Saturday, April 16, 2016

Louis Abele - Charles Coster (1955)

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by Charles Coster (1955)

He was one of Power Training's pioneers, one of the greatest heavyweight lifters of all time. His tremendous battles with John Davis and Steve Stanko rank among the classics of our sport and are remembered wherever weightlifting holds sway.

The prodigies being performed by by present day Olympic lifters are very great indeed, but it would be a pity if one of America's earliest and greatest heavyweights was forgotten entirely.

When John Davis and Steve Stanko were taking it in turn way back in 1940-41 to exceed each other with mighty weightlifting performances, Louis Abele also made his appearance and together this trio waged spectacular lifting battles which earned them the title of "The Immortal Three of American Lifting."

Louis couldn't have chosen a more awkward or difficult time to appear, and right from the start he seemed fated to run into 'quality' competition from other youthful aspirants of somewhat unusual ability. 

 A Clean of 300 comes easily and swiftly into the shoulders of Abele. 
At the time, this was near record poundage.

In 1937-38 Clean and Jerks of 300 pounds were scarce in any class, but suddenly Weldon Bullock and John Roach appeared from out of the blue, and at 17 years of age, with very little training preparation, both youths Cleaned and Jerked 300 lbs.

A little later in his weightlifting career Louis received 'pressing' competition from two other lifters -- for John Grimek made a 285-lb second attempt Press on one occasion, and yet another sensational find in the person of Gregory George resulted in Presses ranging between 260 and 290 lbs at various times.   

Gregory George didn't stay in the lifting game as long as most, but he caused quite a stir whilst he was there. He was a 'natural' if ever there was one, and the very first time he was introduced to the weights he made a full Deep Knee Bend with 400 lbs very easily.

However, I am getting ahead of myself somewhat. The incident which first brought 17-year old Louis Abele to my attention occurred in early 1938 . . . and I regarded it as one of the most important weight training 'experiments' I had come across up to that time.

With Olympic lifts of 175-175-230 lbs which were made at about 160 lbs bodyweight, Louis decided to specialize on leg work in an endeavor to gain extra bodyweight and more power.

This was a subject I was very interested in at that time, so I waited for the results with interest.

After six weeks of training there was a 10 lb gain in bodyweight, and after a rest period he decided to have another go at further leg specialization. The result of the second experiment brought him another eight pound gain in bodyweight, and his Olympic lifts began to soar round about this time. He made lifts of 230 Press, 245 Snatch, and 300 Clean and Jerk before he was 18 years of age, and at the Tri-State Meet in 1938 he totaled 790 via 235-245-310 lbs.

His bodyweight had gone up to 185-190 lbs at this time, and it seemed that he was all set for a distinguished Olympic lifting career.

In view of the effect which specialized leg training with weights has had upon this remarkable athlete's career, an account of the leg routine will be of the greatest interest to anyone seeking basic power, strength, and muscular development.

The system used was as follows:

One Leg Dip, 215 lbs x 15 reps (each leg)
Leg Press, 400 x 20 reps
Step on Stool, 180 x 20 (each leg)
Calf Exercise, 25 reps
Leg Press, 260 x 10
Front Squat, 260 x 10.

Just before his 18th birthday, Louis was able to squat 12 times with 380 lbs -- so powerful had he become. The foregoing leg routine was taken from my scrapbook of weightlifting information which I have compiled over a long period of time, but I believe this news was originally published elsewhere -- and if this is the case I would like to acknowledge the fact, for such news as this is invaluable in assessing the 'cause and effect' of a lifter's progress.)

[I neglected to put the source, but I think the author is talking about a short write-up that was featured in IronMan Volume 4, Number 4]:

And yes, I had outside help finding that very specific and otherwise very hard to find info.
Thanks, Joe!

A program such as I have recorded here calls for the greatest fortitude, so murderous is its severity. Louis himself said that at the end of a workout his legs felt like rubber and he was scarcely able to walk, but after the initial 'toughening' had taken place, he was okay the day afterwards.

Before his 18th birthday this lifer Bent Pressed 220 lbs -- he had developed such strength.

At the Mid-Atlantic Championships in 1938, while weighing 190 lbs, Louis Abele made an 815-lb Olympic total by way of 240-255-320 . . . taking 3rd place to the phenomenal Steve Stanko who scored 850 with lifts of 245-260-345 . . . and Bill Good who turned in the best total of his life at 845 via 245-260-340.

