Countries Producing The Best Olympic Weightlifters

A man performs a Snatch, currently one of the two competitive lifts, alongside the Clean and Jerk.
A man performs a Snatch, currently one of the two competitive lifts, alongside the Clean and Jerk.

Weightlifting is a sport that requires speed, coordination, and technical proficiency, and not just brute strength alone. This is opposed to the slower, heavier movements contested in the sport of Powerlifting (a sport comprised by the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift). Weightlifting's rapid movements and enormous power outputs have made the sport popular for athletes training for other sports as well. Currently, the two contested events in weightlifting are the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk, though other events were contested at times in the past. Weightlifters compete against those in the same weight class, and those with the best Total (the sum of the best successful Snatch and best successful Clean and Jerk) are declared the winner in each weight class. Below, we have listed the countries producing the most international titleholders in the sport of Weightlifting, ranked by the sum of Olympic Games Gold Medals in Weightlifting and International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships across all weight classes.

10. Kazakhstan, 20 Titles

Weightlifters from Kazakhstan have won 20 international titles for their country, including 15 IWF World Weightlifting Championships and 5 Olympic Gold Medals. 1935 marked the beginning of a new era for weightlifting in the country, as that was when the sport was given official recognition there. In 1937, the first national championship was held in the country. Yury Zaitsev became the first weightlifter to make Kazakhstan proud when he won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In 1980, another weightlifter from the country, Victor Mazin, again won an Olympic Gold Medal at the Moscow Olympics. Anatoly Khrapaty, another weightlifting star of Kazakhstan, earned the country several IWF World Weightlifting Championships in addition to an Olympic Gold Medal of his own. Another notable weightlifter from the country, Ilya Ilyin from Kyzylorda, caught the country's eye more recently by emerging victorious in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and winning two IWF World Weightlifting Championships.

9. Turkey, 22 Titles

Turkey has won 8 Gold, 1 Silver, and 2 Bronze Medals in Weightlifting at the summer Olympics, as well as several IWF World Weightlifting Championships, ranking it as the ninth country in the world producing the world’s best weightlifters. The name of Naim Suleymanoglu finds special mention in the history of Turkish weightlifting. Originally from Bulgaria, Suleymanoglu, unable to compete in the 1984 Olympics because of Bulgaria’s boycott, defected to Turkey and competed for Turkey at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, winning the first Olympic Gold Medal for the country in the Weightlifting category. His spree of success continued as he won Olympic Gold Medals again in 1992 and 1996. He became the world’s first weightlifter to win the Olympic gold thrice in three consecutive Olympics.

8. Iran, 24 Titles

Iran has won 24 international titles in the sport of Weightlifting, placing it in the 8th place rank among the 10 countries of the world producing the best weightlifters. Iranian weightlifters have managed to win 19 Gold, 10 Silver, and 24 Bronze medals in the IWF World Weightlifting Championships. The country has also performed commendably in the Summer Olympics Games, winning 5 Gold, 5 Silver and 5 Bronze medals in the weightlifting category. Hossein Rezazadeh is one of the most famous Iranian weightlifters, and one who enjoys celebrity status in the country. He is a retired Iranian weightlifter who won Golds at the Summer Olympics twice, doing so in 2000 and again in 2004. He also became an IWF World Weightlifting Champion four times, in 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2006, respectively.

7. Poland, 30 Titles

Polish weightlifters have performed exceedingly well in the IWF World Weightlifting Championships, winning a total of 25 Gold medals, 36 Silver medals, and 56 Bronze medals between 1891 and 2001 in those competitions. Besides World Championships, the country’s weightlifters have also managed to bag 5 Gold medals, 6 Silvers, and 21 Bronzes in the Summer Olympic Games in the sport of weightlifting.

6. Austria, 35 Titles

The picturesque European country of Austria has managed to earn 35 international weightlifting titles, including 32 Gold medals at the IWF World Weightlifting Championships and 3 Olympic Gold Medals. Austrian weightlifters have also won 27 Silver and 31 Bronze medals at the IWF World Weightlifting Championships, and 3 Silver and 2 Bronze medals in the Olympic Games. The weightlifters from Austria who won the Olympic Gold medals include Hans Haas (1928 Summer Olympics), Robert Fein (1936 Summer Olympics), and Franz Andrysek (1928 Summer Olympics).

