by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

SYDNEY, Australia — Women have always been smarter than men. I used to believe that. Now I’m not so sure.

One thing that always made women smarter was their acceptance of things. Like weight. In prehistoric days, for example, a cavewoman would look at a rock and think, “Hmm, that rock looks heavy.”

Whereas a caveman would not only think the rock looked heavy, he would feel a compelling need to see HOW heavy, so he would grab the rock, raise it as far as his struggling muscles would allow, then drop it on his head.

This sort of manly thinking led to the invention of the tombstone (they just left it there, on top of the guy), furniture moving — an activity women have been smart enough to avoid — and the sport of weight lifting, from which they have also, wisely, stayed away.

Until now.

Tuesday night, believe it or not, I entered the cavernous halls of the Sydney Convention Centre and rubbed my eyes.

Women’s weight lifting is now an Olympic sport.

Yep. Bar-belles.

“Tonight’s participants will compete in the snatch and the clean and jerk!” the announcer bellowed.

And with that, a parade of rather imposing-looking women (you would not, under any circumstances, say to one of them, “Hey, toots, how’s about fetching me a beer?”) took the podium to hoist massive weights over their heads.

They grunted, heaved and held those weights aloft for three seconds, before thudding them to the floor and walking away.

(Not to sound sexist here, but this very act goes against the grain of every woman I have ever known. I mean, come on. The idea of leaving something where you dropped it? I’ve been yelled at for years for that!)

But I digress.

Sung to the tune of ‘Michelle’

Anyhow, in the competition I watched, the 69-kilogram division (and again, not to sound sexist here, but women voluntarily giving their weight?), there were competitors from a small host of nations. There was one from Greece, one from Russia, China, Thailand, Egypt, Poland, and the home crowd’s choice, a compact, sandy-haired Australian named Michelle Kettner.

Michelle became my favorite, too, partly because I heard a Beatles tune in my head (“Michelle …barbell …these are words that go together well”), and mostly because, in her bio, under “favorite activities,” she listed “sleep.”



And Michelle smacked some white powder in her hands, grabbed the metal bar, and with a loud grunt, hoisted the massive weights over her head. In the middle of this, she stuck her tongue out, Michael Jordan-style. I am not sure why. And I’m not about to ask.

“A GOOD LIFT!” the announcer screamed.

She dropped the weight. It landed with a crash.

And on came Tom Jones singing, “Burning Down the House.”

(This is one thing that makes weight lifting different from other sports. After every attempt, they blast 10 seconds of a song, usually something cheesy. In the course of the clean-and-jerk event, I heard, at least a dozen times, “The Freak” by Chic, “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner, and something that went “Oooh, la-laah, c’est zoom.”)

Eventually a woman from Hungary came out. Her name was Markus. She was extremely muscular. Well-defined. Let me be blunt. Her neck was thicker than my waist.

And before she ever lifted anything, she froze and yelled, “SHA!”

Then she yelled, “HOO!”

Then she yelled, “SHA!”.

And then she snatched about 200 pounds over her head.



Brains win out in the end

Now. Here’s the thing. I am all for the progression of women’s sports. For years, men had basketball, baseball, cycling, water polo and hockey to themselves. Today, women have their own Olympic versions of all those. And I’m glad.

But weight lifting? Let me let you ladies in on a secret. The only reason men ever lifted weights was to impress women. We stood around until a woman walked by, then we grabbed the bar and strained to push 100 pounds over our heads. The women pointed and whispered, and we were absolutely convinced they were swooning. What they actually were saying was, “Oh god, there goes Phil, trying to show off. I bet he throws his back out.”

Now I ask you. Why emulate that?

When Tuesday’s competition was over (a Chinese woman, the lightest competitor, won the gold; the shouting Hungarian finished second) I approached Michelle Kettner. She was very nice, considering she could rip my head off.

“People used to tease me all the time about lifting weights,” she said. “It was just something I mucked around with. But I’m glad it’s an Olympic sport now. That’s good for the girls who come after us.”

How much longer will you compete? I asked.

“Oh, I’m looking to retire.”

Retire? Why?

“Come on, mate,” she said, grinning. “There’s more to life than lifting weights.”

I told you women were smarter.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). And catch Mitch’s Olympic TV reports on “The Early Show,” 7-9 a.m. weekdays on CBS (Channel 62 in Detroit).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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