I doubt that one in a thousand powerlifters has ever considered the “issue” of equipment certification. It has been difficult enough, through the sport’s growth as chronicled and critiqued in our lengthy TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series, to procure safe, durable equipment. Certification with an organizing body at the national or international level has been the least of any competitive lifter’s or trainee’s problems or concerns. However, answering the question “Should my product be officially certified?” is a question that must be addressed by powerlifting equipment, barbell, plate, and attire manufacturers and the results often affect the lifter and the consumer’s cost for these various products. One must first understand that it is a prevailing misconception that “being certified” guarantees quality. It may in some cases but in most, certification means little more than “the guy paid a fee we requested, thus we certified him.” Having official certification may allow use in an organization’s contests, advertising, or related business but in no way offers the consumer a declaration that “this product is now better than one that is not certified.”
A photo from the archives, circa early 1980’s, of Memphis lifter Steve Baldwin, always a top competitor at 181, with one of his typically super heavy deadlifts. Never a deterrent to Steve, the barbell is made up of a mix of different manufacturers’ plates, typical for the era.
Throughout my commentary related to certification, I am going to pick and choose where and whom I identify and I will be clear when I won’t. I am not looking to put my sources of information, meet directors, or others in a difficult position talking about corruption in the sport for example, as many of these long time powerlifting veterans still have to deal with specific individuals in some organizations or have contracts with equipment manufacturers. However, the history is compelling and explains much of “why things are the way they are.” Regarding quality, many lifters assume that a product is “very good because it is certified with the IWF or IPF” or another international organization. Well, at a World Championship held within the past three years, what is arguably the world’s best known barbell brand was to be utilized on the main platform. Their barbell, plates, and squat/bench press rack were in place the day prior to the competition and a cursory examination of the rack revealed enough sharp edges and burring on the weight saddles and uprights that one of the workers had to use a hand grinder to smooth out the edges to prevent potential cutting of lifters’ and spotters’ hands. The bar, long lauded as “the best,” was so smooth and devoid of decent knurling, that the meet director contacted the manufacturer to thank them for their donation specifically for this one contest, but that they would in fact utilize an older gym bar for the main platform to best protect the lifters and allow for their most productive performances.
Certified with the IPF, Ivanko Barbell was always a popular choice among powerlifting meet promoters and lifters. A high quality product, many meet promoters gave the lifters what they wanted and for years, Ivanko was the powerlifting standard. PLUSA’s Mike Lambert can be seen in the background striving for the great photos that made his magazine the best ever
First is the consideration that at some meets, large and small, national and/or international, some meet directors will utilize their own equipment, some will agree to accept or request a loan from a specific manufacturer for their one specific contest, and others will either agree to accept or request a donated barbell set if the meet has enough importance and exposure. If the use of one’s product at a specific meet will result in a definite increase in sales and/or exposure that will later become sales, a manufacturer may wish to loan or donate equipment. It has been this way for years and one of the best known “loaned products” was the beautiful Ivanko chromed powerlifting set that was seen on a multitude of PLUSA Magazine covers. The set would be shipped to the meet site or meet director’s address, utilized for the contest, re-crated, and shipped back to Ivanko. While this was an exceptionally considerate gesture on the part of Tom Lincer, owner and founder of Ivanko, it was also positive from a business standpoint and there were a number of years where lifters judged the legitimacy of a contest based upon the presence or absence of the Ivanko set on the meet platform. That said, the facts described above, with what was obviously substandard equipment donated to a major international contest, and they are facts, begs the questions:
“Because the equipment was donated for this specific meet, was sub-standard equipment sent and did it not reflect the usual quality or current standard for their equipment package?”
“Was this more or less, what they were churning out of their factory at the time?”
“Was the donated bar one that otherwise was not sellable and thus a convenient way to get it out of inventory?”
“Was the lack of quality control on the rack’s finish typical or typical of one bad run of racks?”
In either case, long held certification certainly was neither guarantee nor protection against poor quality and one would think that if equipment was to be showcased at a world championship, the manufacturer would want to display their very best products.
