2003 USAPL Men's Open Nationals
By Nectar Kirkiris
The 2003 Men's Nationals took on a country & Western theme making their debut in Rapid City, South Dakota. Located in the heart of the Badlands, which seems like a very appropriate location for powerlifting's national championships, Rapid City is a sprawling town of 60,000 residents just 10 miles south east of Mt. Rushmore. Now I've traveled to quite a few places in the US and around the world I have to say that the people in South Dakota have to be the friendliest group I have ever encountered. Everyone said "hello" to you on the street and seemed genuinely happy to talk to you at any given time. This is quite a contrast to my experiences growing up in Boston where the slightest bit of eye contact with a stranger is interpreted as an open challenge to fight to the death. This congeniality and hospitality was carried over to the meet itself as meet director, Steve Howard, put on one of the best meets I have ever been to. This sentiment seemed to be shared by many in attendance.
In putting on his first national meet, Steve Howard pulled out all stops. The warm-up room was very spacious and was equipped with 3 ER style combo racks and benches. There was a constant supply of water, Gatorade and fresh fruit free for all competitors and coaches throughout the competition. The backroom scorers table included 2 computer projection screens that showed the present flight, reordered in ascending order after each round, and the running totals for the flight and was manned by some of the loveliest scorekeepers this sport has ever seen as an added bonus. There was a chiropractor on duty throughout the competition and there was a large front area to the warm-up room for the lifters in the current flight to sit and be out of the way of the lifters warming up for the next flight. The platform was quite sturdy and at an elevation of 17 inches was the ideal height for putting the judges in a good position to judge depth while still allowing the audience a clear view of the lifters. The back of the venue included a makeshift commissary that was quite popular throughout the weekend as well. Just as important as having a good venue for a meet of this caliber is having a large and competent staff and Steve again excelled in this area. Steve and wife Brenda implemented a form of tribalism in assembling the staff for this competition that would be envied throughout the Middle East. I imagine that every relative, friend, acquaintance and probably a few drifters they kidnapped and brainwashed over the past year showed up to help out and ensured that everything ran flawlessly throughout the weekend. It would be difficult to find a more competent staff anywhere for any other event of this magnitude. If there was one complaint that could be made during the competition, it had to be regarding the layout of the meet hotel. Moe, Larry and Curly couldn't have made it more confusing to find your room if they designed the Ramkota. It actually became quite humorous encountering people in the hallway wandering around aimlessly with a dazed look on their face wondering where their room was during my stay there.
The main venue was also quite large and included several booths for House of Pain, Titan Support Systems, Inzer Advanced Designs and several local sponsors. The size of the venue also proved quite useful in allowing PAX SD to film the competition, which will be aired in the near future. The production was quite professionally done and included a camera crew on the lifter staging area, which allowed them to capture the "colorfulness" of the competitors and coaches. Curt St. Romain, whose style appears to be a combination of ESPN's Chris Berman and the WWF's Mean Gene Okerland, did color commentary and post-meet interviews with the champions. In addition to being the first USAPL Nationals to be filmed by a professional production company, this was also the first time that a USAPL commercial was produced which will be aired during the broadcast of this program. There are many people to thank for working to make this possible including Steve Howard, Priscilla Ribic, Bettina Altizer, Larry Maile, Kim Newman and numerous others that I am sure to have left out.
88 lifters took part in this competition and what a competition it was. Several weight classes were decided on the last deadlift, several world records were broken, the second highest total in IPF history was put up and 9 of the 11 winning totals from this year's nationals exceeded those from last year. Adding to the atmosphere of the meet was the appearance of powerlifing legend Mike Bridges, who is once again competing and dominating at the national level as a master's lifter. When I saw Mike, I began to think of a way to introduce myself and meet him. After some thought, I decided to go with a standard introduction of, "hello, I'm a big fan of yours. Can I get a picture with you?" Instead, when I approached him the best I could come up with was, "Hey, you're Mike!" So much for first impressions….
Ervin Gainer was the only lifter in the 114 class and the lack of competition seemed to cause him to have a few lapses in concentration, which resulted in a 5/9 day for him. Although this may seem like an off day for a returning multi-time national champion, he still was able to set the American record in the squat on his second attempt with 447lbs and the National record for total with 1226lbs. A lack of competition won't be a problem at worlds in November, as a solid performance there will put him in medal contention against the likes of Kazakov, Stanesyek and Hu.
