For most of her young life, Jenny Arthur dreamed of one day being an Olympian. Early on, track and field was her game, and she could close her eyes and picture herself on the world’s biggest athletic stage, gliding around the oval, leaning in for the finish line as a million eyes followed her every fleet-footed stride.
The sixth of eight siblings, she loved to run with her sisters, taking to the tree-lined streets of her Gainesville, Georgia, hometown nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“We did everything together,” she says of her family. “My parents would take us to libraries, parks, courts, pools, fields — just about anywhere to keep us learning and productive.” Arthur excelled at softball and on the track-and-field team at Chestatee High School, where she competed in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 100- and 300-meter hurdles, 4x100 relay and shot put.
At first, weights were simply a tool to get better at those other endeavors — to improve her speed and stamina. But her competitive spirit intervened, and soon the track and the softball diamond had been eclipsed by the exhilarating pursuit of explosive physical power.
“I was inspired by a friend, Megan Poole, who lifted at my high school,” Arthur recalls. “I wanted to be stronger than her and the other guys I was lifting around.”
Coached by Chestatee High’s Matt Mays and Stan Luttrell, Arthur’s debut competition was in 2010. “I had trained for about a year, and won my first youth meet,” Arthur recalls. “It was a fun experience and it was my first time flying out of state.”
It wouldn’t be the last, as her frequent flier mileage can attest. Six years later, the two-time national champion, Junior World silver medalist and Pan American Championship silver medalist owns both the American junior (ages 15-20) and senior (ages 15 and up) 75-kilogram division records in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total for both lifts — with the clean-and-jerk mark of 138 kilograms and total of 244 kilograms coming this past December at the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships. (She also holds the clean-and-jerk senior and junior record in the 69-kilogram division, which she hasn’t competed in since 2012.)
And most importantly, her long-held dream — slightly modified, with a barbell in place of her trusty pair of running shoes — has finally been realized. Jenny Arthur is going to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, being held August 5-21, to represent Team USA. There, she hopes to accomplish a feat that’s proven extremely difficult for her home country’s weightlifting athletes: bringing home a medal.
Arthur was, in fact, the first person named to the Team USA Olympic weightlifting contingent on January 12 this year, thanks to her performances in the 2014 and 2015 IWF World Championships, where the 5'5", 165-pound athlete scored the highest point totals among all U.S. competitors.
“Carrisa Gump of USA Weightlifting called for a meeting at our gym, and then announced it,” Arthur says of the moment forever etched in her memory.
“Everything I had to do leading up to that moment was suddenly all worth it. It all paid off — the effort, the sacrifice, even the long nights icing in the tub before bed.”
Indeed, her inclusion on the team was the culmination of years of intensive training, first in Georgia and starting in 2012 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she relocated to perfect her technique and drive up her totals for the two competitive Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk. “As time went on, I realized how much I was progressing and the opportunities it brought,” Arthur says. “I started setting big goals for myself — and being the best was one of them.”
Her father, mother, brother and six sisters, as always, remained steadfastly in her corner throughout the notoriously all-encompassing commitment required of Olympic hopefuls. “My family is very supportive, and they have been since day one,” she says. “All my siblings are pursuing their dreams as well, so we work together to support one another any chance we get.”
Arthur also finds strength in her beliefs — deeply spiritual, she regularly attends church on Sundays. “I was raised in a Christian household and have known God all of my life,” she says. “He is my strength, wisdom, joy and peace. He definitely carries me on those days I don’t feel like training.”
Such days are a given with the brutal schedule required to excel at these highest levels. To prepare for Rio, where she’ll compete as a light heavyweight in the 75-kilogram class, Arthur has been lifting six days a week, doing nine sessions of two to three hours each. Her program — guided by U.S. National Team Coach and 1972 Olympic gold medalist Zygmunt Smalcerz — is designed to refine her mechanics and maximize her totals.
“We practice different variations of the snatch and clean and jerk, and sometimes the full lift,” Arthur explains. “They are very technical lifts, so repetition is key for perfecting the movements. Every day for me is about learning, getting better and working hard.”
She certainly seems ready. At the Olympic Team Trials in Salt Lake City on May 8, Arthur — her Olympic spot already clinched — amassed an impressive total of 239 kilograms (527 pounds) to win the 75-kilogram weight class. Her best snatch was 104 kilograms (229 pounds) while her top clean and jerk was 135 kilograms (298 pounds).
While an array of support exercises are employed, the most critical to focus on, according to Arthur, are barbell squats, pulling movements for the back, hamstring work and various moves for the abs and lower back.
“Squats are great for leg strength, pulls for a strong back, and core work is also essential for stability when the weight is in the overhead position,” she says.
