The trend is clear: Tokyo 2020 was the strongest overall performance by Team USA in decades. We sat down with USAW CEO Phil Andrews for a quick Q&A to talk about how Team USA made it happen.
Overall, what are your thoughts on the Tokyo Olympics 2020?
"It's a positive reflection on what everyone at USAW has done over the past three or four years: we had the best games in decades from a lot of perspectives. We had our most diverse team, we had two female medalists for the first time in 21 years, we had a consecutive games of medaling for the first time in over 50 years. Those are really great outcomes. And it's not just the Olympics, it's the whole quad that went with it. And it's not just the people who went to the games, but the people who pushed them to get there. Especially for women if you look down our roster below the Olympians, we are extremely proud of the whole Team USA and the level at which we compete."
Team USA had the best performance in decades. What changes would you say USAW made that had such a positive impact?
"The decentralized training and centralized leadership where we focused on supporting athletes where they are with their personal coaches, as opposed to centralizing our system, really helped to drive competition and personalization of the program vs generalization of the program. Which goes on to my other point: treating people as real humans. Ultimately, we are a results-based business. But in reality, we are an organization that changed from a governing body to a service body. That was a critical thing we did across the four or five years, was to really try to build a community and build service. And that's the critical atmosphere that changed and caused that massive push outwards."
Versus prior years, what obstacles did you navigate with respect to the COVID era?
"What was much more challenging to deal with wasn't the physical training. It was the lack of competitions and the constant change. We aim to protect our athletes from the winds of change or the comings and goings of the IWF and keep them focused with clarity about what's going on. With COVID it was change all the time and that was really a massive challenge to deal with. Keeping yourself focused has been a challenge for everyone. Kate Nye is a great example of that. Almost 3 months before the games she was quite frustrated with the COVID situation and really had to find her passion for the sport again and boy, did she, coming back to win a silver medal at the games."
What was your ultimate goal for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics?
"When we set out on this journey four years ago, the goal was simply to bring a full team. It wasn't to do with medals. It was to do with bringing a full team to the Games and whether that was something we could make happen. And it really was quite special seeing this team come back after a year of COVID and compete so well."
What will USA Weightlifting do differently for future Olympics?
"Ultimately, the Olympic games is just a different environment that is a real mental challenging when you get there, to ignore those five rings and the pressure that is the Olympic games. I think where we have to do a better job as an organization is supporting our athletes to prepare for that moment. We need to make sure they're ready and supported for that moment. And that's where we can improve our support to them."
What actionable goals or plans has USA Weightlifting started on to improve?
"I've already reached out to a medalist in another sport who went through a similar state in their first Olympics and asked them to speak to our group and they are. We're just working out when that makes sense and when we want to start approaching next time around with our athletes. Right now it's still time to give athletes space to rest and process their games. It's not just the games, it's the whole quad, and that's sort of left off of everything.
It's also really tough because it's the only environment the US competes in that's like that, whereas Canada and England compete in the Commonwealth Games and to them it's a massive deal. So one of the things we've been looking at is do we take our top-ranked athletes to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England in order to experience what the pressure is like and the atmosphere is like."
Any advice for weightlifters or Olympic hopefuls battling nerves in competition?
"Treat it like any local competition. There's a barbell, there's a platform, there's some judges. It's basically the same thing. That's one thing that Kate Nye made a very interesting comment about, that she quite liked that there were no spectators because it made it feel normal to where she usually competes. That made it easier to compartmentalize the fact that it is the Olympic Games. Block it out. Remember: do what you do. It's a barbell, it's you, it's some weights. Can you lift it? Yes you can. And go for it."
Overall, despite COVID postponing the event by a year and navigating Olympic preparations amidst COVID restrictions, Team USA had a standout year. Here are some quick snippets:
- USAW sent a full team to the Olympics, 4 men and 4 women, for the first time in 25 years.
- Team USA came away with 2 medals, the best performance in decades.
- Team USA showed up with their most diverse team in history.
That's not to mention the slew of individual record-setting performances: Kate Nye with the first USA Women's Olympic silver medal; Sarah Robles as the first weightlifter to earn two Olympic medals in 57 years; Harrison Maurus winning fourth for a male USA weightlifter for the first time in 30 years--along with American records shattered by Nye, Robles, Maurus, and Wes Kitts.
This year's Olympic Games were a little unusual. And for USA Weightlifting, the best yet. Needless to say, we here at C&K are excited to watch this team continue to grow and bring standout performances to the world stage.