Sunday, October 21, 2018

Ed Coan: A Candid Conversation, Part One - Tony Fitton

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Powerlifting has seen many super athletes, lifters that challenge the established standards and records. Every once in a while, that extra spice is added to powerlifting by a lifter who ignores such established standards, and instead, challenges reality itself. In this real "fantasy land" of strength has been a Collins, a Bridges, a Kazmaier; but it is presently (article 1988) ruled by the most incomparable lifter of all . . . Ed Coan.

It is often the case with human nature, when trying to comprehend an eighth wonder of the strength world the likes of Ed Coan, to misconceive rather than conceive. A 215 pound man squatting deep, and with little apparent effort, 964 pounds, is more Kafkaesque than real. Somewhat dogmatically, such abilities are often attributed to superior genetics. Ed Coan, apart from being undeniably STRONG, also proves to be one of powerlifting's cognoscenti, as this question of his superior strength in relation to personal genetics forms the prelude to an interesting and insightful conversation.

Ed Coan (EC): I may be regarded as being genetically gifted, but I don't really believe that I am, except perhaps in some minor aspects. For instance, I have big hands and long arms and deadlift more than anyone else at my weight. But Lamar Gant and Gary Heisey are the same at their bodyweights. I also bench press 555 with long arms, not a record, so what is gifted? My genetic make-up, code, whatever, is no different from others'. Any special talent that I might have, I believe, is more mental than physical. I get myself into a good strength condition, then have no fear or reservations about the weights I'm going to attempt. Failures with weights are mental errors (or mishaps beyond your control, like suits blowing out), mental either in poor commitment, lack of concentration, or mental in choosing weight beyond your present physical condition. Developing this perfect relationship between body and mind, I feel, is my key to lifting heavier and heavier weights.

For instance, when I did my 964 squat

I'd done 942 on a second attempt and discussed my next attempt with George Hechter, a respected friend and lifter. "Should I take 959, 964, 970, what do you think?" (In contests it's natural to need some reassurance or guidance). George said it really didn't matter with me, I could take 975 or 981, "Just choose a poundage that you can be 100% committed to." I chose the 964 and could have done more. In similar circumstances I'll probably choose the 981 next and and be 100% convinced I can do it.

I have a good powerlifting frame, but so do thousands of others. My form is generally good, but not exceptional. I don't have big legs, so when I squat I rely on my hips and back a little more than, perhaps, I should. My deadlift is really a compromise between sumo style and conventional, I just can't go perfect sumo, it feels terrible. In the conventional style I don't feel confidently strong either, though I have pulled 750 for 3 stop reps off two inch plates, after a sumo workout. So, my style's a hybrid. It suits me personally. A lifter should know how to adapt to obtain the best advantage.

Tony Fitton (TF): This year you were a member of the APF contingent that visited and competed in Russia. This was a first for powerlifting, for the many lifters that went, and for yourself. What impressions of that trip did you come away with?

EC: The Russians do not yet have the usual national endorsement or organization behind powerlifting, but there is intrigue and definite interest there. The contests were not of the standards we have come to expect of the major meets in America. The warmup room was really crowded with people just watching everywhere. The bars were Olympic and not Power bars, making it hard to do big squats. In warmups a took 815 out of the racks and was like a Mexican jumping bean, I couldn't stand still or set up properly, but you make do. The rules were rather liberally adhered to, but for a first time I feel it served a valuable purpose.

The Russian lifters that we met and lifted against were real nice and friendly, but not generally strong. There was only one strong guy on the Russian team; we were told, not very convincingly, that their strongest powerlifters were on vacation! I feel that they wanted to see, observe, learn, and adapt their techniques and so on. Their one strong lifter, a 242-pounder, did a 733 squat (bar high on the neck, no wraps, and no suit), a 551 bench, and a 771 deadlift. Lifting like that he was especially impressive, and it makes you wonder what he could do taking powerlifting as seriously as we do.

There were two other meets held over there, I only lifted in the first one; I just wanted to be able to say I lifted in the first powerlifting meet ever with Russia and won. I just took openers and wanted to total 2000, and did with 815-451-738; they were all easy obviously.

TF: Were the Russians impressed with your lifting even at that level?

EC: I think they were. There were a couple of older guys there, obviously powerlifting fans, I think they said they had written books or articles on powerlifting. One of these had the results of every meet I had ever been in recorded, meets even I'd forgotten about. I got the impression that in private they definitely respected me, and other powerlifters, but in public they don't give a whole lot of credit. Regardless of politics, there's always respect between athlete and athlete, and they were impressed with many of those who went over, and were definitely curious about the equipment worn to improve performance.