The 123's were missing returning champion Alan Whigham, who suffered a shoulder injury shortly before nationals due to a freak accident at the gym when someone hit the bar while he was benching. Alan's pleasant personality and competitiveness were missed from this year's nationals and we all wish him a speedy recovery and a quick return to the competitive platform. Instead the 123's were the Damarrio "Doc" Holloway show as he made it known that he is now the man in this class when he put up a 1254lbs total on a 6/9 performance, which allowed him to make a big jump on his last 2 attempts for the American deadlift and total records which he was unsuccessful with, due to a comfortable 94lbs lead that he enjoyed after his first deadlift. At 22 years of age and with an ideal build to compete as a 123 or 132 lbs'er, Doc will be a force on the national and international level for quite some time. In second place was bench press national champion Peter Wong who broke his own American and National record in his best lift with a 3rd attempt 330lbs bench. 18 year old Michael Hafenbrack moved up a weight class this year and improved his total by 94lbs from last year's nationals, which allowed him to edge out Master's lifter Sam Meadows for third place.
The 132's were also missing the defending champion with the absence of multi-time national champion Tim Taylor. Tim had the longest streak of continuous national championships with 13 coming into this year but, some nagging injuries and general wear and tear from a long and productive powerlifting career appeared to have caught up to him this year. But, as was the case with the 123's, the absence of the defending champion didn't affect the quality of this class either as former national champion Hennis Washingtion and former junior national champion Trey Cunningham both came back to nationals with very impressive performances. Hennis came out and squatted a very powerful 544 on his third attempt, which broke the American record held by Justin Maile. This was followed up with a perfect 3/3 performance in the bench and deadlift as well, which gave him first place with a 1375lbs total. It was clear to me from watching Hennis lift that he was in cruise control the entire time and probably left about 30-50lbs on the platform, in my opinion. Equally as impressive was Trey Cunningham who only missed his 3rd attempt bench on an 8/9 day for a 1293lbs total and second place. Making his nationals debut by way of the American Open was Jimmy Kavarnos, who took third place honors. Last year marked the first time that winners of the American Open were automatically qualified for nationals and the performances of American Open champions like Jimmy proved how successful this program is. In addition to broadening the appeals of nationals to a wider lifter base, the enthusiasm, camaraderie, and sportsmanship showed by the American Open champions during the competition helped to enrich the atmosphere for all the other competitors as well. At the national level, we sometimes get overly caught up with how high we place, which makes us overlook the simple thrill of just being on the national platform and lifting.
Last year Greg Page needed a 600 deadlift on his last attempt to pull out the victory in the 148's. This year, there were 4 competitors who were attempting to move into first place on their last deadlifts in this class. When the chalk had cleared and the bar hit the floor for the last time…it was Scott Layman of Bakersfield, California who would hold the honor of calling himself USA national champion. Scott, who bombed in 01 and came in second last year was able to overcome a shaky performance in the bench with a class best squat of 572lbs and hold off Greg Simmons by 5.5lbs for first place with a 1463 total. 55lbs is all that separated 1st place from 5th. Greg who has been bit by the injury bug in the last few years came back to nationals and proved that the ability to make your attempts is what moves you up the standings. Putting together a textbook performance on how to lift, Greg quietly put himself in a position to pull for the win on his last deadlift with an 8/8 performance up to that point. Although the 22lbs jump between his 2nd and 3rd seemed within his ranged based on how well he locked out his 2nd attempt, it appeared as though he ran out of gas and didn't have anything left on his 3rd. Keith Siscney, who is long overdue to win this class, also lifted very intelligently, which put himself in a position to pull for the win on his last attempt, which also proved to be too much for him and had to settle for 3rd place. Based on last year's performance, all eyes were on Greg Page to see if he could again pull the big deadlift for the win. Unfortunately, just like last year, Greg again dug a big hole for himself by only going 2/6 through the sub total. After pulling 2 very strong deadlifts on his first 2 attempts, he needed 617 on his third for first place being that he was heavier than Scott. Unlike last year, this was a bit too much for him. While pulling the bar off the floor with authority, it slowed drastically when it reached his mid shins and after struggling with it for what must have been an eternity to him, the head judge mercifully gave him the down signal, which resulted in a disappointed 4th place finish for him. Moving up to the 148's and already being a veteran of Men's Nationals at only 17 years of age is Vincent Neidiliwka of Plainwell, Michigan. As part of the Plainwell Knights Powerlifting team under the tutelage of Todd and Karen Miller, Vincent is one of a growing group of extremely talented young lifters within USA Powerlifting. Keep your eye on Vincent in coming years. Paul Wong and Lance Slaughter both had disappointing days by going 4/9 and 5/9 respectively for 6th and 7th place. Even more surprisingly is that they both went 1/3 in their best lift, the bench press. In another parallel to last year, nobody in the 148's again hit the qualifying total of 1474 to automatically qualify for the world team.