Little 'snags' like this were always being encountered by Louis, but he could not be discouraged as future events will show . . . and even the presence of 16 year old John Davis, who had earlier won the Metropolitan heavyweight crown with lifts of 249-233-321, only served to intensify Louis' determined efforts to 'get to the top'. (John Davis had cleaned 341 lbs in training at that time.)

There doesn't seem to be much reason to doubt that Abele's thigh and hip specialization enabled him to lay a very solid foundation upon which to build his Olympic aspirations, and by mid 1938 he had built up such terrific thigh/hip/back power that he was able to perform 10 squats with 540 lbs when weighting between 200 and 205.

He recorded 255-260-335 when establishing an 850-lb total at the Junior National Championships, and this was followed shortly afterwards by a solid increase of 25 lbs in his total t the 1939 Senior National AAU Championships where he forced out 265-280-330. The Clean and Jerk ws a first attempt lift, but he could get no higher and had to be content with second place . . . Steve Stanko being a decisive winner with an 895 total and lifts of 270-280-345 pounds.

At the YMCA on December 18th these two youths had another workout together and presented the audience with some sensational lifting

Stanko weighed in at 220 and Abele at 210. Both men displayed remarkable improvement in all-round ability, but in spite of his best efforts Louis once again came off second best. He Pressed and Snatched 280 lbs and Clean and Jerked 350 with his second lift, also Cleaning 360 with his last attempt, only to miss the Jerk. His 910 lb total was amazingly good for a lifter so young, especially in view of the fact that he had a Press and a Snatch of 290 at arms' length, but not held, at this contest.

Steve Stanko had to make lifts of 285-290-370 in order to keep this youngster at bay, but full credit should be handed to Steve for making three Clean and Jerks of 350-360-370 without any sign of failure, the latter lift being a new world record in those days.

Round about this time of course John Davis was showing distinct signs of coming permanently into the heavyweight picture, and accounts of wonderful lifts and totals were being circulated.

In spite of the knowledge that he was up against a couple of absolute phenomenons, Louis Abele intensified his efforts, and so on February 17, 1940, at the Lighthouse Boys Club in Philadelphia he pressed 280, snatched 296 and clean and jerked 365 for a 941 total. He was 20 years of age and 215 lbs bodyweight at this time.       

A young Louis Abele lifts for the Lighthouse Boys Club. 
He's seen making his starting Press of 275 pounds.

His persistent efforts must have shaken the opposition considerably for shortly afterwards at the Middle Atlantic Championships Stanko, Davis and Abele all competed, and only 10 lbs divided the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place totals.

Once more Steve came home with the bacon, returning Olympic lifts of 280-301-37nd a 950 total. Davis, who was by far the lighter man, made 295-280-365 for a 940 total. Abele also recorded 940, by way of 280-295-365.

The next heavyweight onslaught took place at Madison Square Gardens, New York on the 25th May, 1940. Stanko made a 950 total in spite of a badly cut hand, and Abele, who weighed 217, made a 910 total that was composed entirely of first attempts only. Some idea of this 20 year old youth's power can be visualized when I tell you that his first attempts were 285-280-345 lbs.

As well, an idea of the terrific struggle for supremacy that was taking place can be seen from the following facts: In August of 1940, twenty-year old John Davis jerked 400 lbs from the shoulders when weighting around 200 lbs himself, and many witnessed this achievement. In September of that year Steve Stanko pressed 300, snatched 300, and clean and jerked 380 during an Outdoor Exhibition Picnic Meet. The 380 was jerked from the shoulders twice.

During that year Steve and Gregory George put on an exhibition match which resulted in Stanko making a 970 total via 300-295-375, and with Gregory George notching 870 lbs with lifts of 290-260-320.

Events such as these will very effectively illustrate for us the tempo of the times, as it was almost sixteen years ago.

Before the Second World War brought competitive Olympic weightlifting to a standstill in 1941 some wonderful contests were due to take place between Louis Abele, John Davis, and Steve Stanko in a series of three epics that made sporting history at the time.

