Friday, July 18, 2014

The Unavoidable Response to the Inevitable Message

Valery Federenko posted this Kettlebell Sport Manifesto a few days ago. The community is responding with opinions ranging from earnest support to accusations of marketing ploy. I believe there are a few important points to be gleaned from this manifesto, and this will be the only time I respond to it. I believe Federenko raises a few good points and one dead horse for consideration.

The opening paragraph is largely about the inconsistency of the sport between countries, organizations, and genders. It decries low coaching standards (basically anywhere outside Russia) and makes a clear point made about the devaluation of the "Master of Sport" title by inconsistent judging, politics and favoritism, and variances in scoring requirements. The issuance of ranks is not unique to this sport in principle, but it has become overstated. Other strength sports require qualifying totals, with generic titles like "amateur" or "elite".

Qualifying scores/titles are not an end in themselves; they are permission to compete at the next level. This idea is well-implemented in some KB organizations, requiring a man to rank out of 16 and 20 before competing 24, but it is not used to qualify for tiered regional, national, and world competitions. In the Soviet system, Master of Sport affords certain funding and opportunities within the sporting organizations, infrastructures not found anywhere else in the world. The US has no such meaning for the title, so it has become a goal unto itself.

My eyes were opened, in a sense, when Advanced Training Concepts held a meet with only two bell sizes. There were no prequalifying scores, but athletes "competing up" had to take their efforts very seriously. The championships of American KB organizations are open to all. If our kettlebell community had regional qualifiers before US Nationals or Worlds, two changes would arise. First, the championships would be smaller and would use two bell weights. Second, regional qualifiers would be a sacred pilgrimage for lifters like myself. I'm excited to see the AKA Southeast developing a tour of its own: Punch, ATC, Georgia, and Pride.

Second, the Soviet tradition is holding women back, not the Soviet Union or the nation of Russia, but the tradition of the sports system from which we derive rules and ranks. The concern for the safety of breast tissue alongside a single racked bell has diverged kettlebell lifting into two completely different sports. Where women are allowed to compete the Jerk, we have women of every body type racking the bell comfortably enough to travel and pay money for the privilege. There are examples online of women performing the men's lifts with two bells and perfect form, which should have ended the argument a long time ago.

The question is no longer whether to let women compete the Jerk. The question is whether to let women compete doubles jerk or have men move to a heavier single Jerk to present a unified sport to the Olympics. Tradition will never abide Men's Single Jerk on the international stage, and the Olympics will never abide a segregated kettlebell sport with completely different scoring while women and men share barbells in the next auditorium. Without the support of the country of origin and the world champions in every weight class that call that country home, the Olympics are simply not what we need to worry about right now.

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