First Pull Interviews Olympian Norik Vardanian

Norik at the 2012 Olympic Games. Credit to hookgrip.
Norik at the 2012 Olympic Games. Credit to hookgrip.

Son of one of the greatest weightlifter of all time (Yurik Vardanian), Norik was kind enough to answer my questions for your reading pleasure. Norik has trained in the USA as well as in Armenia. He mostly trained at the OTC when he was living in North America. In 2012, he represented Armenia at the  2012 Olympic Games in London, where he placed 11th in the 94kg category.  He just won the 2013 Armenian nationals. He also has a page on facebook and a youtube channel. He regularly post pretty nice photographs and videos over there.

Without further ado… Here is the interview with Norik Vardanian who has a lot to say on many topics.

Background & Yurik Vardanyan

 It has to be said right away: Your father is one of the best weightlifter to ever walk on this planet. Growing up, did you want to become like him? Did watching him or hearing about his performances made you want to become a weightlifter like him?

Growing up I always watched my father’s weightlifting tapes. The thing I admired most when I was a child was his ability to jump. I grew up watching basketball and I always wanted to jump high. When I was old enough to lift weights, I asked my father to train me so I can jump higher. In the beginning I never intended to be a weightlifter. Once I got into the sport, that is when I fell in love and quit playing basketball.

How was weightlifting seen in your family? In other words, did you go to the club with your father to watch him lift?  Was it always an ongoing topic of discussion? Was it seen more like a job for your father?

Yurik Vardanian winning the games in 1980.
Yurik Vardanian winning the games in 1980.

Weightlifting was taken very seriously in my family. Everything my father has done till this day has something to do with his great results as a weightlifter. When I began training, my whole family was very supportive. I began going to our local collage gym with my father because that is where he was training people. I would watch him lift and he would show me how it was supposed to look. The way he lifted was so smoother compared to the other guys. When I began lifting myself, we made a platform in our garage and that is where I began my weightlifting career. My father would train with me often so he not only told me how to do things, he showed me as well. I am more of a visual learner.

 How was the club your father used to train at? Was the equipment, space, number of athlete and coaching decent?

For the most part my father trained with the Soviet Union National team. They held training camps all around the Soviet Union. They had the best equipment for their time. Once my father became a champion he bought an eleiko bar and brought it to his local gym in Armenia. Coaching was not a  problem. My father’s coach was his uncle and he taught my father everything in the beginning. After that, he was coached by the national team coaches. But to be honest, my father already knew what he had to do, so he always did his own style of training.

Did his training follow the classical approach of two sessions a day? Did he have certain special habits? (As an example, some Russians lifters won’t step over a loaded barbell).

Yes, my father trained twice a day like everyone else. He didn’t do the typical Soviet style training. He did a mix of his own style mixed with the Soviet style. My father always taught me to never step over the bar or put my foot on the bar. He always told me that the bar must be respected. Till this day you will never see me step on the bar.

We have heard about many countries taking care of their successful athletes. Iran’s Razzedeth’s wedding was broadcasted on T.V. Ilya Ilin, of Kazakstan, is basically a star (The 2012 games were broadcasted in the streets). Apparently, Chinese lifters received very nice cars too. Was your dad treated like this when he was in his prime? How was he seen by the general population?

Yurik Vardanian
Yurik Vardanian

Basically, my father was like Michael Jordan in the Soviet Union during the 80’s. He would always be approached for autographs, pictures, etc. Actually, he was the first person in Armenia to have a Mercedes Benz. Till this day he is very respected in the old Soviet countries, especially Armenia. The general population has very much respect for my father and his accomplishments.

Your father totaled 400kg at 82.5kg bodyweight, at the 1980 Olympics. He had a higher total than the winner of the 90 and 100kg category. How did he and your family react to such an impressive performance?

My father had been planning to do a 400kg total since 1977 when he won his first Senior World Championship. He kept those numbers in his head and every exercise, every set, and every rep he did was to reach his goal of totaling 400kg. My family all knew about his goal that he had set. I was not alive at this time but I have heard from my relatives about how dedicated my father was. I don’t think my family was very surprised that my father accomplished his goal. I think if he did not accomplish it they would have been more surprised.

At what age did you start training for weightlifting and how were the training sessions?