With Tim Taylor missing nationals, Wade Hooper arrived in Rapid City with the longest streak of continuous nationals championships with 8. So dominant has Wade been over the last few years at the national level that he could have probably beaten his competition raw with just his openers. This year however, Ereik Nickson of Gary, IN seemed to be getting a lot of attention as a possible contender for the 165 title. Even PLUSA acknowledged the emergence of Ereik as a national level competitor by giving him a cover last summer. Apparently this was all the motivation Wade needed to take his lifting to the next level because he put on one of the most impressive displays of strength I have ever witnessed and had far and away his best meet ever as a 165'er. Wade has been chasing the squat WR for a few years now and has come close a few times with it in the past. This year, he left no doubt that he is the best 165lbs squatter in the world by making a very easy and deep 726lbs squat on his third attempt. I think 744 would have been well within range for him on this day. After this flight, there was some controversy as to whether the bar was properly loaded or not. The video replay of the lift appeared to show that a 2.5kg plate was missing from one side however, the judges didn't catch this before the bar was stripped and all signed the score sheet after the meet. Although it is unclear what the final ruling will be on this attempt, what is clear is that Wade will break this record again at worlds in November. Nickson, on the other hand, just seemed to have an off day entirely. After making 2 of the ugliest squats I have ever seen, he had 3 straight bench shirts blow out on him, which put him out of the competition. This was a loss for the audience because he has a very entertaining set-up for the deadlift. Wade had some problems in the bench by only making his opener with 446lbs but, what surprised many, even more so than his big squat, was the tremendous improvement in his deadlift. Wade finally pulled 600 with his second attempt and had a near miss with 633 on his third. This gave Wade a new American Record total of 1771lbs. A 1800 total is well within his range and if he can move his deadlift up to the mid 600's, then IPF gold will be very possible. Michael Macri finished second with a nice 7/9 performance followed by Sean Dicataldo, David Bracken, and Kenny Davis. Ed Bridges, younger brother of powerlifting legend Mike, had problems hitting depth with his squats and bombed out of the competition.
Defending national champion in the 181's, Rob Wagner, is taking sometime off from competitive lifting to concentrate on his PhD dissertation and showed up to nationals as a coach rather than a lifter this year. In a crowded and very competitive field, this allowed for quite a bit of speculation as to who would emerge and champion this year. This honor went to Rich Salvagni of Elkhart, IN who basically won the meet with his bench pressing ability by smashing Dave Ricks national bench record of 468 with 507lbs on his second attempt, which also tied Dennis Cieri's American Record. He then locked out a world record 3rd attempt with 528 but was called for uneven extension. Rich almost never got to bench as he had some trouble with his depth on his first 2 attempts before easily making his opener on his 3rd. After 2 good deadlifts to solidify the win he ended up with a 1716 total. Josh Decker had a solid 6/9 performance for second place and USAPL president elect and national coach, Larry Maile, showed that he practices what he preaches with a 7/9 day that earned him 3rd place. James Benemerito, Josh Decker's evil twin, returned to the national platform with only 5 weeks of training and finished in 4th place followed by Tony Reid. Bench problems plagued this class as Phil Harrington, Phil Gutwein and Vic Voinovich all failed to make a successful attempt while lying on their backs.