5. East-West-Unified Germany, 40 Titles

Several Germans have managed to make their marks in the world of weightlifting by winning 40 championship titles, including 31 Golds in IWF World Weightlifting Championships and a number of Olympic Gold medals. The weightlifters of the country also have also won 58 Silver and 69 Bronze medals in the IWF World Weightlifting Championships. Some of the notable weightlifters from Germany who have won Golds at the Olympic Games have included Heinrich Schneidereit (1906 Summer Olympics), Kurt Helbig (1928 Summer Olympics), Josef Straßberger (1928 Summer Olympics), Rudolf Ismayr (1932 Summer Olympics), Josef Manger (1936 Summer Olympics), and Ronny Weller (1992 Summer Olympics).

4. United States, 55 Titles

The United States has a very well organized national governing body, USA Weightlifting (or USAW), that is responsible for conducting weightlifting programs all across the country and sending the nation's best performers to the international games like the Olympics and IWF World Weightlifting Championships. Weightlifters from the country have succeeded in winning 51 international titles for the country, including 39 World Weightlifting Championships. Some notable weightlifters from the US include Charles Vinci, who won two Olympic Gold medals (at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics and 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, respectively). In 2000, Tara CunninghamIn was the first to win an Olympic Gold medal for her home country, the USA, since Charles Vinci’s title in 1960.

3. Bulgaria, 91 Titles

Bulgaria, a country in southeastern Europe, ranks third in the world in terms of producing some of the world’s best weightlifters. The country has earned 91 combined international titles in the field of weightlifting in the Olympic Games and IWF World Weightlifting Championships. Galabin Boevski was one of the best weightlifters to hail from the country, and one who won World Weightlifting Championships twice, doing so in 1999 and 2001, and also won a Gold medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics. In 2004, however, he was suspended from the game for eight years after failing a drug test. Recently, the Bulgarian Weightlifting Team has suffered a major setback when they were banned from competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, as 11 athletes of the team tested positive for anabolic steroids in March of 2015.

2. China, 189 Titles

China has always led the world in a large number of athletic events, and in so doing has also managed to rank second in the world in terms of setting world records in the sport of weightlifting. The country has earned a total of 189 titles in the form of IWF World Weightlifting Championships and Olympic Gold Medals. One of the most famous Chinese weightlifters of the present times is Lü Xiaojun, who has won 3 Gold medals. Xiaojun's accomplishments include a Gold in the 2013 World Weightlifting Championships in the 77-kilogram weight class, and he also won an Olympic Gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. China has performed exceedingly well in the IWF World Weightlifting Championships, winning 165 Gold, 74 Silver, and 37 Bronze medals between 1891 and the 2015 World Weightlifting Championships.

1. USSR/Russia, 231 Titles

The Russians are unconquerable when it comes winning weightlifting championships. When combined, the former USSR and Russia have earned a staggering number of 231 international weightlifting titles throughout history. The golden period between the 1960’s and 1990’s witnessed Soviet weightlifters breaking and creating a large number of world weightlifting records. Vasily Alekseyev was one of the most notable weightlifters from this region, and one who set an amazing number of 80 World Records in the sport, and also won Gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. For a long time, the world has been curious about the astounding success of the USSR's and Russia's weightlifters, with many claiming they knew some secret exercises that led to such profound success. Another interesting fact was the longevity of the Russian weightlifters in the weightlifting industry. For example, Leonid Taranenko, a Soviet/Belarusian weightlifter, won his second Olympic Gold Medal in 1992 at the age of 36, quite old for a top level competitor in the sport. Whatever be the secret, no one can deny the longstanding supremacy of the former USSR and present-day Russia in weightlifting. One of the most famous Russian weightlifters of the new millennium is Dmitry Klokov, who has won a World Championship Gold, a European Championship Gold, an Olympic Games Silver, and many other accolades in the 105-kilogram weight class. Klokov's father was also a world class weightlifter for the USSR.


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