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Steve Swistak.

Could you lift and hold over 300 pounds above your head? Weight lifter Steve Swistak can! Steve is a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He ranks fifth on the United States Weight Lifting Junior Squad and has won silver and bronze medals in national and international tournaments.

Steve started lifting weights when he was eleven. His dad, a weight lifter from Poland, set up weights in the family garage in Sayreville, New Jersey. He taught Steve, his older sister, and a few other kids about Olympic weight lifting.

Steve won the first competition he entered. "That was a pretty good start," he says. "When you're twelve, and you win a medal, it fires you up. I kept lifting and going to competitions. I kept getting better and stronger."

Steve played basketball and baseball in high school. In the summers, he went to weight lifting camps. "I started to get pretty good at the sport," says Steve. "I decided to give it one hundred percent of my attention."

So at fifteen, Steve dropped all other sports except weight lifting. Soon, he made the National Junion Squad. After he graduated from high school in 1993, Steve was invited to become a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center.

Life at the Olympic Training Center

"The Olympic Training Center is the ideal place to train," says Steve. "We have the best coaches. We have top-of-the-line everything."

Steve's coaches are Leo Totten and United States National Coach Dragomir Ciroslan. The United States Olympic Committee pays for Steve's food and housing, while the United States Weight Lifting Federation pays for his tuition at the University of Colorado.

Training with the ten other resident weight lifters helps Steve. "At home, I'd be training by myself, and I wouldn't have as much enthusiasm," he says.

Two Lifts in Competitive Weight Lifting

Two basic lifts make up competitive weight lifting: the "snatch" and the "clean-and-jerk." Both require strength, speed, and coordination.

Of the two, the snatch is the more difficult lift. The lifter picks up the barbell from the floor and thrusts it overhead without stopping. He holds the bar with his arms extended above him. After he stands motionless for a few seconds, the referee give the "down" signal. Steve's top score in the snatch is almost 300 pounds.

For the clean-and-jerk, the lifter raises the barbell from the floor to shoulder level and pauses. (This is the "clean.") Then in one motion, he thrusts the weight overhead with arms outstretched. (This is the "jerk.") Again, the lifter stands motionless until the referee gives the "down" signal.

Because the lifter pauses at the shoulders, he's in a better position to lift heavier weights in the clean-and-jerk. That's why it is called the "king of lifts." Steve has lifted a whopping 363 and three-quarter pounds in the clean-and-jerk. That's like lifting two large men!

The weight lifted on each lift is added together for the total score. When Steve was twelve, his total score for the two lifts was about 121 pounds. By age nineteen, his best combined score was 655 and three-quarter pounds.

Steve's "See Food" Diet

Steve is six feet, one inch tall and weighs 215 pounds. Much of that weight is muscle. "I'm still growing," Steve says. Steve's goal is to weigh 245 pounds by the end of his career. Then he'll be in the top weight class.

"I'm on a `see food' diet," says Steve. "Anything I see, I can eat Some lifters aren't as lucky. They may have to drop weight to stay in their weight class.

Strength in the legs, back, and shoulders is more important than size in weight lifting. "You don't have to be big and bulky as long as you're strong enough to lift in your class," says Steve.

During each day's two-hour morning workout, Steve and other Olympic lifters do strength-building exercises. During the afternoon workout, lifters practice the two basic lifts for another two hours.

The "How-To" of Weight Lifting

Coaches work closely with the weight lifters to help them improve their techniques. "Perfecting your technique is the best way to prevent injury," says Steve.

Sports experts study each movement to see what kind of stress it places on the body "You're moving so fast that you can't always see what you're doing wrong," he adds.

Weight lifting takes discipline. "You can't take time off in weight lifting," says Steve. "If you do, you lose your touch. There is no off season. But weight lifters can cut down on the amount of time spent lifting."

Steve takes part in about five competitions each year. Last year, Steve qualified for the Junior World Championships in Warsaw, Poland. Because his parents are from Poland, Steve not only speaks fluent Polish but also has lots of relatives there.

"I may have had more people cheering for me than the Polish team," he quips.

Study, Listen, and Learn

Steve suggests that kids who are interested in weight lifting read about the sport and watch it whenever they can. If they decide they'd like to try weight lifting, they will need to find a good coach.

"If you start weight lifting without instruction, you could be injured," says Steve. "It's easier to learn the technique when you're young. You're more flexible, and you haven't formed any bad habits yet."

Steve is grateful to his parents for their support and encouragement. "If it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't be here. If it hadn't been for my father, I would never have become interested in this sport. He's always pushed me to reach for the next level."

Steve Swistak feels it's important to have goals to work toward. His present goals include making the national team and competing in Sydney, Australia, in the 2000 Olympic games.
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Title Annotation:Faces in Sports; weight lifter
Author:Josephson, Judith P.
Publication:Children's Digest
Article Type:Biography
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Previous Article:Young Author's Story.
Next Article:An enchanting tale.

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