USA Powerlifting is holding its marquee event in downtown Spokane this week. Record numbers of world-class athletes are already flooding the Centennial Hotel to sneak in a final workout before the lights come on Thursday at the USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals.
“This will be the largest powerlifting meet in history,” co-meet director Dana Snow said. “The top athletes in the United States, who often compete at the world level, will be here competing.”
A field of 1,200 lifters is registered for the four-day event. Action will commence on Thursday with the lowest weight classes and continue through Sunday, when the super heavyweights vie for championship belts.
Each day the best of the best face off at 6 p.m.
“We call that our prime time,” co-meet director Erin Ribic said. “That’s when the top athletes in each weight class, in the open division, compete against each other.”
Among the competitors will be International Powerlifting Federation world-record holders Ray Williams, Bonica Brown and Jennifer Thompson.
Super heavyweight Williams, who holds the squat, dead lift and total weight world records, became the first lifter to raw squat 1,000 pounds at the 2016 Raw Nationals in Atlanta.
Brown, who competes at 84+ kg, set four IPF world records at the 2018 IPF World Championships in Calgary, Alberta.
Thompson holds the IPF world bench press records at 132 and 148 pounds.
“She is the strongest bench presser for females in the world,” Ribic said.
Also competing will be local powerlifting coach Isabelle Iliev, a 10-time world champion.
“She won a ton of international titles,” Ribic said. “(Now) she is an international competitor for the United States.”
A native of France, Iliev, 51, coached rugby, judo and swimming in her homeland before discovering powerlifting at a swim club gym. A chance meeting at a competition in Orlando, Florida, 10 years ago, led to marriage and a move to Spokane in 2013.
“I miss the French food a lot,” Iliev said. “But Spokane is great town … we just need to develop more powerlifting here.”
Iliev coaches a team of local power lifters, the Iron Maidens, in a Spokane Valley gym.
“They used to come to the gym to lose weight,” Iliev said. “Now they’re lifting heavy weights and are recognized for their strength and success … not only about their physique.”
Powerlifting is a specialized subset of weightlifting limited to the squat, dead lift and bench press categories.
“Everybody confuses powerlifting with weightlifting,” Ribic said. “The over-your-head stuff you see in the Olympics … we don’t do that.”
USA Powerlifting has 18,427 members, more than double the 9,153 from the fall of 2015. Snow credits the CrossFit movement, a system of high-intensity workouts across disciplines, with inspiring powerlifting’s recent popularity spike.
“CrossFit was a huge contributor,” she said. “People became interested in some of the lifts we do, and that easily transitioned into powerlifting.”
Raw powerlifting is what it sounds like – lifting without any artificial enhancements.
“Raw lifting is with no supportive equipment – just a belt,” Ribic said.
The IPF tests regularly to control the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
While the super heavyweights might need to consume several thousand calories a day to maintain their strength regimen, most powerlifters need to control their weight like wrestlers.
Jasmyn Penn, a 63-kg competitor from Texas, said she limits her daily intake to 1,400 calories when she is cutting down to make weight. Her typical daily intake includes eggs, cheese, turkey, whole wheat bread, dark chocolate, brown rice and vegetables.
“I eat mostly protein, to keep my muscle,” she said. “Definitely a lot of protein, to keep my bulkiness.”
Ribic and Snow are former champion powerlifters. Snow still competes regularly, but Ribic hasn’t competed at the top levels since graduating college 10 years ago.
“You have to sleep, eat and train to be strong,” Ribic said. “If you are going to compete at that level, it’s all you can really focus on.”