Interview with Canada’s strongest man, George Kobaladze

Untitled-18One of my many goals with this First Pull Project is to promote weightlifting, especially in Canada. With that in mind, I am quite pleased to have had the chance to interview Mr. Kobaladze whose achievements are nothing short of spectacular.  George is an outstanding lifter who has been lifting for 24 years (In Canada and Georgia) and currently holds the records in the 105+KG category (174snatch/226 clean and jerk/400kg total). He won a bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2011 Pan Ams, a silver medal at the 2012 and 2013 Pan Am championships, and ranked 11th at the 2013 World’s.

Before we get started, here is a video of George clean and jerking a  Canadian senior record of 226kg at the 2013 Canadian Championships

Getting started & Georgia

1. With First Pull, I have many goals, but one of them has always been to promote Canadian Weightlifting. Now, I can say that I have interviewed the two best lifters of Canada, you and Christine Girard. So, thank you so much George for taking the time to answer my questions. I think that you actually started weightlifting in Georgia. How old were you when you started and how did you get started?

It was my father who introduced me to weightlifting. A thing has to be said right away, my father, Jimsher Kobaladze, was a huge man and physically very strong. Even though he wasn’t a professional athlete, he was lifting some impressive weights back then and a lot of people admired him. So growing up, I really looked up to my father who accompanied my first steps into weightlifting. Then one day my father called a well-known weightlifting coach based in Ckhinvali (Georgia) Ivane Grikurov. I still remember that telephone conversation, Grikurov was mentioning the talent of one of his new disciples, and the fact that he could already predict great results. I guess my father was very impressed because the following day we got to the gym in Ckhinvali. That is when serious training started. I was 13 years old.

1410919_596604303727731_1109930081_o2. Kakhi Kakhiashvili is Georgian as well, but lifted for Greece. Was he a role model that made you want to train in weightlifting as well? If not, did you have anybody you were looking up to?

 Kakhi  Kakhiashvili  was a role model for many athletes, including me. He is a remarkable weightlifter and a very nice person. I feel really lucky I could train with an athlete of his caliber. I can say that I had the chance to learn from quite a few extremely talented lifters. When I started training in that gym, there were at least five or six athletes able to lift 200 kilos and more.

3. Who coached you over there? How did the training sessions planned by that coach look like?

 I trained under Avtandil Gahokidze and the national team coach was Ivane Grikurov, both very experienced people. Our regular training sessions consisted of two exercises developing the technique followed by pulls and squats. Then we built on frequency: we trained twice per day, nine to ten training sessions per week, less intensity on Thursdays and Sundays off. As for the individual training plan, it depended on each athlete’s needs.

4. When I interviewed Norik Vardanian, he said that in Armenia, the training atmosphere is extremely serious and goofing around is not tolerated. Was it the same in your Gym in Georgia?

When we were in preparations for a competition and there were only a few weeks left, the atmosphere was really serious because that was the stage when we were lifting heavy weights. But the rest of the time, training atmosphere was more relaxed.

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5. As you got started, what was the emphasis of your training?

 I came to weightlifting after having practiced other sports (soccer, boxing…). So the aim was to take advantage of skills and strengths acquired in those sports and transfer them into basic strengths for weightlifting. We focused on technical segments, on lifts, on snatch and clean-and-jerk movement.

 6. Georgia was part of the URSS, starting from 1921. Weightlifting was such a popular sport in the Soviet Union, with many athletes receiving Order of Lenin medals for instance. They developed a specific method for weightlifting (that varied a bit amongst coaches) and introduced many ideas for sport training such as periodization, long term athletic development, sport classes (Master of sports, etc.) As you got started in weightlifting in Georgia, did you feel the soviet influence in the methods and ways of training?

 You sound better informed in all kind of medals of the soviet era than I am. Frankly speaking, for me, it was rather the transition following Georgia’s independence that marked my sports career and life over all. Times were tough, everything was to be rebuilt, including infrastructures in sports. Endless issues had a significant impact on training and competition. Just to mention an example, finding a heated gym was a reason for happiness those days. Was there a soviet influence on our training system? Yes, definitely. Our coaches were all soviet school disciples. On the other hand, were our coaches able to make that implemented system work in those conditions and were athletes really able advance in that transition context?

7.  Following this, how is technique seen (what makes it good or bad) and taught in Georgia?

 People believe when you master the good technique, you are able to lift much heavier weights, and the opposite with the bad technique. The good technique is probably the one displayed on different pictures that surround us on our gym walls plus all the movements that are adapted differently by each of us.

No need to reinvent the wheel, because in every country we have the knowledge of how to do the good movement. Besides, I have already seen elite athletes who had not exactly a perfect technique, but they showed strong performance in world competition due to other factors, like a strong will.

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Current training

8.  I know you are presently training full time. But there were times after immigrating to Canada when you had to work in the day and train at night. Was it hard to mix work and training like that?

It is clear that it was not possible to show a great performance in sports while combining work and training. At that point, my goal was just to keep in shape. On the other side, coming to the gym after work, was a big necessity for me, in the weightlifting hall I felt like at home. It reminded me to my father who told me once that he was coming to the weightlifting gym to relax. That’s the stage in my life when I discovered that my father and I had many things in common.

