By: Elizabeth Miller
At age 17, Harrison Maurus has already set and broken his own International Weightlifting Federation youth men’s world record for the clean & jerk. Most recently on December 2, 2017, Maurus broke the 20-year drought for Team USA at the IWF Weightlifting World Championships by earning two bronze medals.
In Olympic-style weightlifting, there are two parts of the competition, the snatch, and the clean & jerk, with three attempts given per lift. The snatch is the first of the two contests, wherein the objective is to lift the barbell from the ground over the lifter’s head in one continuous motion. The clean & jerk is a two-part lift, with the clean seeing the barbell lifted from the ground and brought to rest across the deltoids, before the jerk where the barbell is lifted above the head and held in a final stationary position with straight arms and legs.
After deciding gymnastics wasn’t for him, Maurus began training with his coach Kevin Simons for general fitness. Simons being a CrossFit competitor, Maurus gave CrossFit a try for a couple of weeks before ultimately realizing he didn’t like CrossFit, but loved powerlifting. The pair now trains at Auburn based gym Alpha Strength and Conditioning. Maurus shared that he doesn’t regret changing from gymnastics, as he knew it wasn’t “ever going to be great at gymnastics, and I found my niche in weightlifting.”
Maurus explained that he competes as he has always been a competitive person and wanted to see how he compared to others. He began competing on his 12th birthday when he entered his first competition, the Washington State Powerlifting Championships. Though he had been breaking national records during training, neither Maurus nor his coach expected that he would break the national record at his first competition – but he did, with a 100kg (220lbs) squat.
After finding powerlifting competitions unsatisfying due to the lack of challenge, though he was repeatedly breaking national records, Maurus began training in competitive Olympic weightlifting at age 12. One short year later Maurus was invited to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He accredits the half a dozen
times he and Simons trained at the center with helping to fine tune his techniques.
The days he doesn’t feel like getting into the gym are rare, and often are only when he is sick. Training is second nature, Maurus explained, not going to the gym “would be weird.“
This drive to train and succeed has seen Maurus compete all over the world, including Bangkok, Thailand; Orlando, Florida, and Tbilisi, Georgia. Maurus shared Malaysia was his favorite country that he’s visited because of the great blend of cultures and that it had some of the best food he’d ever tasted. He also observed that El Salvador was the most different from the United States and gave him a new perspective on poverty.
Maurus doesn’t feel pressure to compete but strives to succeed and better himself. He always gives it his best, knowing that if he doesn’t succeed he has years to improve. He also explained the mutual respect among the athletes in Olympic weightlifting, that there is “an understanding among weightlifters that we all have bad days. We’ve all been in the position where it’s just not feeling great and we get into sub-optimal situations. True weightlifters won’t judge someone on one bad meet because it happens to everyone.”
The IWF Senior World Championships are a yearly competition that brings the world’s top weightlifting competitors together. This year it was hosted over seven days in Anaheim, CA from November 28-December 5, 2017. This was the first time Maurus would compete at the championships, and at the senior level, which made it the most challenging competition for him yet. Maurus candidly shared that he “went into it knowing I was going to face stiff competition. It was the most prestigious meet that I’ve done yet in my career [and] was a completely new tier of competition that I hadn’t experienced before.”
Training for the meet, Maurus and Simons had numbers in mind that they hoped to hit or beat, but ultimately the goal was to rank as high as possible. Breaking the youth world record he set in April 2017 happened to be what he needed to get Bronze. The goal for Maurus wasn’t about breaking records, but earning a medal, and the most team points as possible. He attributes the great coaching of Simons, as well as Mike Gattone and Pyrros Dimas for him accomplishing that goal. The bacon shirt that his Grandmother gave him in 2013, that he wears before every competition, may also have had something to do with it.
During his snatch, Maurus first lifted 150kg (330lbs), and in his second attempt lifted 155kg (344lbs). He was unable to successfully lift 159kg (349.8lbs) in his third attempt. His first clean & jerk lift was 182kg (400.4lbs), and his second was 193kg (424.6lbs). Maurus did not attempt a third time on the clean & jerk as his quadricep cramped. These lifts earned Maurus (and the US Men’s team) Bronze medals for men’s 77 kg. total and clean & jerk. With the championships being hosted in Anaheim, Maurus broke the drought for the US men’s team while on U.S. soil.
When asked how it felt to be 10 years younger than the last US medalist at the world championships, who was two-time Olympian Wes Barnett, Maurus humbly responded that it is awesome to earn a medal at any age, I just happened to be 17 when I earned mine.” He shared that his advancement in this sport shows the potential and opportunity within Olympic Weightlifting right now. “I’m not the only 17-year-old that is [able to] become one of the greatest weightlifters of all time. CJ Cummings is the other youth athlete showing that Americans can compete with the top lifters in the world.”
Being the first time Maurus competing in the Senior World Championships, he knew his competitors were talented, but wasn’t intimidated by them. To the contrary, meeting and getting the chance to “compete against people that are better than me and have been in the sport for much longer; to compete against Olympians and see where I ranked among them,” was a highlight for Maurus. For him it felt “great that I had earned my spot as one of the top male lifters in the country.”
Some may question that with 9 of the top competitor counties removed from the championships due to doping suspensions, winning was made easier for the United States. Maurus disagrees stating, “Removing these countries wasn’t specifically done to increase the chances of winning a medal by the US. It was done to remove an unfair advantage that these countries had over clean athletes. We needed this tightening of rules in order to re-legitimize our sport and for it to remain in the Olympics. As a US athlete, I am randomly tested by USADA. I think that every athlete that competes should be as well.”
There has never been a time Maurus has considered walking away from weightlifting or competing. His eyes are on the 2018 world championships, and beyond that Tokyo. Until then, he will continue to train and focus on finishing his senior year at Auburn Riverside High. With what little free time he has, between training and school, he spends time with his parents and 2 younger sisters, unwinding with friends and video games or going backpacking.