In Praise of Clarence Kennedy
Clarence Kennedy - My prototypical athletic ideal
Clarence Kennedy (above) deadlifts 729 on a lift he rarely practices: he uses a double-overhand hook grip, no weight belt, 215 bodyweight
Ten years ago, Stacy and I took our daughter to a massive cheerleader festival in Ocean City Maryland. It was Woodstock for cheerleaders. Wandering along the boardwalk that weekend, I saw many impressive, impromptu acrobatic feats done by the small women and tiny men. I watched them flip, launch, twist, leap and seemingly defy gravity, all with the greatest of ease and always with incredible grace and hurricane-like velocity. As a coach, I wondered “what if we could routinely and regularly infuse BIG MEN with this type of athletic coordination and acrobatic ability? Would that not create a superior athlete? Hell yes. But how?”
Until two weeks ago, I had never heard of an Olympic weightlifter named Clarence Kennedy. My attorney advised me to check him out. I always take my attorney’s advice. Still, I was a little dubious. Why would I want to see some guy weighing 200 snatch 350 when I saw David Rigert snatch 400 weighing 200 45-years ago?
I came up in the golden era of Olympic weightlifting. Those lifts done by Rigert, Piserenko, Alexeev, Vardanian, Sulymaneglow, Bednarski, Talts, Zacharavich, Krastev, Patera, et. al, have not been exceeded to this day. Yes, I know, the olden day guys were all gassing, but I don’t care, they were magnificent. Do you realize that Alexeev clean & jerked 564 in 1977? This was a mere 36-pounds away from the magical 600-pound clean and jerk. 44 years later and the 600-pound barrier still stands, unbreeched.
In interceding 44-years. Alexeev record has been improved by a mere 22-pounds. In 1984 Anatoly Pisarenko clean and jerked 265 kilos, 584-pounds, this weighing a minuscule (for a super heavyweight) 270-pounds. In 36-years that fabulous lift has been improved upon by a grand total of four pounds. In 1977 I felt the 600-pound clean and jerk was right around the corner. Little did I know that I was witnessing the highwater mark in Olympic weightlifting.
I had a ringside seat in elite powerlifting as a competition coach for Ed Coan, Kirk Karwoski, Dan Austin, Lamar Gant, Mark Challiet, Doug Furnas, and as a coach for the US team at the world championships (we won the world team title in 1991.) The lifts done by these men in the way they did them have not been equaled or exceeded to this day. It is my contention that as a species humanity crested, athletically and performance-wise, in the 1980s and 1990s. The all-time world records in track and field and strength events have barely budged over the last 40-years.
One of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time was the Russian Bad Boy, David Rigert. David set 63 world records and captured world titles in the 181, 198 and 220-pound weight classes. As a middle-heavyweight he eventually snatched 396-pounds and clean & jerked 490. At the end of his career, he lifted as a light 220-pound class lifter. Weighing 210 or less, David snatched 407 and clean & jerk 507. His career ended in 1981. Rigert was the soviet steamroller that crushed all competition. We have not seen his like since.
I got very excited watching a young Irishman named Clarence Kennedy, about the same bodyweight as Rigert, snatch 413 during a workout. I do not know what his body weight was, but I would guess it was 210. Later I saw video of him cleaning 507. His lifting approximated that of the great Rigert when David ventured into the 220/100 kilo pound class. To see in 2021 this young Irishman casually handling Rigert-like poundage got my undivided attention. Rigert was short, 5-7, and powerfully built, particularly when weighing 205-210.
GrillMan sent me a YouTube link to a 16-minute-long video that chronicles Kennedy’s athletic journey, commencing in 2006 at age 12 as a tall, muscle-less, thin boy. Young Clarence Kennedy appeared to have zero athletic genetics. This lean boy looks average and unimpressive by any and every measure. The YouTube video is called Clarence Kennedy Transformation – 15 years of training.
The first image is of the skinny 12-year-old, videoed in a bleak urban setting, doing two, awkward, difficult, muscle-ups on a rusted scaffold. The setting looked like a battle zone. In the next image Clarence, still 12, has now mastered the same scaffolding.
He can now change levels, dropping from the top rung (20-feet above the ground!) to the second rung three feet lower, then dropping another three feet while twisting his body to the right to catch a shed roof a few feet away. Then the hard part: skinny Clarence Kennedy creates enough explosive energy and leg kick to to power back up the three rungs, all the way to the top. He would do multiple cycles, up and down the scaffolding, arms only, augmented with a little leg jolt.