1398157_596604277061067_2069476338_o 9.  When comparing Canada and Georgia, what would you say are the biggest differences in training/programming, equipment quality and training atmosphere?

When I was still in Georgia, we had to train with the equipment inherited from the soviet times. Barbells passed through repairs quite often, but we continued using them. Nowadays gyms are much better equipped. Eleiko and Werksan barbells have replaced the old ones. Training conditions have changed a lot.

As for differences in training, I would say that Georgian young lifters are taught at a very early stage a lot of variations of technical exercises, which, in my mind, helps to decrease the injury potential later.

10.   Many coaches in Quebec really stress the importance of competitions. Often, a new athlete just starting has to compete at the following regional or club competitions. Was it like that in Georgia as well?

Back then funding was scarce and it was not possible to organize too many competitions. Our coaches tried to do their best to make us compete, our gym was being turned into competition site and we could not be happier! Competitions are important, they motivate the athlete to progress. It allows to build-up confidence. It starts with a small competition in the gym where you train, you go on with regional or club competitions and then one day you are selected for the nationals or the world championships.

892588_490951517626344_160399525_o 11.   We have many hard working athletes in Quebec. Many women lifters are slowly approaching World’s caliber (or are there) and male lifters like Pascal Plamondon are doing pretty well. What do you think we are lacking that would improve our international rankings?  Or, put another way, what do you think would help us improve our rankings?

 At the Pan American championships that will be held before the Olympic Games in Rio we will have a stronger male lifters team than we had at the 2012 Pan American championships previous to London Games. Yes, definitely we have many talented male and female lifters and I hope the male team will win at least one quota place for the 2016 Games!

To have these results improved, we need more support, including media support. We need to exchange experience with athletes and coaches coming from countries where weightlifting is very popular. Our medals in international competitions should bring more funding and then funding is going to lead to more medals and improved world rankings.

12.   You are now coaching if I’m not mistaken. How do you enjoy it? How do you see the coaching process? Finally, what do you put emphasis on in your coaching and programming?

I enjoy coaching a lot actually and I am very glad that I have the chance to coach. My disciples are young lifters, members of the club Géants de Montréal. My goal is to teach them the basics through different exercises and physical activities. Even though I focus on making them enjoy the sport first of all, I also teach them technical movements. I hope to open my own weightlifting club one day and share my experience and skills with young athletes who will be able to make Olympic dreams come true.

And here is George doing 1 power clean + 1 front squat + 2 Jerks with 200kg

Goals and competitions

A picture I took of George at the 2012 Canadian nationals
A picture I took of George at the 2012 Canadian nationals

13.   You have been lifting for a long time. At the 2009 World’s, you totaled 378kg. At the 2011 World’s, you added a few kg by totaling 389kg. Last World’s, in 2013, you totaled 397kg. Although you are getting close the 40 years old mark, you still improve steadily years after years. Considering most people’s total tend to lower as they age and yours is actually going up, I think it’s amazing. What do you attribute your improvements to?

 I went through a very long recovery period after an injury I had many years ago. I did not want to accept that I would never be able to practice my sport again.  I started training again, barbells were much lighter than they used to be before my injury, but I persisted and results started going up slowly.  I want to thank my spouse for being a very supportive person and always believe in me. My four-year old son, Luca, is the greatest gift I could have wished for. So I can say without any doubt that it is my family that motivates me to continue and make progress.

14.   What is your training plan and frequency like at the moment?

 We are at the beginning of March, there are about 3 weeks left until the first competition of the year (La Classique Haltérophile Québecoise, March 29). I enter the final stage of preparations, I lower volume and focus on heavy weights.

 15.   What’s your goal total for the 2014 Commonwealth Games?

 I aim for the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth and I don’t think too much about the total. Maybe because like many other athletes I am a little bit superstitiousJ.

16.   Every time I have seen you at a competition, I have always been amazed by how calm and focused you are. What’s going on in your head come competition day?

 It has been 24 years that I am practicing this sport and I would dare say that is a good experience. But honestly, I am still stressed out at every competition as if it were my first one.

17.   Diet wise, what is the diet of a 105+kg lifter like?

Let’s put it this way: I never skip breakfast, lunch or dinner! I am also careful about my sugar intake.

1398348_596603623727799_867577904_o 18.   What do you think of my efforts with First Pull to promote and discuss weightlifting?

I congratulate you for the initiative of creating this site and for promoting weightlifting. As you know there is not much media coverage for this sport in Canada. We probably need more similar initiatives so that people can learn about our efforts, results in competitions and upcoming events. Thank you for being interested in my sports career. I am very grateful for the opportunity you offered me to share my thoughts and experience with a larger audience.

19.   Thanks again for doing this interview. It is well appreciated. Do you have any final words?

I wish all the athletes to achieve their dreams. Best of luck to our weightlifters and that their efforts pay off.

I also want to encourage people to come and cheer our Canadian weightlifters at regional and national competitions.

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