TF: What other impressions did you get of Russia, the powerlifting situation there?

EC: There were tours planned by Dr. Enos, the person who coordinated the trip, but myself and a couple of friends who had also gone along, made our own way around. A lot of the team were moaners, they wanted king-size beds, down pillows, five meals a day whenever they were hungry, things that weren't available and you just had to accept that fact. We took taxis all over the place, investigated, and tried to get into our own "trouble" . . . we found no restrictions.

I definitely got the impression that the athletes there like powerlifting. If the system accepted and promoted powerlifting there would certainly be a bunch of very strong lifters who would choose to be powerlifters. From the athletes who do Olympic lifting, there would be some tremendous squatters and probably deadlifters; their bench press abilities would develop.

TF: I know what you mean. In 1978, when we were in Finland we went to see some of the Russian Olympic lifters doing an exhibition. We saw David Rigert, the great Russian 198-pound lifter at that time, squat 672 deep, for 3 reps, bar high, no tight suit or wraps, flimsy belt, easy lifts. What were the actual contest like, were they well run?

EC: They were run reasonably well, but there were some strange goings on. The first meet in Leningrad we won fairly and squarely, no problem, and it was accepted. At the second meet in Moscow we had a couple of our lifters bomb, and a lot of missed attempts. We certainly won most of the classes regardless, yet they claimed we lost, they won! Apparently they invented a special point system. With every attempt missed, points were deducted. Bomb outs, even more points were deducted. Under their "house rules" they won and it was reported as such in the papers. If if encourages their powerlifting, I guess it's okay. I didn't lift in the second meet, I coached, wrapped lifters, judged, everything. In the second meet a lot of the Russians were trying tight knee wraps, wide belts, suits, etc. They were getting into it. They'll duplicate them, or they might buy from America, but they'll find that training with these aides takes a big load off the body, they'll learn quick. All in all it was a good trip, and worthwhile.

TF: 1988 saw your return back to the USPF and IPF, winning Senior Nationals and Worlds respectively. What prompted this?

EC: Basically, I wanted to legitimize myself and lifting. A lot of lifters a few years ago accepted the standards and philosophies that prevailed then. It's changed and is different now; I wanted to compete and win under drug tested conditions, and I have and will continue to.  

TF: I understand that there are opportunities with Joe Weider and "Muscle & Fitness" for you, that Joe is very impressed with you, and the two of you may sign some agreement for the future. Did this influence your decision to "legitimize" yourself?

EC: Somewhat, I guess. It certainly does no harm with Joe to be a drug free representative, but I wanted the challenge anyway. Drug testing is the way the sport has moved, and I want to be with all aspects of the sport. If you're in the public eye these days, I feel you have more credibility lifting under drug tested conditions, especially with the newcomers. Times change and you change with them; it's no big deal.

TF: It's been three years since you've lifted in the USPF Senior Nationals. Your last year, in fact, was when there were all the dissensions, and criticisms of the USPF. How did you find lifting the USPF again?

EC: I really enjoyed the USPF Seniors. I didn't especially like the platform, a rubbery substance overlaid it and you felt like you sank in. It made it hard to explode on the squat and deadlift, like you need to. The refereeing was strict and fairly consistent, and that's good, though this first year back I felt imposed upon by the pressure of it, but that was just within me; now I can settle myself into whatever's required. I will reproduce my best lifts, and more next year, even, hopefully, on the bench press where you're not permitted a bench shirt. I went seven for nine on my attempts and set five IPF world records, never felt my groove on the squat because of the platform, lifted for the first time in a while without a bench shirt, and was conservative on the deadlift. As I said, just give me another year.

TF: How do your thoughts compare about the IPF World Championships?

EC: The location and conditions in Perth were first class. Bruce Waddell, and the Australian Powerlifting Federation organized an excellent meet. The refereeing was something else. I had heard about the IPF refereeing standards from the Women's Worlds this year and was prepared for less than sympathetic reffing. However, it seems to me that powerlifting refereeing has become something like bodybuilding judging, the emphasis on what's acceptable change. In bodybuilding, sometimes the judges wanted size, other times symmetry, others again wanted a ripped physique. In powerlifting the squat depth used to be the major disagreement factor; this year there seemed to by very, very few conditions about this. It's as though the majority of squats were low enough so the judges had to look very closely for other rule infractions If the bar was considered an eyelash too low on the back, or the knees not locked rigid and the back bolt upright, or the bar moved fractionally on the back while squatting, red lights appeared. Any person handling maximal weights is going to transgress one of those rules; a person just can't squat without the bar moving just slightly, and many good, solid lifts appeared to be turned down as a consequence. They're discouragi8ng heavy lifting in my opinion, when the object should be to encourage it. Be strict, but be sensible.