Next, he is shown beginning his Parkour training. He hand-stands on a dumpster before performing a shoot-through landing. Then Clarence, Jackie Chan style, successfully scales a concrete wall double his height. He executes a 10-foot broad jump in a slum dump; if he misses, he falls on a bunch of jagged metal and goes to the emergency room. There is a fearlessness about this boy. Then onto acrobatics: his first “tricking” video is made at age 13. He learns standing backflips and forward twisting handsprings.
He progresses quickly. In 2007, as a 13-year-old Clarence Kennedy begins strengthening exercises: excellent one-arm pushups and perfect reps in the pistol squat. Holding a flag position on a steel pole, body parallel to the ground for extended periods posed no problem. I would guesstimate that age 13 Clarence was 5-10 and maybe 140-pounds. All the cute kid stuff came to a screeching halt when he performed his next feat, a truly death-defying feat for which there was no gradualness.
The 13-year-old is shown leaping off a roof, 25-feet in the air. He pushes off the wall hard with his feet: he must land 25-feet from the wall. If he comes up short, he crash lands on a three-foot tall, rusted guard wall. He lands on raw concrete with his lead right foot. The instant his foot impacts the concrete Clarence falls into an energy-absorbing forward roll and springs to his feet to continue his way. As a parent or grandparent, I would have had a heart attack. This was Ninja shit at age 13.
His tricking velocity and move linkage hits a new level at age 14. In his school uniform he runs to a wall, plants his right foot four feet up the wall and executes a spin-over wall back-flip. He does this for reps. In another snippet the 14-year-old demonstrates insane break-dancing moves, high velocity body twists and contortions as he effortlessly mimics all the classical, incredibly break-dance cliches. He does a series of high-speed backflips, ten in a row in an open field, no problem, even in street clothes.
In 2008 at age 15 Clarence Kennedy commences Olympic weightlifting. He apparently has access to a good facility and good coaching. He clean and jerks 220 weighing 150-pounds. At age 16 he snatches 220 and squats 375 ass-on-heels. His field acrobatics are incredible: he can corkscrew his body three rotations before landing; this is Olympic gymnast floor routine stuff.
Jump ahead to age 17 and Clarence Kennedy has three years of training under his belt, has added 30-pounds of muscle and snatches 310! Clarence ass-on-heels squats 507 and clean & jerks 375. Clarence cleans and stands erect with 396 and deadlifts 550. In one amazing snippet, the (then) 17-year-old sprints across a road and with one incredible upward leap lands atop a 65-inch tall brick wall, maintaining his balance. This 175-pound, 6-foot tall athlete leapt atop a 5-foot-6-inch wall. I remember reading that Yurik Vardanian could leap up onto a 44-inch platform for reps.
If you push ahead to the 12-minute mark of this remarkable 16-minute video, Clarence is now 22 and looks nicely muscled-up: nothing freaky, lean, athletic like an NFL free safety. He looks to be 215 to 220-pounds as he clean & jerk 220 kilos, 484-pounds. He then deadlifts 727 with a hook grip and no belt. He squats 660, ass on heels with a purposeful pause at the bottom. He then makes a sensational 408-pound snatch. This is Rigert-ville stuff. Incredible.
He makes the 408-pound snatch in a deserted room by himself. Clarence then heads to the ballfield to demonstrate that he still has his incredible moves. Only now, with his newfound, off the charts, leg and torso strength, he is able to fling himself further, faster and higher than ever. He can do repetition front and backflips, landing and launching off one foot.
Clarence Kennedy exemplifies the athletic ideal I envisioned back on the Ocean City boardwalk as I watched all the leprechaun people perform their high velocity acrobatics. I imagined infusing athletes possessing size and world record strength with gymnast-style athleticism.
Then it occurred to me: that is backwards…you must first infuse the child with the acrobatic training – then infuse the acrobatic athlete with strength.
At age 22, Clarence deadlifted 750 and bench pressed (using an extremely narrow grip) 446-pounds. He squatted 684 – with his characteristic purposeful pause in the bottom. He squatted 585 for 10 ass on heels reps – and then collapsed in exhaustion. Clarence snatched 413 at age 24. He then does his career best clean & jerk with 490. Again, in an empty gym. As soon as the 490 hits the platform, Clarence does a backflip. The video ends with Clarence cleaning and standing erect with 507. I have heard he subsequently suffered a knee injury.
Check out this riveting 16-minute athletic biopic. The question becomes: can we recreate this type of athlete prowess without having to fling 13-year-olds off the roof tops of three-story buildings, letting them fall 25 feet to land on concrete? Is Clarence Kennedy unique unto himself? Or can his hybrid capabilities and capacities be replicated?
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.