The first of these great clashes concerned Davis and Stanko, Abele being absent. On the second occasion Davis was not present. But on the third and final battle all three heavyweights were there. Those readers who read my stories of Stanko and Davis which were published in this magazine [Muscle Power] recently will perhaps remember the outcome of the first epic. But if they do not, it can be briefly stated that at the Western Union Invitation Meet of October 19th, 1940, 194-lb John Davis made a total of 995 to exceed Steve's total by 20 lbs. The respective figures for the lifting were as follows: (Davis) 310-305-380; (Stanko) 305-300-370.

Steve weighed 226 lbs that night, and in an effort to equal Davis' total and thus lose only on bodyweight, he asked for 390 for his last Clean and Jerk. He made a magnificent Clean, but missed the Jerk, and so ended the first of the epics.

In April of 1941 at the Middle Atlantic Championships, the second epic weightlifting struggle took place, this time being between Abele and Steve Stanko, Davis being absent due to a training injury. In all their previous meetings Steve had always managed to get a lead on the Press, but this time things went differently.

Stanko pressed 300-310 (failing with a 320 third attempt). Abele staggered everyone by pressing 290-305-315 and creating a new American National Heavyweight record. When the Snatch came to be decided both lifters displayed rare form, Abele reaching 300 lbs and Stanko running through 290-300-310 without failure.

Disaster nearly overtook Abele on the Clean and Jerk for he failed to Jerk 360, twice, but with his last attempt he was successful. Stanko took and succeeded with 370, then 381 an then made a credible effort with 400, but failed.

It was curious to note the way Abele's totals overtook the ones put up by Stanko at the previous contest each time. But when the next match took place Steve's total had jumped just that amount higher, and Abele's improved ability was always about the same distance behind.

There must have been a terrific amount of toil and sweat behind these wonderful achievement. Let us not forget that fact.

The Final Epic

  The relative positions of these three great lifters underwent a severe shakeup when the final epic clash took place on May 23rd, 1941, at The Arena, Philadelphia on the occasion of the Senior National Olympic weightlifting championships.

All three men took part. Twenty-year old John Davis weighed in at 201, Abele scaled 218, and Steve Stanko 223. Davis was the winner with a total of 1,010; Abele came second with 975; The Human Derrick Steve Stanko placed 3rd with 970. Undoubtedly this weightlifting battle was the greatest of all. Stanko had the most unusual experiences that night, for his commencing poundages were the only ones that were passed, and yet he still managed to notch 970 lbs. Abele pressed 295 and then 305; reached a 300 lb Snatch, and traveled via 355 and 370 on the Clean and Jerk. Davis pressed 310 and 320 (actually 322.75); snatched 317.25 and clean and jerked 370 after missing with his first attempt.

Where these lifters would have stopped if the War had not put the brakes on it is difficult to say. Steve Stanko unfortunately ran foul of a serious leg complaint (found to be phlebitis). Abele was the son of a building contractor and consequently found himself booked up with heavy work. John Davis went into the Army . . . and that was that.

Just before the last epic took place the American lifters went on tour, and when they were in Cuba Louis Abele made some of his best lifts. On one occasion he pressed 310, snatched 300 and clean and jerked 370. 

"The great colored lifting sensation." 
Welcome to 1941.

Ken Burns' recent Jackie Robinson documentary:

Abele by this time had developed a massively muscular physique and stood 5'9". His neck was 18", chest 49, biceps 18, forearm 14, waist 33.5, calf 18, and thigh 28.5. Without a lot of specialization he could One Hand Snatch 190, One Hand Jerk 210, and Bent Press 240. He curled more than 180 and dead lifted 630. His ability on the Squat or D.K.B. (deep knee bend) was unquestionably of a superior variety, and the practice of those weight training movements mentioned earlier in this story must have done much to enhance his prospects of Olympic weightlifting fame. 

He came from good strong German stock in the first place, and his father was said to be a very strong man. His parents must have been very proud of Louis, for he rose from the bottom to the top in just five short years.

It is more than a pity that this young man's athletic career was not able to run its full and normal course, for I feel convinced that he had not exhausted his possibilities by any means, and in saying goodbye to this Hero of the Iron Game I hope that this article will provide the proof that he is not forgotten.

We wish you the very best of luck, Louis Abele.

A more detailed look at Louis Abele's training can be had here, thanks to Chester Teagarden: 

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