Weightlifting, a history

Basic weightlifting dates back to prehistoric tribes, who used the lifting of a special rock as a test of manhood.

The Vikings used a series of stones of increasing weight to prove their ‘worth’ and earn a position in the hierarchical crew structure of their fishing boats. The tradition continued in Scotland, with many of the stones known as "clach cuid fir", or "manhood stones", young men were welcomed into manhood when they were able to lift the stone from the ground to waist height.

In the 9th century, at about the same time as the Vikings, Chikaraishi, the name given to stones used in Shinto religious rituals and strength contests, were common across Japan. Stones were lifted to varying heights, for example, a 68kg stone would be lifted overhead but a 240kg stone could be lifted using rope handles before being carried for distance.

Stone lifting events continue to be included in Strongman (also known as Strength Athletics) competitions. 

Modern weightlifting originated with strong men who performed in the circuses and theatres of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Weightlifting, a competitive sport

In March 1891, the First World Weightlifting Championships were held in London. Seven athletes, representing six countries competed in the three-day event which largely consisted of repetition and alternate pressing with 56lb (approx. 25kg) or 84lb (approx. 38kg) in each hand. E. Lawrence Levy of England won, claiming the title of Amateur Champion Weightlifter of the World. 

The Österreichischer Athleten Bund, founded in December 1889 and officially recognised by the Austrian Imperial and Royal Governorship, became the worlds’ first, national, governing body for weightlifting.

Weightlifting events were included in the Olympic Games of 1896, 1900 and 1904 but were then suspended until the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

In 1920, as suggested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Amateur-Athleten-Weltunion, founded in 1905 and responsible for weightlifting and wrestling, became the International Weightlifting Federation (Fédération Haltérophile Internationale; FHI) with the aim of regularising events and supervising international competition. In 1972 the organisation was renamed as the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

Weightlifting, a Paralympic sport

Weightlifting made its debut Paralympic Games appearance at the Tokyo 1964 Games, as a bench press event for men with spinal cord injuries. Over the years, the sport has developed its rules and an increasing number of disability groups have been included.

In 1991 it was decided that weightlifting would feature for the final time at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games. Since then, only powerlifting has featured as a strength event at a Paralympic Games (having made its debut at the New York 1984 Games).

Weightlifting at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan - 4 events, 10 countries and 18 male athletes participated.
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel – 4 events, 13 countries and 28 male athletes participated.
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany - 6 events, 18 countries and 46 male athletes participated.
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - 6 events, 16 countries and 43 male athletes participated.
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 11 events, 18 countries and 58 male athletes participated.
  • 1984 Stoke Mandeville, UK & New York, USA – 14 events, 20 countries, 71 male athletes participated.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 7 events, 21 countries, 66 male athletes participated.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 5 events, 18 countries, 44 male athletes participated.

British weightlifting medal winners

  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan
    J. Redgwick - gold in Men's Featherweight
    T. Palmer - silver in Men's Middleweight
    D. Pickering - bronze in Men's Middleweight
    R. Rowe - bronze in Men's Heavyweight
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel
    T. Palmer - gold in Men's Middleweight
    R. Rowe - silver in Men's Heavyweight
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany
    R. Rowe - gold in Men's Light-Heavyweight
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada
    R. Rowe - silver in Men's Light-Heavyweight
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands
    No medals
  • 1984 New York, USA
    Brian Stones - gold in Men's -57 kg Paraplegic
    C. Wood - silver in Men's -57 kg Paraplegic
    Anthony Bishop - silver in Men's -95 kg Integrated
    R. Rowe - silver in Men's -95 kg Paraplegic
    Alper Ali - bronze in Men's -65 kg Integrated
    Fred McKenzie - bronze in Men's -85 kg Integrated
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea
    No medals
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain
    Anthony Peddle - bronze in Men's -48 kg

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete. Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC. Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

Rules of weightlifting

When it was initially introduced as a Paralympic sport, only men with spinal cord injuries were able to participate in weightlifting. Over the years, additional impairment groups were included.

Unlike powerlifting, weightlifting required athletes to perform a dead bench press where the lift starts from the chest rather than from a raised arm position.

Governing bodies

As weightlifting has been replaced by powerlifting, the below relates specifically to powerlifting.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), acts as the International Federation and is the international governing body. Following a name change in 2016, IPC Powerlifting became World Para Powerlifting

British Weightlifting is the national governing body in the UK, with regional bodies covering each of the Home Nations, their website details can be found here.

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

UK Wide
British Weight Lifting provides a local club search facility covering all the Home Nations.