Weightlifting today is a beautifully simple sport, where athletes from different weight classes are scored on two lifts — the snatch and clean & jerk — and the combined total from the heaviest of each (plus bodyweight as a tie breaker) determines their final ranking. But while the lists themselves have evolved over the past century (the press was only discontinued in the 1970s, and one-handed lifts were tested at Olympic events in the early 20th century), the weight categories have also evolved. This occurred most recently in 1998; women’s weightlifting was introduced at the Olympics at the 2000 Sydney Games.
With every recategorization, weightlifting’s world records are also reset. That explains, for instance, why the heaviest competition snatch and clean & jerk are NOT the current records in the superheavyweight class.
The infographic below outlines the current Olympic weightlifting weight classes, along with previous weight categorizations going back nearly a century.
Some more trivia for the weightlifting history buffs:
- The press was discontinued as an international weightlifting event in 1972. The heaviest press completed in competition was 236.5 kg by Vasily Alekseyev at the 1972 Soviet Championships. At that same competition, Alekseyev clean & jerked 237.5 kg, just one kilo more than he pressed. Training specifically for the press produced some pretty massive lifts, but it was difficult to judge, and many athletes utilized an exaggerated back bend in order to leverage more weight overhead.
- In the 1896 Olympic Games — the first modern iteration — weightlifting was one part of the Field event, and both one and two-handed lifts were tested.
- Weightlifting only became a standalone Olympic event in 1920. That year, the one-handed snatch, one-handed clean & jerk, and two-handed clean & jerk were the events tested.
- No athlete has won more than three Olympic gold medals in weightlifting. Lifters who have won three include Pyrros Dimas (who also won a Bronze at his last Olympic games), Halil Mutlu, Naim Suleymanoglu, and Kakhi Kakhiashvili.