The 198's where perhaps on of the most controversial and disappointing classes of the meet. Disappointing in that the highly anticipated rematch between Ray Benemerito and Michael Mastrean never materialized as Mastrean suffered a pec injury during the later parts of his training and had to withdraw from the competition. This left the door wide open for Ray to cruise to another national title. Having seen Ray lift quite a few times over the years, it seems like he always provides some drama regardless of whom he is competing against and this year was no exception. After making 3 solid squats, he seemed very much in control and opened with 485 on the bench, which appeared to be a bit heavy for an opener on this day. After failing to lockout on his first 2 attempts, there was quite a bit of drama and tension as he went out for his third. Upon taking the bar and getting the start command, he lowered and pressed it to lock out with what appeared to be a fairly quick pause. Ray was at the judge's mercy as he waited for what must have felt like a lifetime to finally see 2 white lights. Watching this attempt from the back warm-up room surrounded by many other lifters and coaches, I can tell you that there was quite a bit of shock and dismay after this decision. All I will add to this is that the star athletes in every sport always seem to get the benefit of the doubt from the officials due to their performances over the course of many years. This is true whether it's in the NBA, NFL, NHL or even USAPL. Ray went on to deadlift 705lbs on his second attempt and fell backwards on to the platform with his third attempt with 720lbs. This caused quite a bit of concern for his well being among the loaders and the platform manager, which was offset by the unmerciful laughter and taunting at his misfortune from his New Jersey teammates. Aside from bruised ego, Ray was fine and finish with a 1920lbs total for first place. Greg Buffington of Napa, California continues to show great improvement with an 8/9 performance and finished in 2nd place ahead of Micheal Campbell and Todd Shelton. Billy Williams, Jesse Soule and Greg Jones failed to make their attempts and did not finish the competition.
The 220's were another highly anticipated class that featured a rematch of last year's top 2 finishers, Tony Succorotte and Charr Gahagan, and former junior phenom, Nick Tylutki. This class fully lived up to all of its pre-meet hype and was a classic battle that involved broken world records, clutch lifting and great coaching. Charr was ready to make up for a disappointing performance from last year while Tony was determined to prove that it was no fluke that he was the defending national champion. Succorotte's training had been going great until a slight knee injury a few weeks before nationals forced him to go a little more conservative with his squats. But, the star of the show during squats was definitely Tylutki. Nick has an almost dive bomb style and seemed to get more explosive and aggressive with each attempt and finished with a class best 748lbs. Equally as impressive was Charr who also went 3/3 with the squat while Tony seemed very tentative and only went 2/3 having to repeat his second attempt of 683lbs. After squats, Succorotte was in 6th place 77lbs behind Nick and 39lbs behind Charr. Normally these are substantial deficits at the national level but, when you can bench like Tony, they can be wiped out with your opener. When it came time to lie down, Succorotte showed why he is one of the best in the world. It took 22 years to break Mike McDonald's bench record in the 220's before Joe McAuliffe did it last year. This record again fell this year when Tony made a very powerful 580lbs second attempt, which vaulted him into the lead at the subtotal, 44lbs over Nick. Charr and Nick new that they couldn't match Tony in his best lift however, they also new that they had to make their attempts to stay close enough to be able to make up any gap with their deadlifts. This is exactly what both of them did when the bar hit the floor. Charr has become the premier deadlifter in the 220's over the past few years and was in a very good position at the subtotal. However, the pace of a national meet is such that it is very easy to run out of gas as you approach 3rd attempt deadlifts. What was unknown to most was the improvement to his deadlift that Tony has made in the past year. After Charr, Nick and Tony all made their openers easily, the stage was set for a finish to be remembered. After Nick and Tony both missed their second attempts, Charr moved into first place with a 770lbs pull on his second attempt to take by lead over Nick and Tony by 28lbs and 33lbs respectively. Tony went to 694 on his third, which he made, that again put him into the lead. Nick took 754 on his third, which he grinded up and came close to hitching and locked it out for white lights, which put him into the lead. Being the heavier man, Charr needed to pull 800, which is a national record, on his third attempt to win. From watching his second attempt with 770, it seemed like 800 definitely wouldn't be an easy lift. Surprisingly, the bar broke from the floor with quite a bit of pop and then suddenly began to slow dramatically as it passed his knees. Determined to not be denied for a second year in a row, Charr didn't stop until he received the down command from the head referee. From what appeared to be a quick signal from the head judge, it was unclear if this lift might be turned down. When the verdict was reached and the lights turned on, whites flashed all around. Charr was victorious in one of the hardest fought contests I have ever witnessed and rightfully earned a well deserved national championship. Nick Tylutki finished second only 5.5lbs behind while Succorotte had to settle for a very disappointing third. Tim Mcfarland of Montello, WI finished 4th while Jason "Deepsquatter" Burnell, used what little energy he had left from a busy previous day of helping his Californian teammates to finish 5th. Tom Hines provided quite a scare on his second attempt bench when the bar slipped out of his left hand in a freak repeat of a similar accident with SHW Van Hatfield at last year's nationals. After a few scary moments when Tom was having some trouble catching his breath, he walked off the platform under his own power and actually came out and repeated the weight on his third attempt, which was unsuccessful. He took a token deadlift just to total but fortunately didn't suffer any serious injuries. RJ Stills had some shoulder problems and couldn't complete any of his benches while Jason Shoopman couldn't get in a squat during the competition.