As for her personal preference between performing the snatch or clean and jerk, she admittedly vacillates between the two. “It varies, depending on my weaknesses at that moment,” Arthur explains. “I try to love the one I’m struggling with at any given time, in order to get better all around.”
While muscle might seem like the prime mover, successful Olympic lifting is equally a mental exercise — meaning sessions involve a constant honing of the championship thought process.
“The mental aspect (of this sport) can get the best of you if you aren’t careful,” she warns. “I try to retain focus on myself and the goals I have set out. I understand, then, that it is only me and the bar. I do the best I can knowing at each meet — including the Olympic stage — that I am prepared and ready for what I am capable of.”
As to her goals at the Summer Games, the 22-year-old is intent on winning the first weightlifting medal for the U.S. since the two earned at the sport’s Olympic debut in 2000. “I am training to podium,” she asserts. “I’m not really preparing for anything less. I just need to remain focused on this goal and work at it, day by day.”
Jenny Lyvette Arthur
- Birthdate: December 11, 1993
- Birthplace: Gainesville, Georgia
- Current Residence: Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Height: 5'5"
- Weight Class: 75 kilograms (165 pounds contest)
- Best Snatch: 106 kilograms (approximately 234 pounds)
- Best Clean and Jerk: 138 kilograms (approximately 304 pounds)
- Contest Highlights: 2016 Arnold Weightlifting Championships (1st, 75 kilograms), 2015 IWF World Championships (8th, 75 kilograms), 2015 USAW Nationals (1st, 75 kilograms), 2014 IWF World Championships (14th, 69 kilograms), 2014 USAW Nationals (1st, 75 kilograms), 2014 Pan Americans (2nd, 75 kilograms), 2014 Grand Prix & Russian President’s Cup Invitee (6th, 75 kilograms), 2013 IWF Junior Worlds (2nd, 75 kilograms), 2013 Pan Americans (2nd, 75 kilograms), 2013 Junior Pan Americans (1st, 75 kilograms), 2013 USAW Junior Nationals (1st, 75 kilograms), 2013 USAW American Open (1st, 75 kilograms)
- Instagram: @jenny.arthur
- Twitter: @jlarthur2016
The Snatch And Clean & Jerk: A Closer Look
The snatch and the clean and jerk both involve lifting a barbell from the floor to an overhead position. In the snatch (shown), you hoist the bar in one powerful motion to a point your elbows are locked out overhead and you’re in a deep squat — you then stand up with the bar extended above you to finish. For the clean and jerk, you bring the bar to shoulder level, “catching” it there while in a squat position, then stand and press the weight overhead a smooth, integrated step-by-step fashion.
Of course, perfecting your technique involves tons of practice and study to adopt all the small details. This quick list of “form cues” is just a starting point for those who want to master these lifts:
- The barbell should be over the base of your toes.
- Position your shoulders directly over or slightly forward of the bar.
- Your shins should be in contact with the bar.
- Keep your lower back arched and core tight.
- Center your weight over your midfoot.
- Your arms should be flexed but not overly tense.
- Keep the bar close to your body throughout the lifts — the farther it drifts away, the harder it is to control.
Olympic Lifting: Your Viewing Guide
When watching Olympic lifting from the safety and comfort of your own living room, the nuances of the sport are far from obvious. It’s certainly more than brutishly hefting a weight from Point A to Point B. To get the inside story, we talked with former competitor Daniel Camargo, a U.S. International and USA Weightlifting coach, owner of Camargo Oly Concepts (OlyConcepts.com), and author of Olympic Weightlifting: Cues & Corrections. Here are the four biggest takeaways:
It’s not all about strength … “It looks like this barbaric method of picking up and slamming weights, but we get judged by technique. Since the judges are critiquing form, we have to actually spend more time on form than we spend on just becoming stronger.”
Olympic lifters want to minimize the bar’s movement … “While there is some curvature to the bar path from the beginning to its end position, it’s very true that you want to minimize the bar’s movement and maximize your own movement around it. It’s too heavy to manipulate in too many different directions. So the idea is pick it up, get yourself around it successfully and up into the overhead position.”
An Olympic lifter has a common mental progression … “Beginners are thinking about movement patterns when they’re on the big stage. Intermediate competitors are thinking more about the effort, less about the mechanics. At the elite level, it is automatic — those athletes are just visualizing perfection. It becomes more of a sensation than it is cognitive at that point.”
The best training movement to borrow from an Olympian … “For someone who is already doing some form of strength training and wants to either get into Olympic lifting or just develop power and explosiveness, the number one go-to movement is the power clean. It’s the easiest to learn mechanically. This is why football, baseball and basketball players do power cleans in the offseason — it’s a way to develop quicker, stronger athletes in a short period of time with an easier technique learning curve. A secondary option is the power snatch, because of what it does for the shoulders, your thoracic and core development, and midline stability.”