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A Few Words With America's Strongest Man
Weightlifting superstar Shane Hamman lives the motto that with great power comes great responsibility
By Kim Goss
Published: Spring 2003
Itís rare for a top athlete to master more than one sport. True, Deon Sanders and Bo Jackson reached the highest levels of play in both professional football and baseball, and Andre Ward went on to a successful career in professional basketball after winning the Heisman. But such examples are few and far between. Likewise, in the strength sports there are a few cases in which athletes who have done well in powerlifting have been able to cross over into Olympic lifting, but no one has succeeded in crossing over like Shane Hamman.
Hamman, who hails from Mustang, Oklahoma, was always strong. In his first competition in 1991 he broke teenage world records with a 777 squat, 435 bench press and a 633 deadlift. Competing in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), Hamman eventually broke the world record squat in the super heavyweight division with 1,008 pounds, a record that still stands today, and lifted 551 in the bench press and 738 in the deadlift.
In 1996 Hamman switched to Olympic lifting under the guidance of Steve Miller, and in October of 1998 he moved to train full time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. His achievements since then include American records in the snatch, 435; clean and jerk, 518; and the total of the two lifts combined, 942. He placed tenth in the 2002 Olympic Games and fifth in the 2003 World Championships.
In this exclusive interview, this humble big man talks about his goals, his training and his willingness to accept his responsibilities as a role model.
BFS: When you left powerlifting to focus on Olympic-style lifting, did you encounter any resentment from the powerlifting community?
Hamman: No, there really wasnít any. A lot of the guys I competed with told me, ďIf you can do it, weíre behind you.Ē
BFS: Your squat record has been broken in other powerlifting organizations. Is there any temptation for you to return to powerlifting and reclaim that record?
Hamman: If somebody breaks my IPF world record squat, thereís a possibility that when Iím done Olympic lifting Iíll go back and try to break it.
BFS: Why did you choose to compete in the IPF?
Hamman: I started in the IPF because itís the federation that the guys I was training with competed in when I got started in Oklahoma. It seemed a little more professional to me. I liked their drug testing, because it helped make the sport a little bit cleaner, and I liked having to squat deep and being able to use only one suit.
BFS: Your best deadlift was 738. With all the Olympic lifting that youíve been doing, do you believe you could exceed that right now?
Hamman: I do, because when I did powerlifting I deadlifted only once a week or once every two weeks. Now Iím doing pulls and Romanian deadlifts three to four times a week, so I think my back is a lot stronger.
BFS: Could you discuss your powerlifting squat style? Iíve heard it described as a dive-bomb style.
Hamman: It was nothing I worked on, it was a natural thing to me. What I did was just drop as fast as I couldóboom!óand then come up. Nobody else was doing it at the time. One thing that I think helped is my thick knee joints, which held up under it and helped me get a bit of a bounce out of the bottom.
BFS: I heard you pulled a quad doing front squats a few years ago. What happened?
Hamman: Right before the 1999 Pan Am Games I tried a 660-pound front squat, and ripped it on the way down.
BFS: I also heard that you tried Active Release Treatment Techniquesģ by Dr. Mike Leahy to help you recover quickly and you were able to win the gold medal in that competition.
Hamman: Yes, Dr. Leahyís active release treatments helped my injury heal a lot faster.
BFS: Do you still get treated with active release?
Hamman: Yes, I get Active Release Treatments at least twice a week from Dr. Leahy or Dr. Gary Woodóitís the one thing special I do that really helps keep me in shape. Any little sore spot or knot, I just have them work it out and it keeps everything healthy.
BFS: Just about every article about you talks about your measurements, your bodyweight and what you eat. Donít you get a little tired of this?
Hamman: A little bit, but you have to put up with that with the media. They love big guys, and they love that big guys eat a lot. Another thing they like to do is compare me to things, like ďHis chest is as big around as a tree trunk,Ē instead of just sticking to the facts.
BFS: That being said, youíre 5í 9Ē and 370 pounds. How is your health?
Hamman: Itís really good, and I get regular full physicals.
BFS: Do you know how many calories you do eat on average?
Hamman: I had my diet tested three days in a row by our sports nutritionist. I donít remember the exact results, but it sure wasnít anything like 10,000 calories a day!
BFS: Do you have a special diet?
Hamman: For me, my diet is high protein/high sugar. The high sugar sounds ridiculous, but whenever Iíve tried to get off sugar and chocolate, my lifts fall apart, so I have to keep my sugar up.
BFS: What does your sports nutritionist say about that?
Hamman: I donít tell her!
BFS: You talked about how you liked the drug testing in powerlifting. How tough is the drug testing in Olympic lifting?
Hamman: We have the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and I get drug tested randomly probably 18 times a year, and then Iím tested at every competition. One USADA requirement is letting them know where I am at all times. If Iím not where Iím supposed to be when they come to drug test me, thatís one notch against me, and three misses like that and it counts as a positive drug test. Thereís no way that a USADA athlete can hide from drug testing.
BFS: Do you think Olympic lifting will ever shake the common perception that all the good Olympic lifters are taking drugs?
