it live like four or five times now at the World Championships that we’ve been to since.


The fact that the two prior world record holders were in the room at the time. There was just so much going on around that. Sean called it best when we did it. He said, “When we were going up this was a mythical number.”


The idea of somebody snatching 220 kilos was a joke. We never thought it would happen, so to actually call that live was tremendous. In that same 2017 World’s, the fact that we got to call world champions or medalists from the United States, that was a big deal.


Sarah winning that year was epic for us. To be on air for that was one of the best experiences I could have had. 2019, two US athletes on the podium. When Kate Nye and Mattie Rogers went gold, silver in Thailand. That was an amazing session for us.


The 77-kilo class that year with Lu and the back injury, the time in between what was going on. That was another one where we were kind of losing our minds, getting to be on air for all that.

David TaoDavid Tao

One thing I do want to go back and touch on is that Lasha Talakhadze snatch. For those who aren’t super into weightlifting and don’t follow along with the sport, or haven’t maybe followed along with the sport as closely over the past five years.


In 2017, the World Weightlifting Championships returned once again to the United States, they were in Anaheim, California. It is the last session of the competition, as the super heavies often are.


Lasha Talakhadze, the reigning Olympic champion has submitted himself as the alpha in that particular weight category, calls for 220 kilograms in the snatch. 220 kilograms is a number that has never been caught on video.


To our knowledge before that had never actually been done in weightlifting, except for Lasha doing it in training. There was some apocryphal rumors of weight lifters in the Soviet era going very heavy in the snatch, but there was no verified snatch of 220 kilos ever happening before that, and to see it live was remarkable.


JP getting to call it was remarkable. Actually some of the audio from that lift, it’s one of the most played clips in weightlifting history at this point, so I just got to give a little bit more context and credit to that moment.

Maybe and that record before that was held by a gentleman named Antonio Krastev, who’s from Bulgaria that eventually emigrated to New York. As it turns out, Krastev did that. 216 was the record that Krastev held since the ’80s.


For Lasha to have broken that record, it was a huge deal. As it turned out, as a kid, I actually got to train with Krastev because he was in New York. I wouldn’t say train with. I was in the room when he worked out. I was playing around, but that also had some personal context for me to be able to enjoy.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, JP, let’s talk a little bit about moving forward where you think weightlifting color commentary can go, because I know Barbend — full disclosure folks. If you listen to the Barbend podcast, you know I love my disclaimers and disclosures. I absolutely love them. If you read Barbend, you know I love them.


Barbend’s pretty heavily involved in supporting USA Weightlifting’s broadcasts in a few different ways, both with personnel and financially. What are some of the exciting changes folks can expect if they’re tuning into any competition that you that USA Weightlifting is responsible for?


That can be USA Weightlifting national meets, if an international meet is on US soil, USA Weightlifting is also involved in those, and also involved in the broadcast there. What are some changes and improvements that listeners and viewers might be able to expect in the coming months or years?

Well, I think we’ve evolved what we’re doing. As we talked about the reliability, at least of what we’ve been doing is has gotten a lot better over the years. What we’re looking at now are making improvements to what has become formatted.


We’ve done well to make sure that the product that we put out in terms of streaming events is consistent. Now what we’re looking at is, “All right, how do we get people on air that are a little more informed? What can we do when the size of the competition allows with our lead producer?” You know Scott from All Sports web broadcasting who runs our stream.


When we don’t have a six-platform event going on, like a monolith of 1,000 people happening, we’ve got more equipment. Can we get different cameras on a platform?


Can we consistently get the production quality up in terms of doing replays more often? Can we get commentary on every A session? The answer to that part is so for every featured session at one of our major events, we’re looking to have commentary on all of them where we didn’t always in the past.


We’re trying now to get more of a group of commentators informed. I try to share a little bit about what I’ve done in the past, try to get people to look at it in a similar way to try to get information and data on every lifter that we see on stage, as opposed to just the Olympians, just the Olympic champions, or just the elite athletes that everybody knows about, but to feature everybody.


We’re going to see improvement in the streams, and in the presentation of our events, as well as the camerawork and production quality in the years to come. David, as you know, you’re involved in that in a heavy way. It’ll be fun to keep bantering with you on air as we do more nationals, and so on.

David TaoDavid Tao

One thing that I really appreciate about you, JP, is you’re a very data-driven person. You’re very analytical in how you approach things, but you also are a big proponent in weightlifting commentary, of making it fun, and making sure it truly is color commentary. Statistics, background on the athletes, like weightlifting is a numbers game, and that’s important context to give.


There’s also a very human element to the sport and it’s very easy to get super, super dry, when it comes to a sport like weightlifting if you aren’t paying attention to adding that spice, that color if you will. I really do appreciate that you’re able to balance the two.


In a lot of the commentary training that you’ve been running for USA Weightlifting and for the commentators really emphasizing that, “Hey, it is a balance in keeping it exciting.” This is entertainment, at the end of the day. It is a sport. What are some of the things that you have encouraged commentators to keep in mind when it comes to balancing those two aspects?


The data and the information with the fact that like, “Hey, people have to enjoy watching this.” It’s got to have a little fun.

Yeah, I think the key thing and the thing that I push the most is it was easiest for me is that I am passionate about it. It is easy to talk about it from a level of excitement without just fanboying. It’s not that. It’s being or sharing the experience that you’re watching with understanding of what it would have felt like to do.


Because we’re watching so much that I was never capable of, and I have so much appreciation for it, that I talk it up from a very genuine place. Other people who are involved in doing commentary for weightlifting are also familiar with it, and have a similar experience. They can share their perspective.


That’s the thing that I think needs to come through the most. Your perspective is very important when you’re talking through what you’re seeing, and the others can do that.


One of the things we talked about is what’s important to you? Talk about that. What is your area of expertise inside the sport? If you were one of the people who’s doing a session, are you coming at us from the perspective of a technical official where you really know the rules, and you explain the backbone and the reason behind the why of what’s happening?


Are you coming at it from the perspective of an athlete, and you can say when you walk through that tunnel, when you get on that platform, and just share what it feels like to be out there? First, the perspective of a coach, what are the things that you’re nervous about right now watching on the side?


How agonizing is it to not be on the platform yourself just hoping that this person is doing everything that you’ve seen them work so hard for? Any sport can relate to that, and I think it’s important that with where we are now in terms of size, that element is what’s presented when we’re on air, as opposed to like a very professional NBC or ESPN style.


Even those commentators share a lot of their feeling and passion for what they’re talking about, depending on the sport.

David TaoDavid Tao

JP, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you on this podcast about something that we get to jam on quite a bit in live broadcast. Where’s the best place for people to follow along with USA Weightlifting live broadcasts, maybe to find the schedule of upcoming national events, things like that?

Very easy. All of our events are streamed through That is a page that we’ve finally consistently put everything on. As events are coming up, next major one is going to be in Las Vegas. We’re having our Nationals Week. Literally a week of weightlifting nationals, from youth nationals all the way through to our premier senior nationals.


That’s going to start on June 25th, I think it is for youth nationals. It’ll end July 3rd, so that’ll be the next big one.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. JP, always a pleasure. Thanks so much for joining me today.