The 242's showcased another great match up with defending champion Tony Harris taking on former national champion Kevin Stewart. Coming into this meet, Kevin enjoyed a big advantage in the bench while Tony was the better deadlifter. But, in a national championship anything can happen. Harris opened conservatively in the squat while Stewart went with 771lbs on his opener which he grinded up. After this lift, it did not appear like he had much left and he failed to make his next 2 attempts. This seemed to present an opportunity for Harris but, while successfully standing up with his second squat, he hurt his right hamstring, which caused him to miss his third attempt squat with 800. Kevin turned up the heat with 3 good benches finishing with a new national record of 561lbs. But, Harris showed a nice improved bench also by making a pr 517 with a 3/3 performance in that lift as well. Stewart was in the lead at the subtotal by 17lbs but the surprising second place lifter was Steve Mann who through a 6/6 performance up to this point was having a great meet. Harris was in third by 5.5lbs. Watching Harris warming up for deadlifts and limp around the warm-up room, it was obvious that his hamstring was bothering him a lot. Tony opened with a 600lbs deadlift that he lifted stiff-legged style while Kevin went 688lbs for a good life and a big 116lbs lead. At this point, the meet came down to coaching and strategy. Although it was obvious that Harris wouldn't be able to deadlift up to his capabilities, Stewart had to be careful in determining how big of a jump to take on his second attempt in order to ensure the win. Stewart decided to take a 22lbs jump on his second attempt deadlift for a 705lbs lift, which he failed to lock out. Harris also took 705 on his second attempt and again stiff-legged it to lock out in a very slow grinding fashion. Once Stewart again failed to lockout 705 on his third. The stage was set for Harris to pull for the win by virtue of body weight with a 716lbs third attempt. In what was truly a very gutsy performance in spite of a painful injury, Harris again stiff-legged the weight off the floor and locked it out for white lights and showed the true heart of a champion. I would like to wish Tony a speedy recovery before worlds. Kevin had to again settle for a very disappointing second while Steve Mann's deadlift abilities took him out of contention for the top 2 spots but still ensured him a solid third place. Angelo Poulich finished in 4th followed by Shane Newark and Mitch Edelstein. Jon Magendie failed to make any of his squats and Mike O'Donnell's squat suits all held up this year but unfortunately he had troubles with his bench and couldn't make any attempts.
