Weightlifting: It's a waiting game for top lifters

By David Leggat

Richie Patterson (pictured) and Tracey Lambrechs need help from their New Zealand teammates to qualify for the London Olympics.  Photo / Getty Images
Richie Patterson (pictured) and Tracey Lambrechs need help from their New Zealand teammates to qualify for the London Olympics. Photo / Getty Images

Sporting selections come about in different ways.

There are the individuals who, solely by their own deeds, qualify for an event.

Then there are teams who secure a place in a discipline for their country, even though the athletes themselves might not make the final cut.

Now consider weightlifting, in which the New Zealand team is heading to Apia for the Oceania championships, starting on June 4.

New Zealand hope to get their top male and female lifters, Aucklanders Richie Patterson and Tracey Lambrechs, to London for the Olympic Games this year.

But for the pair to make the trip, they will rely heavily on their teammates, who have no hope of winning selection themselves.

As head coach Adam Storey puts it, "there's pressure on both sides of the fence".

The selection process works like this: At the verification meeting the night before competition begins, each country nominates certain lifters from within their team whose performances carry points to put into the team pot.

In New Zealand's case, that means six of their eight men having counting lifts; and four of their seven women.

There are five men and four women's spots available for Oceania.

The idea is to get sufficient points in Apia to finish inside that group. Do that, and your top nominees in each category are off to London.

Simply winning your title in Apia is insufficient to get the Olympic nod.

But there's more. The selection criteria has three prongs.

Both Patterson and Lambrechs had to reach targets set by Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand. As Storey put it, both have "blitzed it".

Patterson, aiming for his second Olympics and a silver medallist in the 85kg class at the Delhi Commonwealth Games two years ago, did a combined 345kg lift late last month, 20kg over the target weight.

South African-born Lambrechs, fifth in Delhi, lifted 240kg, 6kg above the requirement in her +75kg class.

Second, they get Olympic slots in Apia; and third, they must satisfy the New Zealand Olympic Committee of their ability to make the top 16 in London, with the potential to place in the top eight.

It's a tough call. Right now, if the first two parts are achieved, Lambrechs, 18th in the world champs last year, is slightly better positioned than Patterson. She is ranked No l9 in her class; Patterson, 21st at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, sits in the mid- 20s.

Back to the verification process, which is the intriguing part of this puzzle. The idea is to nominate the lifters New Zealand believe can contribute most points to the team total.

But there's strategy involved.

Ideally you don't want your chosen lifters in the same category of those of your closest rivals, in this case Samoa - "phenomenal", says Storey - Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

So, for example, it is a good outcome for New Zealand to have nominated lifters in categories where, say, Australia have not, which suggests they are weaker lifters? "Most definitely."

It's about trying to find the weak points in the rivals' list.

"There's a little bit of strategy involved," Storey said.

"We've gone back to all the Oceania rankings over the last two years, tracked what every athlete has done so we can make the best decisions as to which categories would be most advantageous for us to get points from."

Storey acknowledged a degree of "skulduggery" with countries foxing over the numbers put up by their lifters at times.

"You can see some of them are significantly lower than what I know they are capable of doing. They aren't breaking any rules, but they're trying to play games."

The aim is to have your chosen lifters in the top four in their categories. Countries will know when the final lift is made in Apia whether they have made the standard to reach London.

Then, in the case of 29-year-old Patterson and Lambrechs, 26, it's back to the NZOC.

Should either have made the grade in Apia, OWNZ will have their answer from the NZOC by about the middle of next month.

- NZ Herald

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