While I was just forty-eight hours away from wrapping up my keynote talks with gym owners from around Europe, I felt like keeping my mouth shut was the best approach when I walked into Oviedo’s Palacio Municipal de Deportes. I was a visitor in hallowed ground. I’d follow my leader, Alberto Garcia, past the figure skaters practicing in the center of the arena, and then past the rhythmic gymnastics room. He’d open a door, next to the boxing room, into a scene out of a every weightlifting documentary that should be made but hasn’t.
The authentically worn equipment has character and reminds you again that being a champion is about the training, not the glamour. An off number of sparse forgotten dumbbells collect rust behind a simple mirror. The room is all about the three platforms that are the focus of the center of the room. While there are enough mismatched barbells and plates, there aren’t any extra. There are no power racks, branded refrigerators, or t-shirts for sale. While I did see a dusty record player, there was no music.
This is Spain and more champions than we both can count came from this modest, backroom gym. My training partner today, “Berto,” is nineteen and while practicing his English, he explains the seven year old boy in the photo taped on the wall is him. In fact, he’s in a number of newspaper clippings that have made it on the wall, along side contemporary weightlifting legends like Lidia Valentin. Berto is a quiet, unassuming phenom. He’s been training since he was seven with his renown coach, who’s athletes are no strangers to podiums on the highest stages of international competition. He, of course, is a local police officer, who helps weightlifters on the side put up big numbers. Berto’s number speak for themselves and he’s rarely boastful. In fact, the strongest assertion he makes about his goals is how often he coincidentally wears his favorite sweatpants with “TOKYO” emblazoned on the side. While these aren’t official 2020 host of the Olympic Games merchandise, Berto wants you to connect the dots yourself. I did.
From the US, we hear about the grandeur of European weightlifting, but seeing it it person is something remarkable. The results are incredible. For context, Berto has been able to train weightlifting for free since the age of seven and his totals are internationally competitive, and his younger sister, Nere, could be even better. Kids in America don’t take up weightlifting before the age of ten, sure, but as I walk around this classic weightlifting dungeon, I can’t help but think of all the parents paying hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars each month for club teams and one-on-one lessons in basketball and baseball. That’s a full months salary for many parents in Spain.
Furthermore, the resources made available at my gym, DEUCE Gym, to hundreds of weekend warriors that will never have the weightlifting success Berto had before his thirteenth birthday. Our equipment trumps the equipment these athletes are using to claw their way to an Olympic Games. Yet, they do the work. As we finished our snatching session, I took a moment to appreciate how beautiful Berto’s movement was, especially against a backdrop that would get poor Yelp! reviews back home. Nonetheless, he knows his gym is perfectly good enough to be a champion.