Tara Nott Cunningham’s Guide to Watching Weightlifting

The gold medalist offers a cheat sheet on her sport’s rules, maneuvers and slang

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Tara Nott Cunningham attempts a snatch during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Ron Antonelli/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Introducing the Expert

Name: Tara Nott Cunningham
Games and Medals: Sydney 2000 (Gold, 48 kg); Athens 2004
Key Quote: “You can be physically prepared to lift the weights but if you aren’t mentally prepared (believe you can) you won’t be able to lift the weights.”


Discs - cylindrical weights that are loaded on each end of the bar

Bar - The men’s bar weighs 20 kg and is 2,200 mm long, and the women’s bar weighs 15 kg and is 2,010 mm long, with a smaller grip diameter.

Collars - Two collars weighing 2.5kg secure the discs (weights) to the bar.

Weightlifting Shoes - Weightlifters wear special hard soled weightlifting shoes to help with balance and stability while performing the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.


The Snatch - The weightlifter, palms downward in a wide grip, pulls the barbell from the platform up to a position above his or her head in one fluid motion while squatting or splitting under the bar. The athlete then stands to the final position (arms and legs fully extended). The referee will indicate when it is okay to lower the barbell.

The Clean and Jerk:

The Clean - The weightlifter, palms downward in a narrower grip than snatch, pulls the barbell from the platform in one fluid motion, rotating elbows, so the bar rests on the clavicles or chest while squatting or splitting under the bar. The lifter then stands to position (legs fully extended, bar resting on clavicles or chest) from the split or squat position.

The Jerk - After the clean, the lifter first bends his or her legs and then stretches both arms and legs, raising the barbell completely overhead. Again, the athlete must hold still in the final position until the referees give a signal that it okay to drop the weight.


1. Press out - A lifter bends their arms while holding the bar overhead, then presses out to try to make them straight. This results in a “no lift,” or a lift that does not count towards their total.

2. Good lift - A lift that has been correctly completed, as determined by at least two of the three referees.

3. Bomb out - A lifter fails to make a good lift in either or both of the two lifts (Snatch and Clean and Jerk), which results in no score.

4. Knurl - the rough surface on the barbell that helps athletes grip the bar better


Weigh-in - There are seven bodyweight categories for men and seven for women. Weigh-in lasts one hour and starts two hours before the competition. If the athlete does not make weight limit within the one-hour time period, the athlete may not compete in that weight category. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in each category.

Competition - Each athlete has three attempts in Snatch and three attempts in Clean and Jerk. Athletes and coaches announce in advance the weight they choose for their first lift. After that, their next lifts must be heavier in intervals of at least 1.0 kg discs.

An athlete’s best Snatch and best Clean and Jerk are added together to give the lifter a total. The athlete with the best total wins. If there is a tie in the total, the athlete with the lightest bodyweight wins.

Game Changers

1896 - Weightlifting is part of the 1896 Athens Olympics. Events included the one-hand snatch and two-hand clean and jerk.

1973 - The two-hand press, added in 1905, is removed from the program. From this point on, competitions consist of only the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk (both with two hands).

1997 - Women begin to use a special bar at world and continental championships. Its grip diameter is smaller to fit women’s hands.

2000 - Women’s weightlifting debuts as an Olympic event in Sydney. Eighty-five athletes from 47 countries participate.

2005 - The International Weightlifting Federation rules that the weight of the barbell must always increase by a multiple of 1.0 kg. Previously, the minimum increase was 2.5 kg.

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