by Jaromír Vítek, Karel Prohl and Petr Krol - members of the CWA Executive Board

The present Czech Republic has passed through some changes since public started to go in for sports. At the beginning, Czechland (i.e. Bohemia and Moravia) belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire as a part of that multinational realm. After the breakdown of the Empire (after the World War I in 1918) a new country - Czechoslovakia was established. The country was created by two main nations – Czechs and Slovaks and minorities like German (the biggest), Hungarian and few others.

World War II interrupted the entity of Czechoslovakia in 1939, when Slovakia became a separate country. After the end of war in 1945, Czechoslovakia arose again and lasted until the second separation on January 1, 1993. The reader is kindly asked to take these facts into consideration, browsing the following script.

The beginning of organized sport, or physical training activities was dated on the 16th February 1862. Dr Miroslav Tyrš was the founder of a sport club “Sokol pražský” (Prague Falcon). Eight other affiliated branches were founded in various locations in the same year. The further development was rapid – there were 25 registered clubs in 1865 and as many as 131 in 1871. A schedule of exercises was drafted for eight weeks term in March 1862. The draft included the time devoted to gym and individual exercises. A surprisingly big part involved barbell exercises and wrestling. Both of them were included in “Heavy Athletics”.

Dr. Tyrš distributed weightlifting into three categories:

  1. dumb-bells exercises 
  2. burdens – lifting of heavy barbells
  3. resistances – rope pulling and force development

The first definition of barbell, formulated by SOKOL coaches has been saved since those days: “a barbell consists of two iron shots provided by square holes, connected with a wooden handle”.

After the death of Dr. Tyrš in 1884, the new leading decided to prefer physical training to sports. Some officials came out against the efforts to reach top performances in particular sport branch and requested development of harmonic stature in a balance with mind in the antic sense and emphasized patriotism.

The development of particular sports, like cycling, fencing, soccer, lawn-tennis started after the year 1885. The Czech Olympic Committee was founded , under guidance by Dr. Jiří Guth-Jarkovský. The Czech Amateur Athletic Union (Č.A.A.U.) comprising beyond track and field, swimming, fencing, soccer, yachting and, of course, heavy athletic, was established on the 8th May 1897. Heavy athletic included weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, rope pulling and throws, which are now a part of track and field.

The milestone of weightlifting was the year 1893, when the self-sustaining Heavy Athletic Union, outside SOKOL, was created by two outstanding heavy athletes Josef Balej (1864-1906) and Fridolin Hoyer (1868-1941). Both of them practiced various tough-guy exhibitions. The latter was a promoter of a Sports Institute at the famous Prague downtown Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) on the 4th September 1908. He became the first professional coach in Czechland and was definitely one of the first persons, who run a business in this field. This school offered the participants luxury not common on those days, like electric lights, showers with hot and cold water, solely individual boxes for changing clothes. There were two mottoes formulated by Mr. Hoyer: “Strong volition will find strength for whatever” and “Permanent calm is an enemy of health”. Hoyer´s Institute was the only one for a long time not only in Czechland, but in the whole Austrian-Hungarian Empire as well. Mr. Hoyer educated athletes also in other sports. His physical education was used by police, military police, army officers and other members of armed bodies.

The weightlifting training was certainly completely different in comparison to the present training courses. Weightlifting exhibitions evoked more variety show than a sport contest. Human pyramids, bridges, antique groups, roundabouts were very attractive items of the programme. Barbells were iron, stone, concrete made, buckets, bags filled with sand. The bar was not rotating, of course. There was no limit given to fantasy in this sense. Mostly persistency was desired. Body weight was unlimited. The strong men of those days made challenges to the spectators. One hand lifts were common. Some lifts were carried out by one, or a few fingers only. Two hand press, snatch and clean and jerk were a part of this system too.

That style penetrated from more developed countries, like England, France, Germany and, first of all Austria, which was the same country, into the Czech region.

At the turn of centuries the present-day weightlifting has been introduced. After that, the rules and training system changed considerably. International contests were developed. Prague was the host of famous foreign lifters, first of all from Germany and Austria. Let us remind few names, like Karl Swoboda, Georg Hackenschmied, Jakub Koch, Josef Grafl, Wilheml Türk and others.

The oldest clubs were Č.K.S. Karlín (1885), A.C. Praha (1890), Č.A.C. Královské Vinohrady (1893), S.K. Slávia (1894), A.C. Sparta Praha (1895) and A.C. Plzeň (1985). Czech Athletic Club, established in Brno in 1987, is remarkable for a famous athlete Gustav Frištenský, who was well known abroad as well. Only Č.A.K. Královské Vinohrady, under the name Bohemians Praha and Athletic Club Žižka Plzeň as Slavoj Plzeň have been existing till present. All the other clubs of those days ceased.

