Weightlifting officials laud Chicago event organization
"I'm very pleased,'' said Luis Zambrano, president of the Ecuador Weightlifting Federation and treasurer of the Pan American Weightlifting Federation, on Thursday. "We believed Chicago had the capacity to organize this event very well, and what we are seeing is an excellent organization.''
This is believed to be the largest Pan Am weightlifting championships ever in terms of numbers of countries (21) and athletes (267).
"And it is the best Pan American Championships ever in terms of organization,'' Zambrano said.
Antonio Urso of Italy, president of the European Weightlifting Federation, seconded that opinion.
"The organization is top-flight, which doesn't surprise me,'' Urso said. "Surely, this will be good for Chicago's  Olympic bid.''
Why? One clear reason is the nice setup for the athletes at these 3-in-1 championships, where Pan Am, U.S. and Ibero-American titles are being contested simultaneously. The University of Illinois-Chicago Forum has turned out to be a perfect venue for the event. Officials at event organizer World Sport Chicago, the child of Chicago's 2016 bid, first thought about putting the competition at the proposed 2016 weightlifting venue -- Arie Crown Theater. But someone wisely realized that however many fans did show up, free tickets notwithstanding, would be lost in the 4,250-seat theater and chose the UIC Forum instead because it could be subdivided into smaller halls. There are about 900 seats in the competition space.
On the other side of the wall behind the lifting platform is a large training space with huge video screens allowing the athletes and coaches to watch the competition -- and follow it statistically -- as they warm up.
The locker rooms are designed for the concert performers who often play this venue -- giving the athletes a taste of being a rock 'n' roll star.
And a U.S. athlete who figured he would be using a floor to rest in the two hours between weigh-in and competition (the usual situation at national meets) found a room full of massage tables for that purpose.
Athletes needing to sweat off some weight -- and check how much they have lost -- have access to saunas and scales at the Hilton Chicago, where they are staying; Export Fitness, a sponsor; and at UIC.
Some visiting athletes are reciprocating that hospitality by going to Chicago elementary schools Friday. Team members from Brazil and Puerto Rico will visit Anderson, which has a Spanish magnet program, while Venezuela and Colombia are scheduled for Burr, which has a Japanese program. The visits are meant to be cultural exchanges as much as introductions to weightlifting.
Even though no International Olympic Committee members are in Chicago for these championships, it can only be good for the city's Olympic bid if everything goes well -- as it has on Day 1 of four.
"This can be a big help for the candidature,'' Zambrano said.
-- Philip Hersh
Photo: Stacy Suyama of Torrance making her fifth-place snatch lift Thursday at the Pan American Weightlifting Championships. Credit: Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune