Only Division III program with two full-time strength coaches
PELLA—For Central College’s Kyle Johnson, qualifying for the USA Weightlifting National Championships didn’t signal the pinnacle of his competitive career, but a launching point.
Johnson, the college’s assistant strength and conditioning coach and a 2002 Central graduate, placed 12th in the 105-kilogram (231 pound) weight class at the national championships June 11-13 in Peoria, Ill. Scores are calculated by combining two lifts, the snatch, and the clean and jerk.
The five top competitors at the tournament qualified for the U.S. national team to compete in the World Championships. Three of the five qualifiers came from Johnson’s 105- kilogram weight class. There are eight weight classes overall.
At the championships Johnson lifted 278 pounds in the snatch and 313 in the clean and jerk. That’s well under his career bests of 291 and 344 pounds, respectively. A combined 628 pounds are required to qualify for the championships.
Johnson was disappointed in his showing but said up and down performances are a part of the sport.
“It’s hard to be on every day,” he said. “I still don’t know exactly why I didn’t perform better. But the margin for error is so thin. It’s such a technical sport that it’s hard to be at your best every time out.”
The competition is fierce. Because of his busy strength and conditioning coaching duties at Central, Johnson is only able to train about 8-9 hours per week. Many of the others at the championships work out full-time.
“A lot of them live at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs,” Johnson said. “That’s their job. They train six days a week and two times a day.”
Central’s director of strength and conditioning, Jake Anderson, said Johnson’s mindset is different from those whose only focus is their own competition.
“Kyle’s No. 1 commitment is coaching our athletes,” Anderson said. “He pours a ton of energy into that. Training and competing is his way to get away. He’s told me that he likes training by himself because that’s his quiet time.”
While he’s only preparing for two lifts, Johnson’s training is complex.
“I do a lot of variations,” he said. “And I do a lot of squats and pulls.”
Johnson had qualified previously for the national championships but was unable to participate prior to this year’s event. He’d lifted at big meets before but none that matched the aura of the national championships.
“It was nice to get there and compete against people you’d watched in the Olympics and see coaches you’d read about,” he said.
A former Central football player, Johnson became interested in weight lifting after training with the team for the college’s first full-time strength and conditioning coach, Steve Lewis, who is now at Emory Univ. (Ga.).
After his football career ended, Johnson began training with Lewis. Johnson then earned a master’s degree in health and human performance at Iowa State Univ. in 2004 and later became a coach for Velocity Sports Performance in Nashville, Tenn. He stayed in touch with Lewis and competed with a club in Atlanta.
Following his return to Central, Johnson began working out with a small group of serious lifters in Des Moines on Saturdays to supplement his solo training.
The national championships fueled Johnson’s desire to return.
“My ultimate goal is to go to the Pan-Am Games for the master’s division,” he said. “I’ll be eligible when I turn 35. So I’m training for the long term.
“If I don’t get any weaker in the next four years, I’ll be fine,” he smiled.
It’s a sport Johnson has grown to love.
“It’s something you don’t hear a lot about because a lot of the Olympic sports aren’t major sports,” he said. “But countries like China and Russia put so much into it. The Olympics is kind of their Super Bowl.”
But he’s not concerned about the size of the crowds the sport draws.
“I love the competition, not with other people but with yourself,” he said. “It’s a very pure sport. There are not a lot of external factors. It’s just you and the weight.”
Johnson’s pastime pays dividends in the Central weight room as well, Anderson said.
“What I like is that Kyle leads by example,” Anderson said. “When he’s training, there are often a lot of guys standing at the rail watching. He really inspires them.
“He also inspires athletes to get into Olympic lifting after their playing careers are over. That’s been great for us.”