Athlete, On Her Way to London, Embodies Explosive Strength and Grace
OURAY – CrossFit initiates at Hypoxia Gym had an uplifting experience earlier this month when weightlifting celebrity Holley Mangold stopped by to share a few pointers on her way to London, where she’ll represent Team USA as a superheavyweight Olympic weightlifter.
The sassy, brassy 22-year-old athlete from Dayton, Ohio tends to make a big impression. She stands 5-foot-8, weighs 340 pounds (recently trimmed down from 370 or so), and has a wicked sense of humor – especially about her own body. In an athlete’s profile in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, she jokes that she “wanted to be in the Olympics for gymnastics, but that didn’t really pan out.”
What most impresses Hypoxia Gym owner/coach Alan Cook about Mangold, though, is her ability to move with grace and speed under hundreds of pounds of pressure.
“Her snatch PR’d at 260 pounds, and her clean and jerk at 330 pounds,” Cook said, speaking in weightlifting-ese about Mangold’s personal record (PR) in the two kinds of lifts (the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk”) that together comprise the sport of Olympic weightlifting.
“It’s quite a bit more than I can lift,” Cook said. “The largest amount anyone has snatched at Hypoxia Gym is 185 pounds, and our biggest clean and jerk has been 245-250. She’s on a different planet.”
The sport of Olympic weightlifting is beautiful both in its simplicity, and as a display of raw human strength. The goal is straightforward: lift a barbell loaded with weight plates from the floor to an overhead position. In the snatch, the bar is lifted overhead in one continuous movement, and in the clean and jerk, the bar is first lifted from the floor to the chest, and then in a separate movement, jerked overhead.
“In both lifts, explosiveness and strength make them the most powerful human movements in all of sport,” Mangold’s coach Mark Cannella wrote.
More than that, elite lifters like Mangold have mastered subtleties of technique, coordination, balance, flexibility and mental focus.
CrossFit gyms across the country and around the world have embraced Olympic Weightlifting as part of their mix-and-match fitness regimen, in doing so expanding the popularity and mainstream appeal of a somewhat marginalized sport.
“It’s totally inspiring to watch Holley,” Cook said. “The cool thing is, she is so big, but she is strong and she is fast. It’s amazing to watch her get in those positions. She is an elite athlete.”
Mangold first made a splash in a different sport – football. She grew up tossing the pigskin with her brother Nick Mangold (now a center with the New York Jets) on a peewee team coached by her dad, and later made national news as the only girl on her high school football team in Ohio, where she played offensive line.
She got into powerlifting mostly as a way to better her performance on the football field. As a 17-year-old senior she could bench press 264 and squat 525. Next came a growing obsession with Olympic Weightlifting. She dropped out of Ursuline College in 2010, where she was on a track scholarship, to devote herself to the sport full-time.
She shot like a meteor to the top of the field.
“What appealed to me about Olympic Weightlifting is that it’s super fun,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Ohio, several days before boarding a plane to London. “I know it sounds weird, but it really is. I fell in love with it. There’s a point in time when the bar comes off of your hands and literally feels weightless. I got addicted to it and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.”
At age 20, Mangold was invited to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She was a favorite at that time for the 2016 summer games.
The OTC is “like an athlete’s haven,” Mangold recalled. “All you have to do is train. They have great rehab, hot tubs, massages, they cook all your food, there are maids that make your beds....”
Best of all, it was an opportunity to meet “a lot of different athletes from different sports,” she said. Then came the setback of a torn meniscus that required knee surgery – not that serious from her perspective, but enough to get her “uninvited” back to the training center.
“I felt like I was a senior in high school and forgot to apply to college,” Mangold recalled. “Getting ‘not invited back’ killed me.”
Mangold headed home to Ohio to nurse her wounds. She found a great surgeon, great rehab and a great pair of new training partners with Drew Dillon and coach Mark Cannella of Columbus Weightlifting Gym, who together made it their personal mission to get her back in fighting shape.
Two months out of surgery, Mangold PR’d at the Arnold Meet (a prestigious weight-lifting competition named for Arnold Schwarzenegger) and was back in the game, big time.
“It was like I wanted to prove everybody wrong,” Mangold said of her phenomenal recovery. She has since added an additional 90 pounds to her lifts.
“She is an absolute natural athlete,” Dillon said of his protégé. “You have to be an athlete to be successful in these lifts; she’s extremely strong and can get her body under the weight at lightning speed.”
Mangold, meanwhile, credits her coaches with her success. “Those two men picked me back up,” she said. “Mark has an eye for technique. He teaches athletes to take their strength and learn how to move correctly. Drew’s ability is to cultivate the mental game. Together, they make a pair.”
Mangold’s biggest mental obstacle?
“I have to make sure I don’t get too excited,” she laughs. “I end up going crazy and I have to calm down.”
Being an Olympic athlete does come with its perks, including an all-expense paid trip to London. But, Mangold doesn’t get paid for doing her sport and receives only a $400 per month stipend to help cover her living expenses while she’s training. “They don’t want me to work a job, but I can’t get by on $400 a month, obviously,” she said.
She started doing CrossFit clinics to help support herself. It turned out to be a good fit.
“I love to teach technique,” she said. “And CrossFit has been very good for weightlifting.”
If there was an overabundance of excitement at Hypoxia Gym during Mangold’s recent clinic there, the clientele didn’t seem to mind.
“She was amazing,” CrossFit neophyte Mike Gardner of Ridgway said. “She would tell you, ‘Watch my hip,’ or ‘Watch my shoulder,’ and then she would do it so fast it was just a blur. It was really incredible. She’s the real deal.”
Gardner, a building contractor, came away from the clinic feeling like he’d learned a lot about technique – “how subtle differences in the way you approach the bar translate to being able to lift a little cleaner, and not put as much stress on your body.”
“It’s amazing someone that big can move that fast,” Cook added. “For us, it was a total thrill to learn from an Olympic athlete who is one of the chosen few to compete on world’s largest stage.
Mangold flew to London this Tuesday, July 24. She’ll be in the opening ceremony this Friday, then she has a few days of downtime before her big moment (Women’s +75 kg Weightlifting) happens on Aug. 5. The competition is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. London time and conclude by 5 p.m.
Mangold will be competing alongside her teammate, Sarah Robles of California. Her brother won’t be there; he’s got training camp. But everyone else in her family will be in London cheering her on – her parents, sisters, aunts and cousins. Here in Ouray, her new fans will be watching and cheering too.