Weight-lifting contests have been common since ancient times (and were apparently included in the ancient Greek Olympics), and were a part of the original Olympic games in 1896. Women's weight-lifting began in the 1980s and was added to the Olympic program in 2000.
Weights are mounted on a steel "barbell" which weighs 20 kilograms for male competition and 15 for female competition. The weights themselves are rubber-coated steel discs, color-coded for their different weights, and held in place by 2.5 kg collars. Identical weights are placed at each end of the barbell. The barbell has patterns engraved on it to assist the lifters to get a steady grip on the bar. Competitors start with the weighted barbell placed in the middle of a 4 x 4 metre wooden floor, coated with non-slip material.
There are two different weightlifting events - the "snatch", in which competitors must lift the barbell above their head in one steady movement, and the "clean and jerk" where competitors first "clean" the barbell from the floor to an intermediate position squatting with the barbell resting on their chests, then stand straight while continuing to rest the barbell, then "jerking" the barbell to a position above their head. In both cases, for a successful lift, competitors must hold the bar steady above their heads, with arms and legs straight and motionless. Three judges judge the successful completion of the lift. Once a competitor has met the requirements in their opinion, each judge shines a white light. When at least two white lights are shown, the lift is regarded as successful and the competitor may drop the bar. If the competitor fails to achieve a successful lift in the opinion of a judge, a red light is shown. The lift must also be achieved within a time limit or it does not count. A third lift, the "clean and press" or simply "press", was practiced in the Olympics until 1972. The clean and press differs from the clean and jerk, in that the weight is pressed directly up from the chest in slow controlled motion rather than being jerked. The event was eliminated due to the difficulty in judging whether the lift was performed correctly.
Competitors compete in one of eight (seven for women) divisions determined by their body mass. The men's classes are 56 kg, 62 kg, 69 kg, 77 kg, 85 kg, 94 kg, 105 kg and over 105 kg. The womens' classes are 48 kg, 53 kg, 58 kg, 63 kg, 69 kg, 75 kg, and over 75 kg. In each weight division, competitors compete in both the snatch, and clean and jerk, and prizes are usually given for heaviest weight lifted in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total heaviest weights.
The order of the competition is up to the lifters - the competitor who chooses to attempt the lowest weight goes first. If they are unsuccessful at that weight, they have the option of reattempting that lift, or trying a heavier weight later (after any other competitors have made attempts at that weight or any intermediate weights). Weights are set in 2.5 kilogram increments, and each lifter can have a maximum of three lifts, regardless of whether lifts are successful or not.
Weightlifting can be an awe-inspiring spectator sport, as competitors expend massive psychological and physical efforts to lift weights over twice their own body weight.
The competitive sport is controlled by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), based in Budapest it was founded in 1905.
From the 1950s to the 1980s many successful elite weightlifters were from parts of eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, Romania, and the Ukraine. Since then lifters from China, Greece and Turkey have dominated the sport. Naim Süleymanoglu of Turkey won gold in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Vasily Alexeyev of Russia set 80 world records and won two gold medals during the 1970s.
The total record in the men's 56 kg class is 305 kg, in the 105 kg and above class it is 472.5 kg. the quality of lifters in different classes can be compared using the Sinclair Coefficients.