The first recorded weightlifting contest, where the Czech Champion was decorated took place on the 22nd July 1894 in Prague. Josef Soukup was the winner. He was born in 1869, butcher by profession and worked at an abattoir. He was the strongest man in Czechland and contributed greatly to weightlifting development. He was able to kill an ox by one hand stroke. He jerked 145 kg, 104 kg one arm jerk. Mr. Soukup was recorded as the Czech Champion in 1893 already. Since that date, the Czech Championships have taken place every year. More than 1200 Czech Champions are registered in record lists, naturally in the mentioned periods 1918-1939 and 1945-1992 Czechoslovak Champions. Since 1955 the youngsters up to 18 years category have appeared. Some further age distribution among youngsters, has been made later on, starting on the international level with World Junior (up to 20 years) Championships in 1975. Eventually, the masters category was set up. Now, lifters have an opportunity to compete their whole life.

Czech Masters have reached a very good success on the international scene since the category has been introduced internationally. In this connection we would like to mention first of all one name – Karel Saitl (born 1924). He was a member of Czechoslovak National Weightlifting Team many years ago, but he has not stopped his activities after retirement from the National Team and has been competing till present. He celebrated his 80th birthday in 2004 and 60 years of active weightlifting. He got the title of longest lifting athlete at this occasion. He was 15 times Czechoslovak Champion and 35 times Champion in Masters Category. Some others, having been Czech representatives in the past too, are still taking part in Masters events both on European and International level. The most famous names are Karel Prohl, Oldrich Lexa, Jan Hellebrant. Women Masters do not lag behind and use to get World and European Masters Medals as well. Two lifters were ranked into the International Hall of Fame – Karel Saitl and Oldrich Lexa, as well as Miloslav Gliz in the category of officials.

International activities are very important in every country and Czech lifters displayed remarkable achievements too. The first attendance of our lifter on European Championship was recorded in 1909 in Dresden. Adolf Welz got the bronze medal in Total for 244 kg (three lifts – one hand snatch, two hands press and jerk). Vaclav Becvar was the first European Champion in 1933 Essen with 552,5 kg in Total (five exercises). The Total consisted of left hand and right hand snatches, press, snatch and both hands clean and jerk).

The first attendance on World Championships is dated in 1904 Vienna, where Josef Ludvik took the seventh place, regardless bodyweight. The first World Championships medal was fought out by Bohumil Durdis in 1923 Vienna in the body weight category up to 67,5 kg. Jaroslav Skobla won gold on the same Championship in the category up to 82,5 kg.

The first attendance of a Czech lifter on Olympic Games was dated in 1920 Antverpen (Ludvik Wagner). We had to wait for the first Olympic medal for four years more. Bohumil Durdis got bronze in the 67,5 kg category in Paris 1924.

After the mentioned pioneers, a great number remarkable achievements, sometimes of themselves, or in a considerably bigger extend their successors occurred.

The highly appreciated are results on Olympic Games, of course. There were three Olympic Champions coming from our country, i.e. Jaroslav Skobla in Los Angeles 1932 (category +82,5 kg), Hans Zdrazila in Tokyo 1964 (category up to 75 kg) and Otto Zaremba in Moscow 1980 (category up to 100 kg). Two Silver Medals were conquered by Vaclav Psenicka (1932 Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin) and three Bronze, beyond the mentioned Durdis again Skobla (1928 Amsterdam) and Dusan Poliacik (1980 Moscow). In the IWF ranking in Olympic Medals distribution, our Association takes the sixteenth place among all IWF member countries.

A picture of the level of Czech Weightlifting can be shown through the number of World Records broken by Czech athletes. Hans Zdrazila was the World Record holder in Clean& Jerk three times in the Category up to 75 kg (in 1963-1964), Vaclav Psenicka senior twice in Snatch up to 82,5 kg (in 1928) and Otto Zaremba four times – twice in Snatch and twice in Total up to 100 kg (1981).

Among Juniors, Rudolf Strejcek broke the World Record in Snatch in the cat. 100 kg in 1970, Pavel Khek in Snatch in the +110 kg in 1976 and Jiri Zubricky in Clean & Jerk in the same category in 1984.

Beside these World Records some other world top performances were overcome, but not officially recognized.

The balance of medals on World Championships comprises three gold, three silver and fifteen bronze in Total, connected with the names Anton Baraniak, Vaclav Becvar, Bohuslav Braum, Milos Ciernik, Bohumil Durdis, Bruno Matykiewicz, Dusan Poliacik, Karel Prohl, Karel Saitl, Otto Zaremba, Hans Zdrazila and Jiri Zubricky (in alphabetic order). Furthermore, two gold, eleven silver and twenty-four bronze medals in individual lifts were acquired, with a contribution of two more athletes – Jan Nagy and Lubomir Vymazal.

Two juniors became World Champions in Total – Jiri Zubricky (+110kg) in 1984 and Petr Hudecek (up to 110 kg) in 1985. Milos Ciernik got Silver, and five lifters got Bronze – Vladimir Bolom, Jaroslav Jokel, Roman Polom, Jaroslav Rutter and Lubos Studnicka.

Two Gold Medals, nine Silver (also Pavel Khek) and twelve Bronze Medal in individual lifts have to be added to the final result, thanks to some other lifters like Pavel Chvojka, Marian Ciernik, Ladislav Kovacs, Imrich Rusnyak, Ondrej Rusnyak, Petr Solar and Oldrich Sobotka as well.