Hamman: I donít know. Itís really starting to clean up, and they have formed the World Anti-Doping Association, which is doing some international drug testing. It will never be totally cleanóno sport is ever going to be totally cleanóbut as for the top lifters in the US, thereís absolutely no way that we can take drugs because of how often weíre drug tested. Most other countries donít have the random tests like us, so it would be possible for them to still take drugsóalthough Iím not saying that they are.
BFS: Whatís the training atmosphere like at the Olympic training center?
Hamman: Everybody is here to be better, so in the gym thereís always kind of a psyched feeling. When Iím home I train by myself, and I find I cannot lift as much weight.
BFS: Was it tough for you to leave your home to come to Colorado Springs?
Hamman: I had never been away from home until I moved here. Iíve got two older brothers and theyíre married and have kids, so I have all these nieces and nephews and it was hard for me to move off and know that I wouldnít see them except maybe twice a year. But overall itís been goodótheyíre all really supportive of me.
BFS: What did your new coach Dragomir Ciorosian do for you when you moved to Colorado Springs?
Hamman: My lifting was going pretty well already, but Dragomir made some little changes, like keeping more upright on my pulls.
BFS: What parts of your lifting are you currently emphasizing?
Hamman: My biggest concern in the past was jumping under the bar, but Iíve gotten over that now. My problem lately is that I havenít had the opportunity to lift anything big; for instance, at last yearís Worlds I was sick, so my strength wasnít there. I woke up with the flu the morning I competed. My snatch was still pretty good, because itís not all about strength, but when it came to the clean and jerks I just couldnít cleanóit was just so heavy. I missed my last two warm-ups; I was lucky to get my opener. It was disappointing because I had been looking forward to clean and jerking 529 there.
BFS: BFS has done features on Mike Butler and Casey Burgener. Since they train with you, how do you assess their progress?
Hamman: I see Casey as being a medal contender in 2008. Heís consistent, always in the gym always lifting big, seems like he never has any downtime. Mike is my roommate. He has been going through some injuries, but his strength level and drive are huge. He has a lot of potential to lift big.
BFS: Letís hear your thoughts on American weightlifting in general.
Hamman: I see hope for the future. There are a lot of great juniors coming up. At Nationals you see a lot of the top guys are younger and will be around until 2008, and to me thatís pretty exciting news for USA weightlifting.
BFS: Whatís the problem with trying to get young athletes more involved in Olympic lifting? Hamman: There are not enough good, qualified coaches around, and youíre not going to be able to do the snatch and the clean and jerk right if you donít have a coach.
BFS: Youíve been to gyms in Europe. Whatís the difference between the way European athletes are training and the way most of the Americans are training? Whatís really making them excel?
Hamman: Weightlifting is a big sport in those countries, and their athletes start at an early age. In the US weíre not getting the top athletes in our sport, and other countries are. The training isnít that much different.
BFS: Tell me about your golf game. How far can you hit a golf ball?
Hamman: I average about 280 on my drives, but my strength is my short game. Iím a 12 handicap, so Iím a decent golfer.
BFS: I heard youíre very active in working with youth groups.
Can you give me some details on what you do during your free time?
Hamman: Yes, I worked with my youth group at home when I was back in Oklahoma, and now I speak to youth groups every opportunity I get. Iím working with a group now called Rachelís Challenge, which speaks to high schools mainly about anti-violence. But I also talk to churches during regular services too because itís not just young people who are interested in what I do.
BFS: Do you feel that your status as an accomplished athlete and role model holds you to a higher standard of morality or do you think, as many do, that itís best to keep morality and religion out of sports?
Hamman: As a Christian, I hold myself responsible for all my actions. For one thing, I donít drink. Peopleís eyes are on me, and if somebody would see me doing this stuff, then I think they might think itís all right to do. All I know is that I am a Christian, and that my relationship with God is true and real, and he has personally done a lot in my life. I canít worry about what other religions say. Iím not trying to start controversyóIím just trying to share what God has done in my life.
BFS: What are your goals for this year at the World Championships and for the 2004 Olympics?
Hamman: Iíd like to hit a 451 snatch and a 540 clean and jerk this year. My goals for the 2004 Olympics are 463 in the snatch and 550 in the clean and jerk.
BFS: Will you retire after the Olympics?
Hamman: Iím putting everything I have into 2004, and if I donít feel satisfied with my performance, thatís probably going to push me into staying in the sport.
BFS: Is there anything special youíd like to say to your fans?
Hamman: One thing Iíd like to say is that there are so many weightlifters here in the United States who train as hard as I do,
or harder, but they donít have the physical ability to lift what I do. I just want to tell them that Iím doing this for them and for our sport.
A devout Christian, Hamman spends much of his free time working with youth groups.
Despite possessing 35-inch thighs, Hamman has excellent flexibility as shown by this low snatch position.
With a best of 518 pounds, Hamman expects to make 550 in the clean and jerk at the 2004 Olympics.
Hamman is the International Powerlifting Federation World Record Holder int he squat at 1008 pounds.
Hamman is also a 12-handicap golfer