Another highly anticipated rematch occurred in the 275's, which ended in a 3 way slugfest last year in Chicago with Willie Croner edging out Tony Cardella and Greg Wagner. These gentlemen were joined by 15 other 275'ers in what was the biggest single class ever in USAPL history for a national contest. Although everyone was expecting Croner, Cardella and Wagner to all contend for the top spot, few people saw Scott Lade as a serious threat due to the troubles he's had at previous nationals. Having seen Scott lift around the Chicago area for the past few years, it is obvious to see that he is a true student of the game and works very hard on all the little details that separate the great lifters from the weekend warriors. Speaking to him before the competition, he seemed very relaxed and confident and was looking forward to surprising many people at this year's nationals. Also looking for some redemption were 2001 national champion Tony Cardella and 2002 3rd place finisher and world team member Greg Wagner. But, all of these gentlemen would have to get past defending national champion Willie Croner, who looked absolutely determined to defend his title. Looking extremely powerful with his best lift, Croner took a 3rd attempt squat with 880lbs that he appeared to sit a little too far back with and miss. Strength didn't seem to be an issue with this attempt, however, this miss proved to be costly as the meet went on for Willie. Not to be outdone was Greg Wagner who rammed up 3 good squats to the enthusiastic support of a large hometown cheering section and finished with 853lbs. Tony Cardella and Scott lade both went 3/3 and finished with 815lbs best squats and Ryan Goldin dive bombed his was to an impressive 792lbs with an unsuccessful 3rd attempt with 822lbs. Also impressive was former SHW national champion Sean Culnan who had dropped almost 60lbs in bodyweight during the past year. Talking to Sean before the contest, he mentioned how he had to greatly alter his squatting style and greatly improve his core strength for this lift. After looking very shaky at the North American's back in March, it appears as though he is back on track with an impressive and very strong successful 3rd squat with 726lbs. Sean is a naturally good deadlifter and I expect him to be a national contender in this class in a few years. What followed during the bench press was truly impressive to watch. Not only did Scott Lade break Midote's world record bench of 650lbs, he absolutely destroyed it with a 661lbs second effort. If he had a better hand-off for his third attempt with 671, I don't doubt that he would have made that as well. The second biggest bench in this class was 589lbs by Ryan Goldin. Cardella had to settle for 550 after missing 560 on his third while Wagner made 567lbs and Croner showed a nice improvement in his weakest lift with 517lbs effort. Mike Hartle hit a pr 530lbs bench, which was 5th best in this class. At the subtotal, Lade found himself alone in first place with a 55lbs and 94lbs lead over Greg Wagner and Ryan Goldin respectively who are not known for their deadlifting abilities. Lade also had a huge 110lbs lead over Cardella and Croner who can deadlift big. At this point, I couldn't help but start to quote Bill Murray's character in Caddy shack when thinking of Lade…"coming out of no where…a real Cinderella story…ohh! It's another world record". Doing his best Lee Moran impersonation, Scott's mission was to deadlift enough to hold off Cardella and Croner and pull off the upset. After opening with a strong 617lbs pull, Scott set up poorly on his second attempt and hurt his back attempting 633lbs. This provided his competitors with the opportunity to make up some serious ground, which they both took full advantage of. Cardella opened with a very strong 705lbs pull to move with 22lbs of Scott while Willie failed with 711 and appeared to be running out of stream. Just when it appeared as though Scott was going to be passed, Cardella let the bar get too far in front of him and missed his second attempt to the shock and horror of his coaches. Big Willie Croner grinded a repeat of his opener on his second attempt and made 711lbs but this appeared to be a limit lift for him. Going into the last attempts, Lade was still hanging on to first place and went out and again attempted to pull 633lbs, which he was again unable to lock out. Willie made a valiant effort with 726lbs but was too spent at this point to complete the lift. He would have to settle for 3rd place this year. All that remained was for Cardella to make his third attempt to once again claim the title of national champion. Calling for 744 lbs, he set up confidently and successfully pulled it with enough authority that left no doubt that he was the best 275'er this year. Scott Lade finished second followed by Willie Croner, Greg Wagner, Ryan Goldin, Sean Culnan and Brad Madvig, who developed quite an appreciation for Ouzo after the contest.
