Skill and masculinity in Olympic weightlifting

Training cues and cultivated craziness in Georgia

by Perry Sherouse

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At the Georgian Weightlifting Federation in Tbilisi, Georgia, a mainstay of coaching is the training cue, a shouted word or phrase that coaches use to prompt weightlifters to perform in a certain psychological, physical, or technical way. In this practice, coaches cultivate and naturalize dimensions of physiology and psychology, aligning masculinity with animality, lack of restraint, and emotional surfeit, and femininity with gracefulness, control, and good technique. Although Olympic weightlifting remains stereotypically hypermasculine, coaches compliment female weightlifters’ technique as superior to men’s and train their athletes to integrate masculine “nature” and feminine “culture” in the expression of physical strength. In doing so, coaches do not instill fully formed subjectivities but manage embodied forms, using exclamatory cues to disaggregate the athlete into action, affect, and anatomy.

A poster hangs above the coach’s desk at the Georgian Weightlifting Federation training hall in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2011. The poster depicts Olympic weightlifting champions Giorgi Asanidze and Kakhi Kakhiashvili. The platforms closest to the desk were reserved for those athletes with more training experience, indicating their higher status.
A poster hangs above the coach’s desk at the Georgian Weightlifting Federation training hall in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2011. The poster depicts Olympic weightlifting champions Giorgi Asanidze and Kakhi Kakhiashvili. The platforms closest to the desk were reserved for those athletes with more training experience, indicating their higher status.