2003 USAPL National Bench Press Championships

Meet Director: Joe Morreale

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By Kevin Farley

This year's USAPL National Bench Press Championships took place in Newark, New Jersey. The championships were held at the Holiday Inn at Newark's Liberty Airport. The hotel is very close to the airport making it very accessible for out of town lifters. Transportation to New York City is also readily available. I believe a few of the married male lifters discovered that New York shopping was a little too close for their wives to pass up. This may have resulted in some nice charges on those spanking new USAPL Master Cards! Way to support the USAPL guys.

The Championships were held under the watchful eye of Joe Morreale and the Pro Fitness team. Pro Fitness is one of the largest powerlifting teams in the US and they are all very experienced at running large meets. How bad can you do when you have a platform crew consisting of international level competitors like Ray and James Benemerito, Jerry Dally, Bill Scully and Brian Callahan? Plus, Eric Curry was flown in from Cleveland to continue to develop his reputation as the best hand off man in the world. I should also give credit to Gino Biancheri who may be the best announcer I have ever seen. Gino does some MC work on the side and has even worked some fitness and beauty contests in the past. He certainly did a good job of keeping the audience awake with his one liners and some off the wall references. The meet was very well run. There were, however, a significant number of lifters who were unhappy with the strictness of the judging. I have heard a number of possible explanations for this and I am not going to give them any play here. Suffice it to say, that I think a national championship should be judged similarly to the IPF Worlds.

The meet represented the first time that American Records could be broken in a Bench Press Championship. A great deal of thanks should go to Steve Petrancek who fought for the establishment of these records. Steve also went through the archives to put together the existing records before this meet. The current list of records is available elsewhere on this website.

The lifting started on Saturday with the women. In the 97lb class Catherine Sloan lifted unopposed and had a 2 for 3 day ending with 132lb third attempt. At 104lbs teenager Gayle Sampson also lifted unopposed and managed to get in a 99lb second attempt for the win.

There were several lifters who have done very well in full meets that decided to come to the Bench Nationals this year. Chief among these is current Women's World champ, Sioux-z Hartwig. Sioux-z, who may actually be the nicest person on the planet, came because she said she enjoys seeing all of her friends and loves the camaraderie. Despite her calm demeanor off the platform, and despite a bad job of cinching up her belt by yours truly, Sioux-z put up a very nice 220lb third attempt at 114lbs for a new American Record. Unfortunately, Faydra Geraghty last year's representative on the Bench World Team was unable to satisfy the judges on any of her attempts. However, Faydra had other reasons to be happy this weekend.

At 123lbs Jill Darling had come down a weight class from Open Bench Worlds this past December. Looking lean and mean, she punched up a nice 253lbs on her third attempt. I know several of us male lifters who would kill for Jill's tricep mass. Kimberly Aanenson was second and Maria Sarris took third. Leigh Haines took the Master 40-44 title with a 143lb effort.

Jennifer Thompson came in hobbling on an injured knee that was to be operated on Monday after the meet. In fact, her husband Donavan made sure to mention how much he was set to enjoy his duties as a "post operation nurse". With the gimpy knee wrapped up (the first time I believe I have ever seen a knee wrap used at a bench meet) Jennifer powered through three easy attempts ending with a World Record of 314lbs. Jen is very long and lean for a bench press specialist, but I don't believe she has come anywhere near her ultimate potential. Once the knee is rehabbed, look out! Lori Stiegler took the Master 40-44 crown with a 165lbs. In the 60-64 age group, one of my favorite lifters and surprise Bronze Medallist at this year's Master World Bench Press Championships, the Honorable Faith Ireland made a nice 115lb effort for the win. Faith is a State Supreme Court Justice in the state of Washington and is one of the most positive people you will ever meet.

The 148lb class featured Jennifer Robertson and her comeback third attempt of 236lbs for the win. Theresa Kunsman made it close with a second attempt 231lbs. This class also featured the beginning of the bomb brigade that would grow to epic proportions by Sunday night. Both Helen Sauer, the best lifter in her age group at the Master Bench Worlds, and Diane Siveny, a veteran of several World teams went 0 for 3. In both cases it was not strength deficit but technique issues.

Christy Newman was the victim of tough judging at the World's in December but she sure came back strong here. Christy, who has the best arch this side of Asia, put up a great 308lb third attempt with room to spare to win the 165lb class. I see World Championship medals in her very near future. Brooke Freiman, a former World Team member herself, came back after a some time off and looked great with the weights but couldn't get enough white lights to upset Christy. In third place here was probably the strongest teenage women I have ever seen and one with some great bloodlines to boot. Devan Doan, all of 15 years of age, put up 270lbs! It is very sad that I can remember Devan as a pre-teen screaming "Go Daddy Go" for her dad Dave at meets in the early nineties! Finishing out the 165lb class was 45-49 class winner Maureen Post. Maureen made a 203lb third which I am sure she will improve upon next year at Master Worlds.

