John Davis by Bob Nealy (1947)
Weightlifting, as most of you know, is a specialized sport, a demanding pastime, like carrying ice, wrestling a gorilla or learning to dance ballet, in that even the spectator had to be something of an expert to watch it understandingly. It is the one sport left in the world wherein the female cannot hope to compete with the male.
The average neophyte concentrating on his own total will not pay much, if any attention to the experts and champions lifting in the same contest with him – except, that is, in one particular instance. The lifter and fan alike – for that matter every person at a contest – will fight one another in order to get close enough to the platform to see John Davis lift. This man, who is a Negro, is so marvelously endowed that at the age of 17 he won the light-heavyweight weightlifting championship of the world. Recently in
There are some who say that great athletes like
A broad, heavy, very muscular person, big John can handle weights in excess of 300 pounds, about as easily as the average lifter can manage weights of 200 pounds, give and take a few pounds.
John Davis has cleaned and pressed 320-pounds, which is, so far as I can recall at the moment, as much as has ever been handled in that manner. True, if is rumored that Josef Manger has pressed more on certain occasions – however, Davis’ 320 press is a fact, not rumor. One or two of the members of the old
The bell that Rigoulot used, by the way, had a very limber bar that was some ten feet long, and I predict that as soon as some daring manufacturer of barbells models a bar under like specifications, weightlifting records immediately soar. And why not permit out lifters – and all lifters – to use such a bar? After all, the idea is to manufacture and use the best equipment possible. This ten foot bar is M. Rigoulot’s brainchild, but undoubtedly somebody in time will manufacture one similar to it, and after some phenomenal lifting is done on it, the manufacturer will claim the idea is original with him, but that is neither here nor there – as long as the bar is manufactured. That time will eventually come.
I’ve personally seen an undertrained, half-hearted John Davis press and snatch 290 pounds and clean and jerk 355 pounds as if these enormous poundages were matchsticks. In fact, unless people had seen John Davis mass his tremendous three-lift total of over 1,000 pounds, no one would believe it. Even when I watch the ease and perfection and finesse with which
There are some, of course, who cannot and will not understand why John Davis does not try to make a world record every time he lifts. To such men, self-confidence is the know-all and be-all of life. Personally, I think overwhelming self-confidence can be awfully tiresome, and that there are weightlifting fans, who, like myself, resent hammy heroics – who are bored unto tears by these blowhard braggarts who think they know and can do everything and anything. Nobody can ever accuse John Davis of being a musclehead.
He is quiet and always in the background, and often as not, does not even put in an appearance after a contest to accept his winning medal. The sport of weightlifting has a right to be proud of this truly self-effacing champion. His lifting style is faultless, but never have I known him to protest a decision made against him by the referee and judges. For one thing,
John has an encyclopedic memory for records, dates, total and incidental drama of every weightlifting meet he has ever been in, or read about, but his mind goes blank when it comes to remembering the names of the great lifters he has defeated. He really loves the iron game – make no mistake about that. He was in the Army during the war and has a fine military record, but will not permit me to boast about it for him. There are very few aspects of his career that he will boast about, if, indeed, there are any. To anyone who has encountered some of the conceited hams that swagger about our sport,
As a youth, John Davis was, explicitly, a hustler. By that I mean that he was an ambitious and hard worker beyond the bounds of most youths. He has one of the finest mothers any man could ever hope to have, but in the old days there was never an excess of funds in the family, and John, although large of bone and frame for his age, was thin and weak looking in those now fairly distant days of a decade or so ago. He didn’t look strong enough to pick up an empty revolving bar, and his general attitude of anemia was enhanced by a happy mouthful of white, glistening teeth that was such a broad expanse as to make the rest of his face seem pinched and small. Every lifter who volunteered to show John a thing of two in those days, probably was a well-meaning soul determined to teach the enthusiastic youth a stern lesson having to do with the superiority of age, dignity and other character-building qualifications.
What a surprise those teachers were in for. At that age of sixteen and hardly more than an overgrown middleweight, John Davis could chin himself with either hand, clean even more weight than most men could deadlift, and do other stunts in proportion. In fact,
It should be conceded by all that John Davis knows the difference between a good snatch, a press and a clean an jerk – and it’s quite interesting to know what he has to say about these lifts – how he trains to gain maximum efficiency in them and how best to perform them in a meet when the chips are on the table.
For example, to reach a really high total in the Olympic lifts,
In the case of the press,
If you dive, you usually get the best momentum, but regardless of dive or get-set, space your hands comfortably. If long-armed, have hands nearly against the inside collars; if short-armed, place hands just about at the beginning of the inside knurling on the bar. Keep head up slightly, with arms relaxed and slightly bent at elbows, back flat; breathe deeply and start the pull getting bar as high as possible before splitting; throw head back as you pull up weight; then drop straight down – not forward – and move legs only. Do not split with one leg directly behind the other, as this is bad balance – keep your feet a foot or so apart, at least. At the finish of a
The world, on the whole, does not look to weightlifting for displays of character and integrity, but our John Davis has established a record in this department. He definitely is the greatest weightlifter of all time and worth going a country mile to witness in action.
And there are many who will second that motion.