2008 Arnold Sports Festival

Write-up by Matt Gary


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The Arnold Sports Festival celebrated its 20th year of excellence in showcasing a variety of sports performance. The festival is held annually in Columbus, Ohio on the first weekend in March. This year's celebration was held Friday, February 29 through Sunday, March 2, and hosted 39 events including 14 Olympic sports.

USA Powerlifting joined the festival this year and put on a tremendous display of competitive powerlifting that included lifters from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Four separate competitions were contested in three days beginning with the Raw Challenge on Friday. Spectators witnessed more than 30 lifters competing in the unequipped competition with only belts, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves being allowed. As the only female and a mere two weeks after securing her 13th national championship, Suzanne "Sioux-z" Hartwig-Gary, made all nine attempts and totaled 744 pounds. Weighing in at 146 pounds, Ryan Savell was the lightest man competing and was the only other person to go nine for nine with a 1,042-pound total. There was never any doubt in the 165s as Ryan Spencer squatted and deadlifted big to secure first place. After a slow start in the squat, Tony Reid stormed back with two impressive benches and a huge 617-pound deadlift to win the 181s. Head coach of the NAPF women's team, Jim Brown, went seven for nine and cruised to 1,422 total in the 198s. Todd Shelton took first place in the 220s as Bill Schmidt and Mike Barcelone battled to second and third respectively. Brady Stewart benched 452 pounds that easily placed him atop the 242s. While John Grosulak was busy winning the 275s, master's lifter and crowd favorite, big Jim Pope impressed fans with his technical proficiency at super-heavy. Michael Hedlesky injured his groin a few weeks out but still competed and took the junior super-heavyweight crown. The story of the open super-heavyweight class was Michael Neal. In the deepest class of the competition, Michael out lifted everyone with a huge 1,962 total. Apparently raw lifting is really catching fire and this crop of lifters started the show with a bang.

Saturday featured two competitions, the Quest American Pro Invitational in the Grand Ballroom and the GNC Pro Performance IPF Deadlift Championship on the main stage at the Expo. Quest Nutrition owner Sherman Ledford masterminded the regional team format which paired lifters from four different American regions and Canada. Each team had approximately seven lifters competing in a variety of classes from 56kg through 125+kg. The winning team was determined by averaging the six highest Wilks scores from each team and then comparing them to the other regions. So while the lifters battled for prominence in their respective weight class they also tested their mettle in an exciting team format.

Each team was assigned a head coach and all team members sported colored T-shirts representing each region. Many a time national champion, Ervin Gainer, was the lone ranger in the lightest class. Ervin lifted with the flu but still managed to help the Central Team with a high Wilks score. In the 132s, Eric Kupperstein helped the Atlantic Region with his victory. The 148 and 165-pound classes only had two lifters each but Wade Hooper, of the Midwest Team, stole the show by reclaiming his world record with a huge 777-pound squat. I was blessed with the good fortune of coaching the Midwest Team and prior to the competition we all knew the most important component, of compiling a high Wilks score, was making attempts. Consequently, David Hammers made all of his nine attempts look easy breaking his personal record total with 1,642 pounds as the lightest of the 181s. This class proved to be the tightest of all with the top three places separated by ten kilos each. Powerlifting legend Mike Bridges of the Central Team battled the Pacific's John Pena in the 198s. Both men were tied at the subtotal but Bridges prevailed in the deadlift to capture the class. Canadian Hector Augilar cruised to an easy victory in the 220s. The story of the afternoon was told by two men, Atlantic Region's Mike Mastrean in the 242s and a rising star named Mike Tucscherer in the 275s. Mastrean reminded the raucous crowd why he is one of the world's premier squatters. He took command of all three squats slamming up 903 pounds en route to a huge 2,204-pound total. The Pacific Region had a bruiser of their own in Tucscherer who outperformed three seasoned veterans with a 2,342-pound total. Jason Christus finally broke through and easily won the supers. When the chalk dust settled the Midwest Team prevailed with the highest Wilks average.

Saturday's lifting ended with the GNC Pro Performance IPF Deadlift Championship. Six women and eleven men deadlifted on the main stage at the Expo. Daliann James, Jessica O'Donnell, and Priscilla Ribic all hoisted 523 pounds but it was Priscilla who grabbed the highest Wilks score. Another one of the usual suspects, Brad Gillingham, stood with a new personal best 865 pounds claiming the title for the men.

Sunday proved to be a record setting day when more than twenty-five lifters measured their pressing prowess in the IPF Titan Pro Bench Bash. Six world records were broken; four by Japanese lifters, Anton Kraft of the Netherlands took one, and Ielja Strik of Denmark took the last. Daisuke Midote finished the day off with a huge 779 pounds on his final attempt.

USA Powerlifting definitely hit a home run with outstanding performances from everyone involved. Large crowds stayed interested all weekend long thanks to superb announcing from Pat Anderson, Niko Hulslander, Rick Fowler, and Lance Slaughter. The overall atmosphere was incredible while informed spectators and casual onlookers alike were treated to a remarkable presentation of powerlifting excellence. Many folks worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the USAPL's inaugural showcase of strength a slam dunk success. After such a positive response, the Arnold Sports Festival has already extended an invitation for the USAPL to return next year. I have little doubt that 2009 will be even bigger and better.

-Matt Gary
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