The history of women weightlifting is considerably shorter. Therefore, it does not contain as many names as the men statistics. Still Czech women reached some remarkable results. Sona Vasickova was the first successful woman having got Silver Medal in the +75 kg Category in 1991. Radka Sevcikova won, to some surprise of many weightlifting experts the title of European Champion in Total (up to 75 kg) in 1999. Veronika Buronova was the most successful woman junior lifter, when she got bronze medals in the category up to 63 kg in 1998.

Naturally, a share of coaches in the mentioned successes must be presented too. The coaches of National Weightlifting Team were chronologically: Josef Balej, Fridolin Hoyer, Antonin Bina, J.A. Pipal, Vaclav Zverina, Frantisek Kopriva, Slava Sindelar, Rudolf Urban, Jaroslav Kulhanek, Frantisek Mensik, Josef Matejcek, Artur Jezek, Josef Sofron, Josef Hantych, Bedrich Poula, Vaclav Peterka, Antonin Dresl (men and women), Emil Brzoska, Karel Duspiva, Frantisek Skarda, Jan Vondrak, Jiri Vodrazka, Miroslav Kozel (women) and Miroslav Vrbka. Some of them were outstanding lifters too and affected the course of Czech Weightlifting from others positions as well. Let us emphasize two of them at least. Antonin Dresl was the National Coach in the period 1963-1978. He contributed considerably in developing of methodology and structure of weightlifting training. Emil Brzoska was his successor in 1979 – 1988 and one of the main creators of Czechoslovak successes in Weightlifting in the eighties.

Referees are not neglectable part of every sport. The Czech weightlifting referees have been working since the beginning of Olympic Weightlifting and appreciated internationally, taking part on European and World Championships at various positions, including Juries.

Eventually, every organization needs a leading, which steers the boat on the water level. The Czech Weightlifting Association is controlled by its Executive Board, having 9 members, elected every four years on the National Congress. It has a broad extent of duties – organizing of contests for all age categories, development of weightlifting, providing financial conditions, education of athletes, coaches, etc. The Presidents of Czech (or Czechoslovak) Weightlifting Federation were, again in a chronological sequence: Frantisek Maly, Rudolf Schindler, Antonin Fric, Antonin Bina, Vaclav Zverina, Frantisek Mensik, Josef Matejcek, Josef Hantych, Jaroslav Hasek, Frantisek John, Bedrich Poula, Jaromir Vitek, Petr Hron, Ladislav Adamec, Frantisek Skarda, Vaclav Zazvorka and Emil Brzoska. You might notice some names also in the foregoing part.

Internationally, the Czech Weightlifting has been well known owing to many official activities – organizing tournaments, matches and, last but not least, World and European Championships. It was since 1913 (European Championships in Brno) until 2002 twelve World and/or European Championships men, women and juniors, respectively. Out of those, three European Masters Championships were organized in the Czech Republic.

The memberships within the IWF began on the 15th July 1912 (under the name Bohemia). Only seven national weightlifting federations had affiliated earlier. On the 23rd August 1920, the Czechoslovak Weightlifting Federation was registered (with ten other national federations). The name Rudolf Schindler from Bohemia can be noticed among the first IWF Officials on the 6th June 1913. Mr. Schindler disappeared in 1920 from the list. After an eight year interruption, Josef Purckner was elected as a Bureau Member.

He was substituted by Frantisek Mensik, who was elected as Vice-President in 1932. After an interruption caused by war years, he came back in 1946 and remained as a highly appreciated personality until 1956. In this year Bedrich Poula was elected a Bureau Member and took the position of Vice-President in 1968. He remained there until 1984, when he left the IWF Executive Board and was nominated IWF Honorary Vice-President. In the period 1971 – 1980 he chaired the Technical Committee.

Bedrich Poula was one of the founders of European Weightlifting Federation in 1969 and became the EWF Vice-President too. Karol Wiener and Jaroslav Cech from Czechoslovakia were helpful to him during the EWF foundation. They worked in the EWF Medical and Auditors Commission respectively. Bedrich Poula was active as the Vice-President till 1977 and was nominated the EWF Honorary Life Vice-President this year. He prepared for the international activities his descendant Jaromir Vitek, who was elected EWF Executive Board Member in the same year. Jaromir Vitek was an EWF Executive Board member till 1991, when he did not did not run for any EWF position more. He was nominated EWF Honorary Member, Karol Wiener as well.

At present two Czech officials are active in the EWF. Since many years, Jiri Michl has been a medical Committee Member, who is known as a frequent “Doctor on Duty” at many European and World Championships. Petr Krol, former outstanding lifter, has been elected Technical Committee Member at the last EWF Electional Congress.

Jaromir Vitek was elected the first time IWF Executive Board Member in 1984 in Los Angeles. He has been working in the same position till nowadays, during the last term as the IWF Legal Commission chairman. The only exception was the period 1996 – 2000, when he was nominated Member of IWF Scientific and Research Committee.