I began training at age 13. My workouts were, believe it or not, very easy. I trained 5 days a week and my workouts were not heavy at all, it was all technique. Even till this day, my father still stresses technique to me. When he watches my workouts, he doesn’t care how heavy I go. He cares about how I lift the bar.

Was your father your first coach and what’s the most important thing you learned from him?

credit hookgrip.
credit hookgrip.

Yes, my father was my first coach. The most important thing I learned from him was technique and the ability to control my hear rate. In other words, being able to calm myself down and not let situations stress me out. My father was not always the strongest physically, but mentally, he was by far the strongest amongst his competitors.

Aside from your father, did you have any other weightlifting idol while growing up?

Other than my father I always enjoyed watching David Rigert and Aleksandr Kurlovich. From watching  them lift weights I learned a lot. I loved how they would become champions and break World Records and were still very humble about it. I have always been a fan of the Soviet weightlifters.

Trip in the USA

You left with your family for the USA in 1992. Why did you leave Armenia for USA?

We left because of political reasons. I don’t want to get into that because I only know so much. I was very young at that time. Basically, my father brought his family to the USA for a better life. But, he always had it in his mind to return to his country. Once the opportunity came for him to return to his home country, he did not hesitate one bit.

I’m not sure if you trained for long periods of time at other clubs, but I do know that you trained at the OTC (Olympic training center) for a while. Was this experience good? Did the OTC offer good conditions and training atmosphere?

Norik training in the USA.
Norik training in the USA.

In America I only trained in my garage and at the Olympic training center. Like I said previously, my workouts at home were very easy and mainly technique. I had never done two sessions in one day until I went out to the OTC. The workouts were very hard for me and as a result I had lots of injuries.  I was not used to the heavy load. I had surgery on my left knee twice in a one year period. After a few years is when I realized what I was doing wrong and that is when I began to grow as an athlete and person. That is when I started making my gains. As far as the training atmosphere and conditions, they were great. I can honestly say that I have not been to a better place to train. They took very good care of their athletes and I enjoyed training there very much.

You achieved some good results while being in the USA. There was a 1-2 year period where you somewhat disappeared from the scene in the mid 2000. From what I read (it could be wrong), you were injured. Now, injuries come with elite sports. Have you had many injuries in your career and which specialists were the most useful to you?

Like I said in the previous question, I had two knee surgeries in a one year period.  Other than the two knee surgeries, I have only had aches and pains here and there. I began going to a chiropractor and he helped me very much to stay injury free. Plus, I grew as an athlete and I knew then what I should and shouldn’t do. I began listening to my body more. After my knee surgeries is when I clean and jerked 200kg the first time.

You lifted for Armenia in London 2012. According to Wikipedia, your family moved back to Armenia in 2009. Was there a specific reason for going back to Armenia?

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

Again this had to do with politics. My father had always wanted to move back to Armenia. In 2009 is when he felt the time was right. Also, he got offered to be one of the Advisors for the President of Armenia. Since he and my family moved out to Armenia in 2009, I decided to move as well one year later.

Very straight forward question: In your opinion – and based on your experience- what does the USA need to do to become a dominant nation in weightlifting?

They need to pay their athletes more money and hold training camps. Most elite weightlifters in the USA have jobs and it is not weightlifting. Weightlifting is either a hobby or a 2nd job. This is not the case in any of the other top countries in weightlifting. Weightlifting should be the #1 job if you want to reach a high level. In Armenia, most people begin lifting weights to support their family. Athletes in Armenia make more money than the general population. In the USA, people that work at McDonalds make more money than the top weightlifters. The problem is that the government doesn’t fund the weightlifters in the USA like they do in other countries.

State of Armenian Weightlifting

201kg clean and jerk at the Pan ams in 2009
201kg clean and jerk at the Pan ams in 2009

How differently is weightlifting perceived in Armenia in comparison to the USA?

Weightlifting is taken very seriously in Armenia. During training there is not much laughing or talking. People treat it like a job. Also,  the government funds the weightlifters and coaches. I know 19 year old kids that support their family with weightlifting. The top athletes in the USA have to be very dedicated and have some sort of funding to be able to reach a high level.

 How different is the training atmosphere in Armenia?

Once again the training atmosphere is much more serious in Armenia. It is literally their job to come in and lift weights. The coaches here will yell at you if you do something wrong. I have seen the National coach kick out European Champions from the gym because they were goofing off. At my first training camp I noticed there were no chairs to sit on. I asked the coach about a chair and he said you don’t sit down, you must walk around until you are ready for your next set.  I even see little kids who have just began lifting weights come into the gym ready to lift.

