Valentine again a world weightlifting champ

It had been years since Gary Valentine had lifted in such a a big arena.

But at the International Weightlifting Federation World Masters championships in Torino, Italy, earlier this month, it all came back so easily — the exhilarating feeling when you walk up to the bar, in front of a large audience, and try to see just how much you can lift.

“I love it. The bar’s on the ground. Everybody’s looking,” he said. “I’ll never get tired of this. There’s no feeling like it.”

Valentine also got to experience another feeling — that of being a world champion. He took first in the 55-59 year-old Heavyweight division, making him a IWF-Masters world champ for the second time.

He also set a new world record for his class in the clean-and-jerk with a lift of 146 kilograms, or 322 pounds.

The accomplishment was impressive considering Valentine hasn’t focused on competitive lifting since winning the world championship the last time in 2003.

The 56-year-old Wilton resident has turned a lot of his energies to his Wilton-based team, Team Connecticut, which is the current Atlantic States and New England champion; and to his duties as meet director for the Connecticut Weightlifting Championships, and, more recently, as president of New England Olympic Weightlifting.

But he has kept himself in shape and continued to train, and showed only a little rust upon his return this year.

“I could have been in better shape, but I did well,” he said. “I didn’t get as many workouts in as I wanted.”

Masters Weightlifting is the Olympic sport of weightlifting for persons 35 years old or older. Competitions consist of two events — the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. In the snatch, the bar is lifted from the ground to arms length overhead in one swift motion. In the clean-and-jerk, the bar is lifted from the ground to the chest, and then heaved from the chest to arms length overhead.

At the world championship, held Aug. 7, Valentine was behind by three kilograms after the snatch, but was confident that he could make things up in his strongest event, the clean-and-jerk.

He clinched the title by clearing 303 pounds on his second lift, before setting the new world record on his third lift.

His lifted 102 kilograms (224 pounds) on the snatch and 146 kilograms (322 pounds) on the clean-and-jerk, for a total of 248 kilograms (547 pounds). He wound up comfortably beating runner-up Harry Barth of Germany by 21 pounds.

Sanctioned by the International Weightlifting Federation, the world championships are a drug-free event, with competitors tested for steroids and other illegal substances.

The drug-free success he’s achieved remains a point of pride for Valentine.

“I’ve never had an injury in 34 years. All the drugs really do is help you recovery faster. They change the way your body assimilates protein and the way you muscles grow. They can train more often.”

This, however, disrupts the body’s natural recovery process — and is a recipe for injury. That was lesson he learned from his mentor, Joe Mills.

“He said, ‘Once the intensity goes up, something’s got to go down, like the frequency.’ That made sense,” said Valentine.

After earning his Masters degree in exercise science from the University of Connecticut in 1983, Valentine worked in the field of cardiac rehabilitation for 24 years. In 2009, he formed Valentine Strength, LLC., a strength and weightlifting consulting firm offering seminars and private instruction in Olympic Weightlifting.

Since 2002, he has been adjunct professor in exercise science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, teaching courses in clinical exercise physiology and resistance program design.

In addition to his two IMF-Masters world championships, Valentine has won 17 Connecticut state championships, nine Masters national championships, and six Pan American Masters championships. In 2006, he set the Pan American clean and jerk record with 154 kilograms. He has also qualified three times for the U.S. Senior National championships.