I try not to pay attention to anything but the lifts I'm doing, otherwise I lack the mental commitment I need. Strangely, I felt more intimidated at the USPF Seniors by stepping back into stricter lifting than in Australia. I like the World Championship hype, being up on a stage to lift, with lights, a big crowd, a prestigious occasion. The Worlds in Australia I enjoyed, but I did reduce my mental expectations. I got my feet wet again, so to speak, but I was really a whole lot stronger than my total suggests.

TF: How do you account your lifting at these Worlds?

EC: I felt strong, but I only weighed in around 212. My squats just got screwed up. My suit completely blew on my opener with 832, I pitched forward and the bar almost tore off my head as it went over. I pulled a hamstring slightly with the sudden straightening of my leg, but I couldn't allow myself to pay attention to it. There were only eight, I think, in my flight; so I cut the suit off and put on a loose one and repeated the 832. I followed with an easy 859, but I guess the referees considered that it rolled slightly on my back. That kind of weight has to move slightly if you bend over at all to squat. I went six for six after that, really just cruised making final attempts of 496 and 815. It was enough to easily give me my second IPF world title; I won my first at 181 lbs. in 1984.

TF: What had been your training lifts before going to Australia?

EC: Three weeks before, I hit a 900 double on the squat with the lifting suit straps down. Two weeks before, I hit a strong 520 paused bench, and pulled an 840 in my last heavy deadlift workout. I lost six pounds bodyweight from leaving the U.S., plus I was a little nervous, even though I don't like to admit it. Next year I'm going to weigh at least 230 when I leave the U.S. I'm fired up to get back into the dog fight; I'm more familiar with the terms and have gained experience from this year. I want to beat the highest total ever made in an IPF World Championships; I think that's 2375 at superheavy.

TF: Were there any other memorable aspects of this year's IPF World Championships, good or bad?

EC: I was really disappointed in the banquet after the meet. Everyone had to pay, but that's not too unreasonable. Very few athletes showed up to support a function that was really held in their honor. A lot of the lifters had sponsors, and were not hurting for bucks. Awards were presented there, and absence looked bad for the particular country. America was not represented in one instance of a special award. I thing that lifters should accept some obligation apart from just competing. It just seemed unreasonable. I got an award, and was proud to receive it, it's important to show that you care in my opinion.

I was sorry to see Inaba suffering with a sore back, but he still pulled out another Words and some good lifting, an amazing lifter. Isagawa's bench was just phenomenal at 123 lbs., also Lamar's 683 deadlift. Danny Austin cruised right through, didn't even strain himself. Ausby Alexander, on a good day, would have ended up with a whole lot more than he got. Randy Smith has probably got the best body I've seen of any powerlifting in a long time. He lifted very impressively under pressure for his first World Championships. He had a 694 squat he had to re-rack, take out again, and still got it. He's tough. Gene Bell is exceptionally strong. He had a 777 squat turned down that went up real easy and was a close cal. He'll make a substantial mark in future IPF meets. Dave Jacoby had a ton left in the squat. He's cool, looks to be without any kind of nerves, and has the best form I've ever seen on the squat. Tony Stevens from Britain, in my class, was the victim of some poor coaching. He should have come second. Calvin Smith, the U.S.'s 275-pounder, got screwed. His last squat was picture perfect, not a thing wrong with it, but it was failed. I don't feel that he bombed out, more that he was bombed out. It was an unfortunate sour note for the U.S. team. I hope he comes back and proves himself, he deserves it. Bruce Takala, I think, did a great coaching job for our team, as did all who helped him. We had a good team. Tony, you've got to find some good rejuvenation medication for Conrad Cotter, he needs preserving not embalming, and something to stop him snoring and howling in his sleep. He kept our coaches awake! Conrad said nice things about me, didn't he? Well, I tell you, Conrad almost made it to the nude beach a couple of times, we took taxis, he walked, so he's not in too bad of a shape.   

TF: The WPC World Championships are fairly certain to be in England in 1989, after the IPF Worlds. Would you be interested again in this title?

EC: I'd like to lift in everything, and would really like to lift in England, I've never been there. If you get both world titles, then there's only really one world champion. To me powerlifting's about lifting big weights, and proving to yourself, your peers, and to an interested public that you can lift the biggest ones. I'm a man for the sport.

Continued in Part Two.          


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