How Important Is Making Your Opener?

In a previous post, I discussed how to select opening weights at a competition. Once you know what you’ll open with, how important is making your opener?

Talk to any coach, at any level of the sport, and “gotta make your opener, gotta make your opener, gotta make your opener,” will be repeated like Dorothy saying ‘there’s no place like home.’ It’s an unquestioned mantra that seems obvious but is it?

The answer is yes. Particularly in the Snatch. Stop reading here if that satisfies you.

The outcome of your opener is a big factor in how the day will go.

When the question popped into my head I wanted to take a contrarian viewpoint. I wanted to say ‘it’s not where you start but where you finish.’ I thought maybe lifters internalize the pressure of having to make openers as expectations and therefore put too much emphasis on it. Then I looked at the results from the Olympics.

Turns out how you start greatly impacts how you’ll finish. That feeling of relief once that first lift is on the board is enough not to question the statement. If you plan to win a medal and/or make more than half your lifts you really do need to make openers. The argument doesn’t really need to be corroborated with stats but here are some anyway.

Medalists Make Openers

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, 13 of the 15 gold medalists made their opening Snatch and 13 of 15 made their opening Clean and Jerk. Same for silver medalists. 31 medals¹  went to lifters who made both of their openers while just 2 went to lifters who missed both openers².

At the Olympics nearly 70% of medalists made both openers and guess what…67% of them went 4 for 6 or better. In fact, all but one gold medalist went at least 4 for 6³.

The takeaway: Almost too simplistic to state but what the hell. Winners make openers. Winners also make most of their attempts.

The Field

Ok, not everyone at the Olympics, or any competition, wins a medal. What about the rest of the field?

At the Olympics, 14 lifters went 6 for 6 and 47 others missed just one attempt. That’s roughly 24% of the field having perfect, or near perfect days.

Consider this; of the 47 lifters who went 5 for 6, all of them made their Snatch opener. Just 3 missed their first Clean and Jerk. Sidebar: Lyu Xiaojun (CHN) is the only medalist to go 5 for 6 despite missing an opener.

During the course of the games, 30% of lifters missed an opener in either lift. Only 16% of them would make more than 3 lifts.4 On the other side of the coin, only 1 lifter, Nestor Colonia (PHI), made an opening Snatch then missed all remaining attempts.

The takeaway: If you make an opening Snatch chances are you’ll make at least another lift. But if you miss your opener, chances are you’ll miss at least 2 other attempts.

Granted there are always the sad stories where a lifter goes 3 for 3 in the Snatch then bombs in the Clean and Jerk. It happened pretty (in)famously to Behdad Salimi (IRI) in the +105kg category so nothing is certain.

So let’s talk about bomb outs.

What are the chances of bombing out after making an opening Snatch?

Ignoring those who withdrew due to injury (or banned substances), a total of 24 lifters bombed at the Olympics. That’s close to 10% of all competitors and is probably a bit lower than most events.

From that group, 7 lifters made an opening Snatch then bombed in the Clean & Jerk. So oversimplify it and look at it like this; if you assume about 10% of the field will bomb and that bombs will be split equally between both lifts, your chances of bombing are cut in half (or more) if you make your Snatch opener.

If the Olympics is a representative example, and more people do bomb in the Snatch, then your odds of bombing out go down from roughly 10% to 3% if you make your Snatch opener.

Granted, this is all taken from one competition and while there will be differences across a larger sample size I think this is good enough to prove the point.

You’ve missed an opener, now what?

Firstly, don’t freak out. It’s like the old fight cliché, ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ Missing your opener is exactly that. The likelihood of making all of your remaining lifts isn’t great but it still exists so long as you stay clear-headed and recover.

While missing an opener can toss your larger plans into the garbage it shouldn’t put your whole day there. Can you shake off a miss and move on? If an average competition success rate hovers between 50% and 60% chances are the rest of the field will also miss 2 or more attempts. You aren’t doomed.

You simply have to work with what you have left and adapt your plans accordingly. So often we go into competitions looking to play against our lifetime bests and hoping to exceed those. Sometimes, especially after a miss, it has to reset to that day and what’s available. That is the hardest part.

It’s not easy to process disappointment but if you make the decision to repeat, get the next one done and go from there you can still make the day worthwhile. Perhaps what I’m saying is you have to frame a competition in the context of the day and not your grand plans or lifetime bests.

The point is you want to be on the long side of the odds for success and making openers is the best way to get there.

Accept it at face value when you hear how important it is to make openers. Lower them if necessary. Open conservatively, finish aggressively.

If you’d like to see a full breakdown of the competition success rate from the Rio Olympics click here.  As always if you’ve enjoyed this post please subscribe to to have new posts sent directly to your inbox as they are released.

¹31 of the 45 medalists made both openers. That’s 68.89%. Only 2 medalists missed both openers.

²Tian Tao (CHN) Silver at 85kg missed 173/210 and went 2 for 6. Meng Suping (CHN) Gold at +75kg missed 125/175 openers and went 4 for 6. She was the only Women’s Gold Medal winner to miss an opening Snatch.

³Sohrab Moradi (IRI) who went 3 for 6 was the only male Gold Medalist to miss his opening Snatch.

4A total of 76 lifters missed an opener in either or both lifts. 12 of them finished with a 4 for 6 or better day. 56 lifters missed their opening Snatch and 44 missed just their opening C&J so 24 lifters missed both.