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
It’s 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 wasn’t any. A lot of the guys I competed with told me, “If you can do it, we’re behind you.”
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, there’s a possibility that when I’m done Olympic lifting I’ll go back and try to break it.
BFS: Why did you choose to compete in the IPF?
Hamman: I started in the IPF because it’s 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 you’ve 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 I’m 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? I’ve 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 could—boom!—and 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 Techniques® by Dr. Mike Leahy to help you recover quickly and you were able to win the gold medal in that competition.
Hamman: Yes, Dr. Leahy’s 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 Wood—it’s 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. Don’t 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 “His chest is as big around as a tree trunk,” instead of just sticking to the facts.
BFS: That being said, you’re 5’ 9” and 370 pounds. How is your health?
Hamman: It’s 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 don’t remember the exact results, but it sure wasn’t 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 I’ve 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 don’t 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 I’m tested at every competition. One USADA requirement is letting them know where I am at all times. If I’m not where I’m supposed to be when they come to drug test me, that’s one notch against me, and three misses like that and it counts as a positive drug test. There’s 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 don’t know. It’s 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 clean—no sport is ever going to be totally clean—but as for the top lifters in the US, there’s absolutely no way that we can take drugs because of how often we’re drug tested. Most other countries don’t have the random tests like us, so it would be possible for them to still take drugs—although I’m not saying that they are.
BFS: What’s the training atmosphere like at the Olympic training center?
Hamman: Everybody is here to be better, so in the gym there’s always kind of a psyched feeling. When I’m 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. I’ve got two older brothers and they’re 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 wouldn’t see them except maybe twice a year. But overall it’s been good—they’re 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 I’ve gotten over that now. My problem lately is that I haven’t had the opportunity to lift anything big; for instance, at last year’s Worlds I was sick, so my strength wasn’t there. I woke up with the flu the morning I competed. My snatch was still pretty good, because it’s not all about strength, but when it came to the clean and jerks I just couldn’t clean—it 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 t