Interviews

U.S. Weightlifting Has Its New Olympic Hope. He Just Needs to Get Through High School.

With his two bronze medals at the World Weightlifting Championships, Harrison Maurus has ended the U.S. weightlifting team’s drought. Now, the teenage phenom has loftier goals in mind.

by
Harrison Maurus
Joseph McCray

"What’s next?"

That’s the question that, in part, led to the resurgence of the U.S. men’s Olympic weightlifting team.

When Harrison Maurus was 11, his sport was gymnastics—and right around then, gymnastics stopped being interesting. The time commitment was too much, and he “was never gonna go very far” in the sport, he says—so he decided to put his power and explosiveness toward other endeavors.

Even at 11, though, Maurus hit the weight room with his coach, Kevin Simons, to stay in shape. As luck would have it, Simons also coached in the weightlifting spectrum, so he recruited Maurus for the sport. “I was really strong and he recognized that and he just kept going with it,” says Maurus, now a 17-year-old high school senior.

At first, the two set their attention to powerlifting—squat, bench press, and deadlift, the sport of brute strength. But during Maurus’ lone year in powerlifting, he veni, vidi, vici’d the sport.

"I quit gymnastics at age 11 and trained in powerlifting for a whole year," Maurus says. “I started powerlifting at the age of 12, and I started Olympic weightlifting at the age of 13... Then, after 2012, we kind of hit the top end of what I was going to do with powerlifting—I had already won Nationals for my age division in powerlifting—so it was kind of like, what's next? Then we moved into Olympic weightlifting, and I've been doing that now for close to five or six years.”

Same stuff, different day

An average day for Maurus, he says, consists of waking up at 7 a.m. and arriving at Auburn Riverside High School by 8. He’s in classes until 2:35 p.m., and then at 3:30 heads to the gym, where he'll work out until “six-ish”. Then the 17-year-old (he’ll turn 18 in February) comes home to eat dinner, do his homework, and get some shuteye.

“I’ve been repeating that five out of seven days every week for the past year,” he admits. “I take Sundays off; that's just because he doesn't open the gym. If he opened the gym, I'd be there on Sunday.”

During the summer, though, training becomes a beast. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, he’ll do two-a-days—working out in both the mornings and afternoons to get in a little extra technique work and break up some of the strength movements, he says.

“I really enjoy two-a-days,” Maurus explains. “I feel like it gives me something to do in the summer so I don't get bored too quickly. I feel like I make the most progress when I do two-a-days.”

Ho-hum.

Lifting his interest

Maurus says his favorite part of Olympic weightlifting is trying to push himself. He also enjoys how easy it is to measure your progress: “I mean, it's literally just adding weight to your lifts.”

Another allure of the sport is the travel: He's been everywhere from Peru (twice), El Salvador, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mexico, with trips to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the Dominican Republic lined up in the coming year.

“Malaysia was my first Asian trip, and it was really fun,” Maurus confesses. “That was for Youth Worlds, [where] I took silver, so it was a really good competition for me. They had some awesome food. It was a great team. My mom, my sister, my coach, and my coach's wife all went, so it made for a really cool trip for all of us.”

The trips also help solidify the bonds with his teammates. Traveling to foreign countries—sometimes for as long as two weeks at a time—helps everyone get to know one another, and forges enduring friendships.

“I've gotten to know a lot of [my teammates] real well, and, yeah, we do stay up-to-date and everything,” he says. “I mean, we see what each other is doing on Instagram, we talk to each other, figure out where people are. It's cool. I've made a lot of good friends.”

He adds that he doesn’t have a favorite lifter, per se, but enjoys taking in the technique of good lifters everywhere to sharpen his own skill set.

“I definitely like watching the technique of a lot of really good lifters that we have here in the U.S.,” Maurus says. “Of course, also watching the international lifters’, like the Chinese, beautiful technique. There's no one person. It's fun to see how people move differently throughout the world.”

Break a leg…or some records

Perhaps no trip was more satisfying for Maurus than a recent domestic trek down I-5. In late November/early December, Team USA showed up for the 2017 IWF World Championships in Anaheim, CA—and didn’t leave before making its mark. More specifically, the team ended a pair of medal droughts for the red, white, and blue, while Maurus crushed one of his own records.

The lifting phenom earned bronze medals in the men’s 77kg weight class via a 425-lb clean and jerk, and a 767-lb total. The last male lifter to accomplish that was Wes Barnett, who earned a silver and bronze in the 108kg weight class in 1997. The last woman to pull off such an achievement was in 2005, when Cheryl Hayworth won two bronzes.

“That was actually amazing,” Maurus said of his accomplishment. “It didn't really sink in my mind that, holy cow, I had just broken my own record that I had set a couple months ago and became the first American male [to medal] in 20 years.

“On my second clean and jerk, my leg seized up and I had to pass my third lift, so I was in the back getting worked on by doctors trying to get my leg to let go. I actually didn't know I had won until the head coach came over and gave me a hug and told me I had won third place, so it was kind of shocking to me. It was cool. It was really cool.”

Coach Simons definitely concurs, as he’s previously told M&F: “I could not be more proud of the kid. I’ve been working with him since he was a little boy, since he was 10 years old. To see him become one of the greatest American weightlifters of all time is surreal. It’s amazing.”

So now what’s next?

Maurus says he wants to go to college—immediately, with no year off after high school, although he says he'll most likely take a break from school in 2020 if he makes the Olympic team. Two schools, the University of Washington and Hawaii Pacific University, have already accepted him.

Both colleges have their appeal: “U-Dub” is close to his Auburn, WA, home, while the latter has a doctor of osteology program, in which Maurus would love to enroll and make his post-lifting career.

“Seeing how my chiropractor, physical therapist, and all the team doctors on Team USA work with athletes and help them, I want to return the favor to the next generation of weightlifters or schools or athletes in general,” Maurus says. “I mean, you're only gonna be able to be a weightlifter for so long. But being a doctor, that'll hold you through your life.”

Bringing the first medal—two, actually—in 20 years to the U.S. men’s weightlifting team? Check. Having a good head on his shoulders and an incredible work ethic? Check. Showing modesty, tact, and decorum along the way? Check.

Giving back to future athletes by returning the favor of helping people? That’s what’s next.

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