First, from the organization’s perspective, why demand certification? As it is in most sports, there is a history to every large and small aspect of its growth, acceptance, and participation levels. Certification is very much part of barbell history, though not always for positive reasons. Let’s take two different perspectives on certification and let’s assume that the certifying bodies, meaning the lifting organizations that we support, actually demand certain minimal standards of quality and conformity. If equipment is certified, a lifter or meet director can have a certain expectation relative to the use and performance of the rack, bench, barbell, plates, lifting suit, bench shirt, knee wraps, or other certified product. The organization is allowing for a very narrow variation on a minimal standard so that equipment and attire is standardized. All of this is positive. However, for many decades, of course beginning with Olympic Weightlifting, certification was no more than a “Pay To Play” process; “pay us, we will certify your product, and it’s all good.” For those that pay the National Football League licensing fees to utilize their logo or be named, “The NFL’s Official Cream Cheese” (I don’t think they have that one yet), does anyone truly believe that the quality of that cream cheese actually makes it more desirable to those in the NFL or its corporate offices? Of course not, a fee was paid to become, “The Official NFL…Whatever It Might Be.” A manufacturer of one of the well- known brands of barbell products in conversations with me, were always very adamant that their resistance to certification came from “real or perceived corruption in certain organizations.” Ivanko and TITEX for example, are both products certified by the IPF and one can expect a quality product with predictable manufacturing standards. However, there is no doubt that the history of many in the leading lifting organizations has made the entire process seem like a legal shake down. Again, without naming sources, allow me to paraphrase what I believe is very accurate and revealing information.
Nico Louizos lifting with the new TITEX barbell and plates
Olympic weightlifting, at least into the 1990’s which would mark the end of my inside knowledge of the many dealings that occurred, had A and B categories for equipment certification. Category A in those days meant that “you gave us what we asked for.” Category B was left to those who could not afford to pay the amount requested for Category A certification. The equipment manufacturers would be required to pay a certification fee of $50,000.00 and donate approximately fifty top-of-the-line competition sets that would be distributed by the international organization to the athletic governing bodies of fledging Third World countries. This of course would insure that these ever-grateful emerging nations would remain in the fold of the international body, no matter what other organizations were formed. It also guaranteed the vote on any membership related matter the organization dealt with, insuring total control of the organization by those in power. In the 1980’s, both Schnell and York Barbell Company requested to have the specific requirements for the different levels of certification published and when this was not done, they failed to make their usual “certification payment or contribution.” Both sets, among the best in those days, were immediately dropped from Category A to Category B status, limiting their use in certain world and international competitions. York lost business because the international organization would not allow a Caribbean nation to purchase sixty Olympic lifting sets as these needed to be Category A sets. To John Terpak’s credit, he did not back down despite the loss of business. Terpak did exact a bit of revenge when the York Barbell set was used on the competition platform of the Los Angeles based 1984 Olympic Games, despite having Category B classification, especially since a promise was made to a “fully paid up and thus certified Category A” major foreign manufacturer that their set would be featured. However, “host nation makes the call” won out.
As an aside, I want to repeat a comment I have made publicly and in writing, about John Terpak. He did “the right thing” in standing up to one of the powerful lifting organizations and he did the right thing for me when I was beginning my high school coaching career in the late 1960’s. As the football coach at Malverne High School that was responsible for doing everything from striping the helmets, to designing blitzes out of our 4-4 Stack Defense, I installed a weight training program. The high school had a multi-station Universal Machine and nothing else and there was no organized program for the student body or athletes. I brought my own Olympic set and weights into an unused room, spent two weekends in the family iron shop fabricating benches and a power rack, and then drove up to Holyoke, Massachusetts to see long-time acquaintance Ed Jubinville. Ed was very gracious, no surprise to anyone acquainted with a true gentleman, in giving me a discount so that I could purchase an incline bench, decline, bench, and a few other pieces that were literally sticking out of every window and door of my van, and hanging from the roof when I drove home. A week later I drove to the York Barbell Company after having had a number of conversations with Mr. Terpak and must have been the only one in the United States who was allowed to drive away with a van full of plates and new Olympic bars with his permission to “pay it off.” He understood my mission and supported it and I know that it was not company policy to allow a high school coach to buy equipment without paying for every bit of it. We had one of the first organized programs and “real” weight rooms on Long Island, and though it would pale when compared to what is typical today, it was and today would still be functional, useable, and effective. I have never forgotten John Terpak’s understanding and kindness.
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