Oct 29th, 2011
Serge Reding performing a fantastically strong clean and press
There are two contested events in modern Olympic weightlifting, the snatch, and the clean and jerk. However, this was not always the case. From 1928 until 1972, a third event was part of the contest, the clean and press. The clean and press was eliminated from competition after the Olympic Games in Munich due to a variety of reasons including difficulty in judging, Cold War politics, and a desire to shorten the duration of the weightlifting contest. John D. Fair wrote an excellent article that delves deeply into the history of the press in Olympic weightlifting for those that are interested.
The press used in the Olympics changed over the years to become a dynamic movement that involved violently whipping the hips, laying far back, and often unlocking the knees. In fact, as the weights climbed and judging became more lax, the press almost incorporated enough knee kick to suggest a push press. Bent knees aside, the Olympic press deviated enough from the more traditional two hands press, or shoulder press, to require its own special technique.
The amazing Serge Reding can be seen in the video at the top of the page pressing 503 pounds in Lima, Peru in 1971. Yes you read that number correctly. This lift represents one of the best examples of an Olympic press out there and is a classic moment in sports history. Reding was a Belgian superheavyweight who tragically died at the young age of 34. In the video above, he set the world record for the clean and press. You’ll note that he cleans and stands up with those 503 pounds with almost no trouble. Reding then aggressively whips his hips twice while he powers the bar upward. He took over a quarter of a ton sitting on the ground and then pressed it overhead. His world record lasted only a few minutes. Russia’s Vasiliy Alekseyev came along and cleaned and pressed 507 pounds after Reding’s lift to take both the first place spot and the world record.
When the press was removed from Olympic competition, the movement fell out of favor. This fall from popularity was compounded by the rise of the bench press as the preferred upper body strength lift. The shoulder press has seen a resurgence in recent years, although the Olympic press variant is still not widely practiced. It occupies a niche between the shoulder press and the push press and when watching some of these very strong athletes from the past press heavy weights overhead, it is hard not to feel like an important part of the sport of weightlifting was lost along the way.