At 181lbs a slimmed down Disa Hatfield showed the field how it is done with a 275lb effort. I have always enjoyed Disa's intelligent writing in the various powerlifting journals and I am only sorry I did not have a chance to talk to her during the weekend. Sandra Perron lifted well in second, though I am sure not as well as she would have liked. I must thank Sandra for not displaying any of the photographic evidence of my Sunday night debauchery. I only hope she has destroyed the negatives!

Paulette Calhoun is one of the steadiest lifters you will ever find. She always knows what she is capable of and she always performs under pressure. It was no different here as she took Gold in the Lifetime and Master 40-44 classes. I expect Paulette will continue her streak of World Championship medals in Slovakia next Spring.

The 198 + category featured Gold Medallist and record holder Deb Ferrell. Deb had some equipment trouble and scared everyone with an ill timed asthma attack, but still lifted 391lbs to take an easy first place. I am still not sure how I ended up carrying her kosher Cajun cookbook (no I am not making that up!) all around New York, but Deb I'll carry your books anytime anywhere! Charity Reynolds, another World Team member from 2002 took first in the Lifetime division with a 198lbs.

The Men's classes started with Hung Pham. Hung is extremely low key. At the Bench America meet in Chicago, I wasn't sure if he was awake half the time. But here, just as in Chicago, the low-key demeanor worked for him as he proved with a very nice 308lb third. Eric Kratz took the teenage title with a 176lbs.

The 123 class featured both Peter Wong and Steve Petrancek. Steve needed to cut a substantial amount of weight and it effected his lifting more than he had anticipated. I don't think he was ready to lift until Ralph Young and Steve Spinelli worked him over before his third attempt. Fortunately, Steve took his beating and made his third. However, Peter Wong continued his recent gains by making the same 330lbs and beating Steve on bodyweight. Junior Adam Zehia took third and teenager Brian Blackmon was fourth.

Joe Smith is a very deceiving 132lber. He looks strong, but 380lbs? That is ridiculous. And Joe is only 26. You can't even dislike the guy for being arrogant. He is very unassuming and a pleasure to be around. Man, don't you hate when a guy makes it look so easy? All kidding aside, I think Joe has a great future and I wish him the best. Mike Kuhns made a nice 281 to take the Raw division, Robert Coisson was first at Master 40-44 and photo man Jim Kavarnos took the Master 45-49 with a 225lb effort.

The battle at 148lbs was a great one. The contestants included Bench America promoter Joe Mukite, Paul Wong of the benching Wongs, World Teamer Lance Slaughter and newcomer Miguel Ruelan. Mukite had to settle for his opener of 380. Joe has had a busy year and I am sure he will be back in USAPL competition soon. Paul Wong made only his opener of 385lbs. Paul has more in him than he showed on this day. Lance Slaughter, a veteran of World competition, had a very off day and couldn't lock out 385 on any of his three tries. This opened the door for the upset as Miguel Ruelan made a shirt change between his second and third attempts and came back to make a do or die third with 391lbs. Truly a clutch effort Miguel! Dan Bedford won the Lifetimes, Mike Santiago the Police and Fire, Dan Pope the collegiates, Roger Tinicham took the Raw division and Joe Scribner made a nice 336lbs to win the Master 40-44. In Master 60-64, Ivan Zwick set a new Master World Record with an incredible 297lbs. If Nectar and I can only get Ivan to perform like this at Master Worlds I will die a happy man!

This year, Mike Hara lifted at 165lbs without the benefit of Larry Miller to push him. Mike, who is bothered by a shoulder injury, made his opener of 496lbs and was stopped twice by 523lbs. I believe Mike is seriously considering surgery on his shoulder as the pain has become debilitating. Good luck Mike; maybe when you get back it will be as a member of the "Baldies". Mark Richmond took second in the open with a 424lbs. One of the best stories of this weekend was the return to the platform of Micah Geraghty. Micah is well known as the "shirt guru" for his ability to fit a shirt just right. In fact, I believe there is a shrine to him somewhere in England. Julian can you get back to me on that one? This past Spring, Micah was scheduled to go to the Master Bench Worlds as a coach. However, he was involved in a horrific car accident shortly before the team was to leave. Thrown through the windshield of his car, it looked for awhile like he might not make it and he still faces some reconstruction surgery on the injuries he suffered. So, for him to come back at this meet and make a 352lb lift was both an inspiring and welcome sight. Welcome back Micah, it was good to see you. Adam Chamie won the Raw class with a fine 358lbs and another inspiring story, cancer survivor Tim Rickett was second. Joseph Caliguri won the 40-44's and Police and Fire. Loren Mangino won the Collegiates, Clutch performer and Master World medallist Jay Haines made some great gains in the 50-54's with a 363lbs lift. Jeff Fremont won the 55-59 age group, Randy Titus the 60-64's and Peter Hubbard, who emailed me before the meet won the 65-69's. Peter let me know how you felt about your lifting. Finishing out this great class was 83 year old Dr. Anton Reel. Showing the rest of us how to do it Dr. Reel won the 80-84 year old class and went three for three!