Like in every nationals, the finale is the SHW class and this years SHW's put on a show to be remembered. Defending champion, Brian Siders, had put up a huge 2380lbs total at the Mountaineer Cup a month previously and was coming to nationals looking for even more. Brian always seems to lift much better under the watchful eye of his coach Scott Messinger who made the trip out from West Virginia to help Brian out. As a result, Brian seemed much more relaxed throughout the competition, which allowed him to focus much better and put together one of the greatest performances ever seen in our sport. Going 3/3 with his squats Brian finished with a ridiculously easy 909lbs on his third attempt, in which he probably could have done another 20-30lbs. Then with his favorite lift he smashed the SHW American and National records with a 671lbs second attempt and just missed locking out 700 on his third. There appeared to be some controversy with his second attempt as to whether his hips came off the bench but, the judges didn't think this was the case and passed the lift. This gave Brian a MASSIVE 1579lbs subtotal and it became apparent to everyone in attendance that he was within eyesight of Bill Kazmeier's legendary 2425lbs total with an 846lbs deadlift. Unfortunately, the pace of the meet seemed to catch up to Brian he had to settle for 804lbs on the deadlift. This gave him first place with a 2382lbs total which is the highest ever in USAPL history and second highest of all time. Not one to let something like another major bicep tear deter him from qualifying for the world team, Brad Gillingham found himself in a similar position this year as last year. The big advantage he had was that he had the confidence coming into Rapid City of having been through this before. For the sake of sounding like a broken record, Brad again accepted an invitation to lift in the strongman competition at the Arnold classic and nearly completely tore his other bicep during the course of that competition. On the bright side, he can probably pass off the matching scars on each bicep as some type of body modification art should people ask. Brad will tell you that he doesn't consider himself to be a squatter and it is fairly obvious to all who have seen him compete that this is the lift that he is least confident in. This appears to be changing over the past year as Brad has shown tremendous improvement in this lift. After seeing how aggressive and confident he looked with his 815lbs opener, it was obvious to me that Brad would squat big on this day. Taking 864lbs for his third attempt, he went down fast and deep and stood up with it very easily. 880lbs is a definitely possibility for Brad at worlds. After a 3/3 performance on the bench finishing with 611lbs, which also appeared to be a generous call from the judges for a quick pause in Brad's favor, it was obvious that Brad's recent injury would prevent him from contending with Brian for first place and the automatic birth on the world team. Again, just like last year, Brad had to rely on the fact that an alternate opening existed on the world team due to no one in the 148's succeeding in making the automatic qualifier. Therefore, Brad's main mission going into the deadlift was not only to ensure a second place finish but to also pull what he needed in order to be the top alternate. Both of these goals were achieved with 3 successful pulls with 748, 781 and 809lbs. The last of which culminated in a double bicep pose from big Brad after getting the 3 white lights. It will be quite impressive to see Brian and Brad taking another shot at IPF gold this November in Denmark. Weighing in at 534lbs, Jeff Lewis was the largest man ever to lift at nationals. Watching him lift, it is quite impressive to see how nimble and athletic he is for a man his size. Although it is difficult to judge his depth, he was quite impressive to watch squatting as he finished with a successful 848lbs 3rd attempt. When he sat down to bench, the bench looked like a thong bikini on a supermodel. His massive torso actually extended further than the bar at lockout. Jeff used this to help make 3 successful attempts with a pr best 650lbs on his third attempt. Showing that a man his size can deadlift too, he opened with a very strong 688lbs and then had grip problems holding onto 765lbs, which gave him a 2184lbs total and 3rd place. Dennis "White Rhino" Huslander finished in 4th on bodyweight over Lance Karabel, who both finished with 2057lbs totals. Junior and Scott Lade protégé, Jason Christus, showed that everyone from Wisconsin benches what they deadlift with a 605lbs bench and 633lbs pull for 6th place. 2004 Men's Nationals meet director, Paul Fletcher finished seventh and American Open champion Micheal D'Amore had a great meet with an 8/9 performance. Dan Gudreau broke his own Master's bench press world record and took token squats and deadlifts, which earned a few interesting words of encouragement from USAPL VP Johnny Graham.
Team Quest won top honors for team scoring while team Titan was hurt by a couple of costly bomb outs on the first day of competition and had to settle for second.
Overall, this was one of the most entertaining and exciting meets I have ever been to. Not to be overshadowed by the lifting, is the amount of camaraderie and fellowship shared by everyone at nationals, which greatly adds to the atmosphere and experience of the entire weekend. This is truly one of the premier events in powerlifting in the USA and I encourage every fan of this sport to come and experience it for themselves. The only thing I would recommend against is staying up until 6am drinking beers with a couple of guys from Wisconsin. But this story is better told over a few drinks at next year's nationals. Till then…stay strong!
All Photos thanks to Sioux-z Hartwig