What about technique? Did you notice a big technique difference between Armenian lifters and the American lifters you used to train with?

There is not much of a difference in technique I think. The difference comes in the speed of the athletes. Armenians work on their speed very much. The faster I lift, my coach tells me that I need to lift faster.

 How would you describe the Armenian method of programming and training weightlifters? What are the most important aspects? What is the focus on during training?

The national coach would write our workouts down. He would give us 4-5 snatch exercises to choose from. Sometimes, he felt the need for someone to do a certain exercise. If he didn’t tell you which exercise to do, than you could pick. I liked this very much because I enjoy doing different types of exercises. I learned a lot of different exercises from the training camps that I attended.

How are kids recruited for weightlifting and how are they trained at the very beginning?

Vardanian at the arnolds.
Vardanian at the arnolds.

Kids are not really recruited. Either their parents send them to the gym or they come themselves. Weightlifting is the 2nd most popular sport in Armenia (behind soccer). Weightlifting results are always shown on TV and talked about in the newspapers. Olympic sports in general are the “popular” sports in Armenia.

Women weightlifting is definitely getting more popular in my country (Canada). Are there a lot of women involved in weightlifting in Armenia?

There are not too many women weightlifters in Armenia. I would say no more than 20-30 women weightlifters in Armenia. It is growing but very slowly. Most families won’t let their daughters go in for weightlifting.

 In comparison to the era of your Father, Yurik Vardanian, how different is weightlifting now in Armenia?

I would say that it is not much different here in Armenia. Weightlifting is still very popular and very well funded.

Olympic Games, Lifestyle & future goals

 In London 2012, you placed 11th in the 94kg category. Were you happy about your result?

I was not as disappointed with placing 11th as I was with my 380kg total. I was in very good shape leading up to the Olympics. I expected to do much more. I only made 2 out of 6 lifts. I always go into a competition with numbers in mind that I want to hit. Since I did not hit my numbers, it was a disappointment for me. I am happy to have made the Olympics and compete with the best in the world, but I should have lifted better. The problem was that I had to cut a lot of bodyweight and that took a lot out of me.

How was the experience of the games? How was the village and how was it to see some of the best athletes in the world?

Norik and his father, Yurik Vardanian. Credit Ironmind.
Norik and his father, Yurik Vardanian. Credit Ironmind.

Being a part of the Olympic Games was one of, if not the best, experience of my life. It was a dream that I had as a kid. To be able to accomplish one of my biggest goals was amazing. I got to meet a lot of great athletes. Since I have always been a fan of basketball, it was great to meet some of the best basketball players in the world. The village was amazing. My favorite part was the cafeteria. It was open 24 hours a day. It was also cool to walk around the village and see so many different people from all over the world there to compete.

Many people have claimed that you have to have a certain lifestyle if you want to be successful in this sport. Some lifters have even claimed they don’t walk up stairs on the day of the competition. What is your approach to nutrition, rest, off days activities, sleep, etc. ?

On the day of competition I don’t do much. I lay down and make sure my legs are well rested. I try to not think about the competition at all. As far as nutrition goes, I don’t do very much. I try not to eat greasy foods but I enjoy everything and I have a soft spot for sweets. On my off days, I like to play basketball or volleyball. I like active rest days better because that way I am more prepared for the next training day. When I don’t do anything on my rest day, I feel very stiff the next training day.

What are your future goals? Are you preparing for Rio 2016?

I plan on going to the 2014 and 2015 World Championships. My main goal is once again making the Olympic team in 2016. I have to experience the Olympic Games one more time.

Final words

Norik, I want to personally thank you for answering my questions. It is very nice and generous of you. Do you have a final word that you would like to say to the readers of First Pull?

I would like to say thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout the years, whether in USA or Armenia. I have been through a lot and I appreciate everyone who has backed me up through thick and thin. Much Love. Also, I would like to tell the readers of First Pull to make sure and add me on Facebook and check out my new page called Vardanian Weightlifting.

One comment

  • It has been many years since I saw your father lift. He inspired me to clean in an almost stiff legged deadlift style and jerk in a squat style. When I saw your name I wondered if you where his son. I wish for you the best success and health.
    Մնա ուժեղ!

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