BORN TO LIFT: Casey Burgener
This second-generation American lifter may very well lead us into the next millennium of strength development.
By Kim Goss
Published: Summer 1999
Just about everyone lifts weights. Football players will perform Squats and Power Cleans to become better athletes. Business professionals will perform Lat Pulldowns and Leg Presses to tone their muscles and stay trim. Senior citizens will perform Lunges and biceps Curls to keep their bones and hearts strong. But 16-year-old Casey Burgener lifts weights not to help him play other sports, look good in a suit or to lower his blood pressure. No, Casey lifts because he is a weightlifter at heart: he intrinsically knows it is good to be strong. Casey was, quite simply, born to lift.
To say that lifting is in Casey's blood would be an understatement. His mother played basketball at UC Santa Barbara, and his sister, Sage (8), and two brothers, Beau (13) and Cody (10), also lift weights and participate in other sports. In fact, this year Beau competed in the National Juniors, which were held on March 5 in Savannah, Georgia. Beau placed third in the 123-pound School Age Division, lifting 138 pounds in the snatch and 176 pounds in the clean and jerk. Casey's father, Mike, played college football and competed in Olympic lifting.
Casey picked up his first barbell when he was six, but soon put the weights aside to pursue other sports, his most favorites being baseball and basketball. That phase didn't last long. Casey couldn't get the touch of steel out of his head, and soon he was headed back to the gym, with his father's full support, to experience the sport of Olympic weightlifting.
At his first competition, Casey at age 12, weighing 100 pounds soaking wet, lifted 66 pounds in the Snatch and 88 pounds in the Clean and Jerk. By age 13 he was starting to attract attention in the iron game, lifting 176 and 220 while weighing 154 pounds. The following year he added 14 more pounds of muscle and his personal records increased to 220 and 264. By age 15 he was weighing 187 with bests of 275 and 325, poundages that confirmed Casey Burgener's status as one of America's brightest stars.
This year Casey, who had bulked up to 209 pounds, wanted to make a strong impression at the National Juniors. Unfortunately, the week before the competition he had a bout with the flu that caused him to drop nine pounds of bodyweight, mostly muscle. Nevertheless, Casey started the snatch competition with a good lift of 276 pounds, and followed that with successes at 287 and a personal record 298. “I was pleased with my snatches,” says Casey, “I felt I could have done more.” In the Clean and Jerk, he scored with solid lifts at 331 and 342, then made an uncharacteristic miss on the Jerk with 353, a lift that would have equaled his personal best. The combined score of 639 pounds placed him second in his class (won by Jerry Polk), an especially noteworthy accomplishment since Casey had to compete against lifters who were up to three years older than him.
Although he competes against all age categories and is nationally-ranked in open competition, Casey is intent on making the Junior World Team next year. Within a year, Casey believes he can add at least 20 pounds of muscle and lift 342 and 408. After that, his primary goals will be to make the Senior World and Olympic Teams.
Like Father, Like Son
Mike Burgener, who also serves as Casey's coach, has been Casey's biggest influence in weightlifting. Mike grew up in Southern Illinois, graduated high school in 1964, then went to the University of Notre Dame to get a great education and be a part of the one of the most successful football programs in college history. However, at 165 pounds as a freshman, the coaches told Mike that if he wanted to play at this level he needed to gain weight. So he headed off to the weightroom, and the following year tipped the scales at a solid 190 pounds.
Mike never stopped lifting, becoming especially proficient in the Olympic lifts. In his prime, still weighing 190 pounds, Mike performed a 400-pound standing press (a lift that is no longer contested), snatched 308 and clean and jerk 400. These results put him well into the national rankings, and are impressive even by today's standards.
In addition to his love of lifting, Mike instilled in Casey a disciplined work ethic. “My attitude towards my son is that if you're going to be an athlete, why not be the best that you can possibly be?” Mike also says that much of what he learned about coaching philosophy he learned from the time he spent in the Marine Corps, which he joined after college. “The Marine Corps taught me how to achieve success through hard work and determination. I try to coach with that same attitude.”
What does Casey think about his dad's coaching style? “He's really intense, and I guess you would say a perfectionist--but I know it's for the best.” As for Mike's attitude toward his premier athlete, he said, “Casey is a model son. He's very focused, an outstanding student (with 3.83 grade average!), and he works his butt off in the gym. People ask if he's stubborn? He's 16 years old-how would you answer that? He's normal.”
In addition to the guidance and support of his father, Casey has another weightlifting role model to inspire him, Olympian and still one of America's best lifters, Tommy Gough. When he lived near the Burgeners' home in Bonsall, California, Mike provided Tommy coaching support and a place to train. “Tommy was always one of Casey's idols,” says Mike, and adds that Casey would measure himself in comparison to Tommy's accomplishments. “Whatever Tommy did at his age, Casey would always want to match or beat that. He wanted to have the same success as Tommy.”
Casey agrees, “I've been looking up to Tommy since I started weightlifting. I admire his courage and motivation--he's 100 percent focused on lifting. There were times when we would invite him for dinner and he would say ‘No, no-I have to finish my workout first.’”
As for non-American lifters, Casey admires Stefan Botev, a Bulgarian who could outlift the super heavyweight Vasili Alexseev despite giving up over 100 pounds of bodyweight to the great Russian. “I love watching Stefan lift--he's so amazing, so incredibly strong.” He also admires 1996 Olympic Champion in the 238-pound class Timur Taimazov of the Ukraine. “His technique is good, not great, but he's very strong,” says Casey. “Whenever he lifts, the weights look like nothing for him.”
Training for Gain
As a coach, Mike believes that Casey's greatest physical talent as a weightlifter is his athleticism. “Casey's Snatch is much ahead of his clean and Jerk at this point, and that's because of his neuromuscular abilities. Casey's technique is awesome, and he has great speed, but with a 297 snatch he should be Clean and Jerking 363 to 375. I have to get him stronger.”
To make Casey stronger, Mike is focusing on “strength cycles” that emphasize heavy pulls and even bodybuilding-type movements for the upper body. “When Casey racks the weight he has a tendency to round forward, which makes it hard for him to get up from the squat. Although I've rarely done any kind of upper body work with Casey, I now see the need for him to do some heavy basic strength movements for the upper body such as chin-ups, T-bar rows and bench presses to make his body overly strong.”
Although there has been an ongoing debate as to which of the three iron game sports is the best, Casey has respect for both bodybuilders and powerlifters. “I think bodybuilders are very impressive. I'm not certain about their work ethic, but when you look at them you just say ‘geez.’” As for powerlifters? “Oh, those guys are crazy! I know a couple powerlifters at my school, and they're great guys, but they're really, really intense. Powerlifting is more brute strength than Olympic lifting, and it requires a lot of adrenaline to get that strength going.”
With a sound training program and excellent hands-on coaching from his father, Casey has been relatively injury-free in the weightroom. His worst