The aforementioned Dr. Larry Miller moved up to the 181lb class this year. Larry has been having difficulty with getting a bench shirt that he was comfortable with as of late and he hoped the extra weight would make a difference. Larry managed a 512lb Master World Record lift on his third attempt, but I am sure he was expecting more of himself. Now, I just need to convince him that he should go to Slovakia and break some more World Records there! New Jersey native Joe Dematteo was second with 484. Andy Furnas was third in the Open and won the Lifetimes. The venerable Jim Hart took the Police and Fire then put back on his judge's blazer. John Hall took first in the Raw division, Mike Cuipinski the Collegiates, Grant Passman won the 40-44's, Pat Carroll the 45-49's. Steve Harms upheld his family honor (his wife, World Team member Jeanne failed to get a lift in) by beating New Jersey State Chair and referee Bill "Red Light" Clayton in the 50-54's. Ron Hemenway took the 60-64's and Jeremy Auerbach, Paul Jesenovec and Chris Magnotta took the teen titles.

The bomb brigade started to pick up steam in the 198lb class as World Champ Ralph Young, Steve Spinelli, Pete Grohoski and me all failed to get a legal lift in. This made Ray Benemerito very happy. Ray, like Sioux-z Hartwig, decided to lift at Bench Nationals for fun. I am not sure how Ray defines fun, but apparently helping run the meet, judging the meet and hobnobbing with all the bench press specialists is not enough fun for him! So Ray went out and benched 507 lbs. just to make SURE he was having enough fun. Bruce Swanson, who could have given Ray a run for his money missed his first and played it safe into second and won the Lifetimes. Jeff Blindauer was third and Mike Barcelone fourth. Roy O'Dwyer seems like one of those guys who has no idea that he could be World Class but his win in the Raw and 50-54 classes should help him see the light. Dana Rosenzweig won the 45-49's then went looking for his wife before she could go shopping in NY again! Bill Lindsey won the 55-59's and David Bellanca made a nice 429 to win the Juniors. Finishing up the 198's was 65-year-old wonder Bill Phillips. I swear the man is 65 and he carries less bodyfat than most 25-year-olds! That and another ho-hum 407lb lift with a close miss at another World Record. I pray at night that I can be Bill Phillips when I am older. ('Cause I sure don't measure up to him right now!)

The 220lb class was on everyone's lips before the meet even began. The roster looked like a who's who of Bench Pressing. Tony Succarotte, Dennis Cieri, Joe McAuliffe and Colin Rhodes all in one class? Throw in Tim Anderson and Paul Bossi and everyone was sure it would be the battle of the weekend. Everyone was right! Pity poor Tim Anderson who came out and made a very nice 523 and close misses at much more. You don't see a guy that strong get overshadowed very often. Dennis started things off by making his 562lb opener as Tony, Joe and Colin all missed. Colin was definitely off after finding himself 8lbs over on Saturday. The effort to make weight sapped him and he was unable to make any of his three attempts. Paul Bossi was unable to satisfy the judges as well and he was out. Joe missed his second at 573 and Tony suffered the same fate at 589lbs. Joe and Dennis both went after Tony by attempting 589 on their thirds. First Joe came through with a great lift to take the lead, and then Dennis followed suit to beat Joe on bodyweight. But Tony, who sat quietly while all this was going on, pushed his way up to the platform and made it all relative by smoking 595lbs! Joe and Dennis both agreed to try and steal some of the thunder by going after the World Record on a fourth attempt, 624lbs! Both guys came within inches of locking it out but it was not to be. Three guys at 590lbs or better, a weight that would have won the World Championships in 2002 by some 30 pounds. It couldn't have been any better.

The 220's was a large class, so there were lots of winners: Jeff Cardinal won the Lifetimes, Jeff Tirsch the Raw, Mike Campanella the 40-44's. Dave Chevalier was his normal strong self with a 468lb lift to take the 50-54's. Roland Cote, who I have seen at meets for more than a decade won the 55-59's, the quiet man Lou Sposato won the 60-64's. Stan Chatis the 65-69 group, Joe Waddill the 75-80's, Cody Nyegaard (what a great name for a lifter) won the Teen's and Jim Nicolesi was first in the Juniors.

