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Once a dominant international force in weightlifting, the United States last won an Olympic medal in that sport in full competition in 1976, when Lee James did us proud by finishing second to then-Soviet
lifting legend David Rigert. The U.S. Weightlifting Federation makes no bones about it-its officials have had it with the drought and want to see at least one American win a medal at the next Olympics.
A critical element in our '96 Olympics game plan revolves around a high-powered Romanian import, one Dragonmir Cioroslan, who is the U.S. national coach. Make no mistake about it, Dragonmir has his hands full. Not only does he face the challenge of rebuilding the team, but he has to do it while the entire sport is going through a major transition. If you haven't already guessed, a key tool in Dragoninir's arsenal is changing the way his lifters think. Here's the situation. Nineteen ninety-three will go down as a watershed year in the history of Olympic-style weightlifting.
Sweeping rule changes affected everything from permissible attire to the once-sacrosanct bodyweight classes, and lifters can even wear gloves in competition now. (My goodness!) In addition to these internal changes, the sport has been altered forever by certain world events specifically, the breakup of the Soviet Union, long a juggernaut in the sport, into 12 independent republics. Now the Americans face the very real possibility of being beaten by not just one or two lifters from the USSR, but by a handful in many weight classes.
The perennial battle against banned substances took yet another turn in '93 as weightlifting administrators began looking to the new blood test as a means of laying the issue to rest. And if all of the above wasn't putting enough pressure on the U.S. weightlifting community the sport's showcase event the Olympics will be staged in our backyard, in Atlanta, in 1996, and with the prestige of hosting the Games comes the added incentive to perform at our best. Cioroslan would seem to be a good candidate to help pull off a dramatic turnaround in U.S. weightlifting fortunes and put at least one of our lifters on the podium in Atlanta because his life has already had something of a Walt Disney twist.
Imagine a puny, sickly child who spent long periods of time in the hospital and who was laughed at by the coach the first time he entered a gym. After all, the 15-year-old Dragonmir was 4'9" tall and weighed less than 75 pounds. He persisted, however, and even though he broke down from overtraining when he started, he stuck with it and began to make such progress that he not only wasn't laughed at anymore, but he was advised that he might one day become a champion-a miraculous notion to the once-bedridden youth. His many accomplishments include an Olympic bronze medal in weightlifting and Romania's highest coaching credential, which he earned before coming to America in 1990 as head of the Resident Training Program for the American lifters living at the U.S. Olympic Raining Center in Colorado Springs.
Already Cioroslan has made his mark in coaching U.S. weightlifters. With his help ex-powerlifter Mark Henry made the '92 Olympic team in one year, and another American, Tim McRae, our highest finisher at the Barcelona Games, is improving steadily. U.S. Weightlifting Federation President Jim Schmitz called Dragonmir's performance "truly outstanding."
During 15 years of training as an athlete and 10 more as a coach Cioroslan has "been in contact with very many specialists and experts in the field of sport throughout the world, including the Russians, the Bulgarians, the East Germans-the major representatives of the sport,' he said. He has also done his share of library research in looking for the key to athletic success. 'The conclusion which 1 am able to formulate at this moment is obvious," he related. "Those athletes and coaches who increased tremendously in their volume and intensity in training were the most successful in international competition."
In order to apply this principle to his U.S. coaching assignment, Dragonmir 'had to break the mental limitations athletes had before." American lifters have traditionally trained three times a week, and Cioroslan's feeling is that "with only three days per week you cannot do more than conditioning-type work, and the performance obtained from that will not be competitive anymore at the international levels.
The need to increase constantly the volume and intensity is probably one of the major changes I brought to the United States." Dragonmir explained that his training philosophy is "based on the idea that higher loads of volume and intensity by challenging the athlete's biological system, will bring with them higher training effects which will be translated into higher performance." Let's talk for a minute about just what he meant by 'higher loads of volume and intensity." Under Cioroslan's leadership the resident weight- lifters at the Olympic miming Center "train 12 times a week, consuming up to 30 to 33 hours of specific training a week and up to 1,200 training hours a year," he said. "We're training here 300 days a year without breaking up too much, without taking too much time off, and most of the athletes are responding by increasing their total results by up to 60 kilograms a year. And these are elite athletes."
Dragonmir told of how in a recent week the training program called for the lifters to perform 700 repetitions over 12 sessions, all of which took about 33 hours, and how those repetitions were for weights that were 80 percent or more of the athletes' bests. He also reported that 95 percent of the athletes performed according to the plan. As radical as this type of training might sound, Cioroslan explained it very matter of factly. "It is well- known and proven by the sports scientists that...it is very difficult to have tremendous impact on the athlete's performance without this type of approach," he said.
Lest you think that this merely proves the power of banned substances, understand that Dragonmir is an advocate of high-quality protein and vitamin-and- mineral supplements but nothing stronger. This is a 100 percent clean program, and Cioroslan holds it out as an example of what "it's possible to achieve using this type of training without any drug abuse." Does he think that some people have given up too quickly and become crybabies about training clean? "Oh, absolutely," he said. "People who gave up the fight for training under clean conditions without using steroids...just gave upon the change of knowledge and the scientific approach to training sessions because if you look into the possibilities open to you by sports science, the methodology of training programs according to modern principles, you still find extraordinary resources to improve your biological performance, your mental performance, allowing adaptation to higher and higher effort.
The only barriers will be your own mental limitations." Indeed, controlling the mind is a major factor in Dragonmir's approach, as he continually urges his athletes to, "concentrate, concentrate, concentrate... it's all in the mind…you know you can do it, you can!"