Less than a week after the Rio Olympics, and weightlifting fans in American and abroad are still re-watching records, highlights, and even some downright odd moments from the 2016 Games. While many of us payed close attention to the actual lifting happening on the sport’s most famous stage, there was plenty of activity on the floor between sessions and even the attempts themselves. A large, multinational team of IWF officials, judges, jury members, media, and volunteers were needed to run the competition.
Officials rarely get much air time, but one face American spectators in attendance might recognize was that of Phil Andrews, who served as Field of Play Manager for weightlifting at the Rio Olympics. Andrews has been with USA Weightlifting since 2013 and was appointed CEO earlier this year.
Shortly after his return to the US, I caught up with Phil to discuss his role in Rio, what made this Games different from most, and what Sarah Robles performance could signal for weightlifting in America.
Tell me about your role in Rio. How is Field of Play Manager selected?
I was asked by Pedro Meloni (Rio 2016 Weightlifting Manager) and Attila Adamfi (IWF Director General) to do this role in around early April of 2016, just after the Rio Test Event. The Field of Play Manager is responsible for the Field of Play, which is essentially the areas you see on TV – the competition platform and the warm up room, including things like loading. It was an honor to be asked, especially after we hosted the IWF World Championships in 2015.
What was your day-to-day like, especially during sessions? Where there any moments you think were most challenging for organizers and officials? For yourself?
The meet went well, but like any large meet was not without it’s challenges. At this level of competition everything must be perfect for the competitor, it is the highest level of the sport. So ensuring that was consistent for each session, both B and A, was a challenge. Clearly, a moment that stands out as a major challenge was the protest from the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Jury overturn of Clean & Jerk attempt 2 for their competitor. The team had the defending Olympic Champion recovering from injury and unfortunately a press out call from the jury contributed to no total being posted, although he did set a World Record in the Snatch.
What — if anything — stood out to you as unique to the Rio Games?
Rio 2016 managed to pull together the competition with less resources than any other Olympic Games in recent history. The fact that athletes, coaches, technical officials really didn’t suffer as a result is a testament to the creative way in which the competition was managed, and that credit really goes to Pedro Meloni. Other than that, I think we saw some great competition – with the 77kg and +105kg sessions standing out. Of course, a personal highlight was Sarah Robles securing the Bronze for the USA in the +75kg category, then standing with our team as the flag was raised. That was a special moment.
What roles have you played in other Olympic Games?
With the organizing committee I have not. I was involved with the US team in London 2012, managing the High Performance Training Center for the USOC, as well as several other Games related functions with a total of 31 organizations over the Olympic & Paralympic Games. It was that experience that eventually led me to USA Weightlifting.
Pedro Meloni is USAW’s new Senior Manager for Events, and he also managed weightlifting in Rio (as well as the Paralympic Games, Opening September 7th). Where are American weightlifters and fans most likely feel his impact most once his tenure starts?
Pedro is fantastic at what he does, I think he can take what we have already done and improve it. Pedro is a creative thinker and knows how to make the best of limited resources, and I think that will certainly help him here. The fact that his last competition was the Olympic Games cannot be a bad thing for our Athletes. There are certainly presentation items where I think Pedro can improve what we do.
What does Sarah Robles bronze medal finish mean for USA Weightlifting?
I think first of all, congratulations to Sarah Robles and her coach, Tim Swords. Sarah went 6 for 6 and showed a PR in the Total. We also had great performances with American Records in Snatch from Jenny Arthur and Morghan King. With that said, of course it means a great deal that we are returning to the medal stand after 16 years. It shows that the USA can medal at the Olympic Games and it is absolutely something we should be aiming for in 2020, 2024 and beyond.
Featured image: @USA_Weightlifting on Instagram, photo by Steve Galvan (@sickangles)