That great bomb out steam engine reached its peak in the 242's as everyone in the open division with the exception of Dave Doan failed to get in a legal lift. Even Dave had to come back on his third with 595lbs to get one on the boards. But Russ Kitani, Raoul Donati, Lou Saviano and Art Jones were not so lucky. Art, who lifts raw and is one strong son of a gun, was especially upset at being called for a technical flaw that he felt was incorrectly applied. Art protected me in New York on Sunday night as I wobbled my way around Times Square sometime near dawn. Thanks Art and come back next year just to show the bastards whose boss!

Richie Wenner made a comeback at Masters Nationals this year and was another lifter who came to have some fun at Bench Nationals. That he did with a very nice 496lb effort to take the 40-44 group. Gary Pamplin made a very nice 551lb lift, which could put him on the Master World Bench Team. Joe Gismonde won the 50-54's; Cliff Tallman beat the reigning champ Murray Marsh on bodyweight to win the 60-64 group. Murray had come down to 242 from the 275's and I feel sure that he is capable of more once he gets used to the lower weight class. Bob Kehl took the 65-69's and Joe Yanovitch not only won the 70-74 group but also finished second in the Lifetimes. Andrew Arts won the teens and Mark Jesenovec the Juniors.

Another highly anticipated battle took place in the 275lb. Class as Scott Lade who has been making mince meat of the Bench Press records lately and former World Champ Horace Lane came together. Horace opened with 633lbs and Scott with 639! When was the last time two guys opened this high in USAPL competition? When the smoke finally cleared Horace's second attempt of 650lbs carried the day. Scott just missed with 655 and 661 and Horace was equally close with 667lbs. Could we see a drug free 700lb bench in the 275 class in the near future? If so, I would put money on one of these two to do it. In third was 3 time Master World champ Brad Klinger who smoked a 589 on his second. This would have been a Master World record if he had done it two weeks before, but Gusev bumped the record to 595lbs. at the European Championships. I am sure Brad will regain the record come the spring. Rounding out the open were Geoff Plante, Frank Palmer, World Bench Team Coach Dr. Mike Hartle, my good friend and co-Master World coach Nectar Kirkiris and Chris Felix. A slimmed down Sean Culnan was unable to get a lift past the judges though he looked strong. Kevin Herbert won the Police and Fire, Robert Norris won the 40-44's, Richard Davies the 50-54's, Gary Krueger the 55-59's and a vastly improved Ralph Soffredine took the 65-69's with a nice 407lbs.

In the Supers Mike Hodge has become the man to beat. Here he looked extremely strong and it looks like he has finally found a shirt that fits his enormous frame. His opener was 683lbs and it looked very solid. Then the big man then ignited the crowd by taking two shots at a World Record 716lbs! It looks like James Henderson's record will fall in the near future and big Mike might just be the one to take it away. Anson Wood and Sean Culnan's friend E.C. Stumpf had a spirited battle for second with Wood winning on bodyweight. How often does it pay to be the lightest Superheavy? Kind of an oxymoron, but it worked for Wood. John Paul Whitaker won the Juniors. Frank Beeler put on a show in the Raw division by hitting a fine 540lb lift on his third, this lift also broke the Master Two World Record that had been set moments earlier by Pat Dennis. Beeler finished ahead of the Slaughter tandem of Scott and Todd who both did 468lbs. Kevin Coughlin took the 40-44's; underrated Kevin Johnson took the 45-49's with a 529lb lift. World Champ and World Record holder for a few moments, Pat Dennis was second at 50-54 and Fred Dini was third. Two World Records and two former Gold Medallists in this age group and both get beat by the newcomer Beeler. Tough group! Finishing out the meet were two veterans, John Blackmon, the reigning Master Three World Champ, and C.J. Batten who has forgotten more about bench pressing than most of us have ever learned. When the dust settled Blackmon had a new Master Three World Record of 462lbs and Batten had to settle for second.

The Bench Nationals have become an annual pilgrimage for me and the reason is the same one that brought out lifters like Sioux-z, Ray and Rich Wenner this year. These meets are fun to compete in and the people are fun to be around. It's really that simple. There will always be judging issues, problems with meet venues, travel concerns and other things I could do without. However, I spend most of my life with people who have no idea why I do what I do nor do they understand the sacrifices necessary to compete at this level. The Bench Nationals are my one weekend a year to spend with people who understand my compulsion and share it with me. We may indeed be a strange subculture and I don't know if mainstream America will ever understand Powerlifting or bench pressing, but I sure do enjoy being part of this weird minority. So, I hope that all of you have a great year of training and I look forward to seeing you next year in Texas. Johnny, fire up the barbecue 'cause I'm coming!

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