Monday, August 10, 2009

An Interview with 2009 Conn Open Masters Champion, Harry Cochran, Jr.

Since getting involved in Olympic weightlifting, I have spent considerable time researching and reading about master lifters that are in my weight class (85kg, 187lb) and approximately my age. Some of these master lifters are very accomplished and can handle weights that even much younger men would be proud to lift. However, it is one thing to read about these lifters, but it is quite another to see one perform live. And this is exactly what happened at the 2009 Conn. Open in Stamford, Ct a month ago. It was such a powerful image that it is forever embedded into my head and one that I will long remember and provide inspiration to keep me training hard and smart.

Gary Valentine, the Conn Open meet director and holder of many American Master records in the snatch, clean and jerk and total, had the brilliant idea of asking all the participants to email him a non-lifting photo and a short bio, which he then compiled into a new meet pamphlet. As I am always interested to see if there are any other master lifters in my weight class, I came across the photo and bio entry for Harry Cochran, Jr. Just a few years younger than me, Harry's bio indicated that only recently had he returned to competitive Olympic lifting after a thirty year hiatus.

As you can see from the photo above, Harry is not some muscle bulging genetic freak but instead a very fit looking middle age man who happens to be exceptionally powerful and explosive. This was extremely important for me to see as it immediately dispelled the false belief that in order to achieve totals to be competitive with the top master lifters in age and weight class, it would require some massive changes in my body composition. I held this ridiculous belief even though I had read that Olympic Weightlifting is not an optimal regime for building massive muscles. At the same top it is also well documented that the elite Olympic weightlifters are the strongest most powerful athletes on the planet.

When Harry arrived at the meet venue, I recognized him immediately from his photo and introduced myself as a fellow master in the same weight class. A friendly and modest individual, Harry did not give any indication that he would later be tearing the place up during the competition. When it was time to lift in the last section, I began warming up with snatches. After struggling to perform a single with 60kg, Harry stepped in to share the bar. I remember watching in disbelief how he first easily power snatched 60kg, slowly brought it down to his thighs and then easily full squat snatched it from the high hang. He then repeated this for multiple reps, each performed effortlessly and with impeccable form. I then watched him shortly afterward do the same thing with 65kg .. with no change in perceived amount of effort! When I mentioned to him how impressed I was with his warm-ups, he just about blushed. When he told he planned on opening with 80kg (a two year away goal for me) I knew he would make it and more. And he did just that with three beautiful full squat snatches of 80kg/85kg/90kg.

For the clean and jerk, Harry went on to make 100kg, then 105kg before barely missing the jerk with 108kg for a total of 195kg. Again all three cleans were smooth as silk full squat clean. I was not the only who was impressed with his superb performance as a number of coaches were speaking highly of Harry as well. Harry went on to win the bronze in the open (all ages combined) 85kg weight class and took first place among all master lifters with the highest computed Sinclair value (this normalizes both the weight and age of the lifter).

Having been awed by Harry’s performance I thought other middle aged master lifters might want to hear a bit more from Harry, so he graciously granted me the interview below:

How and when you were first introduced to Olympic Weightlifting?

Watching my father and brother lift weights in our garage is what sparked my interest in lifting. My father was a natural athlete; however he never participated in Olympic weightlifting. My brother participated in Junior Olympic Lifting, but his real passion was wrestling. My brother was able to perform a standing press of 245 pounds at the age of 17 and a bodyweight of 165 pounds! My brother at the age of 15, and I at the age of 13 entered our first Junior Olympic meet in Philadelphia, PA along with my dear friend Michael Spallone, age 15 (you met him in Connecticut).

Where did you train? What type of lifts did you perform?

My training was in our garage with my father, brother and very dear friends Tom and Jim Martin (you also met Tom in Connecticut) was a regular event. It included lots of squats, presses, power cleans, and power snatches.

What other types of lifts did you work on?

As a youngster, I also experimented with every type of lifting imaginable – curls, pullovers, dips, pull-ups, deadlifts, rows, etc. As a teenager, I participated a few times a year in Junior Olympic lifting events with my brother and Michael Spallone.

What lifters at the time had the most influence on you?

Obviously the lifters that had the most influence on me were the ones closest to me: my father, brother, Tom and Jim Martin and Michael Spallone. Of course I also admired the greats – Bob Hoffman, Bob Bednarski, Phil Gripaldi, Peter Riegert.

What happened in the interim between lifting competitively as young man and now?

With demands of work and raising a family, I had lost touch with competitive lifting. About a year and half ago, Mike Spallone and I attended a East Coast Gold meet held in nearby Moorestown, NJ. At the meet, I had the honor of meeting East Coast Gold President and Executive Director Leo Totten. Since then, Leo has included me in his newsletter e-mails. Mike, Tom and Leo have provided motivation, but the greatest inspiration in everything I do in life comes from my loving wife Sandra. She is the one who encouraged me to compete as a Master.

What are some of the ways you train differently now versus back then?

As a Master weightlifter, I have to spend much more time warming up to avoid injury. Recovery time between workouts is also much longer. Most importantly – read your body’s signals and avoid injury.

How did you train over the years prior to re-entering competitive weightlifting?

During my hiatus imposed by frequent travel to manage construction projects from the Bahamas to San Francisco, I constantly sought out places to lift. When I was unable to lift I would swim, ride a bike or sometimes do calisthenics.

Please tells us a little bit on how often you train and what you do?

Now I lift about 2 – 3 times per week for about 1 hour at a time. On days that I don’t lift I do sit-ups and/or ride a stationary bike or ride outdoors. On some days I do back squats in sets of 20 reps (to keep the weight low on my arthritic knees) and incline presses in sets of 5 reps. On alternate days I do power snatches or power cleans in sets of 3 and standing presses or standing push-presses in sets of 5.

What is your favorite lift?

My favorite Olympic Lift is the snatch – it’s exciting.

What about your favorite assistance lift?

My favorite assistance lift is the full back squat – the foundation for all Olympic Lifting.

What are your short and long term goals with regards to lifting?

My short term goal is to continue to compete in Masters events. Long term, I want to maintain my health and strength so to enjoy activities with my family.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to thank you for your interest and to wish you the best of luck. I hope that the responses have been helpful. Can’t wait to check out your blog! Good luck with future meets, I am looking forward to participating with you again. Also Franklin, I can’t believe that you have only been lifting for 8 months – wow! I’m sure it won’t be long before you pass me.

Well, it should be obvious to all that Harry is a gentleman and a complete class act. And honestly, I don't think I'll be passing Harry any time soon, but I know I will continue to improve and enjoy this great sport .. and that's what it’s really all about anyway.

No comments: