WES’s WISDOM: Tokyo only the beginning of CJ Cummings’ Olympic story

WES’s WISDOM: Tokyo only the beginning of CJ Cummings’ Olympic story

A bronze medal was potentially in CJ Cummings’ grasp as he walked back to the stage for his final lift Wednesday in Tokyo. But this time, it wasn’t meant to be. The opening act in his Olympic career may have ended in disappointment, but his time in the spotlight is just getting started. 

We’ve already seen shades of the Beaufort High graduate’s dominance on the global stage, and he will only find ways to get better. The 21-year-old gave it his all against several extraordinary veterans of the sport, giving him invaluable experience of what is needed to capture a medal in weightlifting’s biggest competition. 

Yes, nerves certainly played a factor, which is something you’d expect from anyone entering the top level of his or her sport for the first time. When your name is called backstage with the world watching, that 145-kilogram weight feels like it’s 500.  

But CJ fought hard from start to finish. It may be one of the worst walks in sports when a weightlifter trudges back to the room after failing at his mission. But like a prizefighter knocked down against the world champion, Cummings got back up moments later and prevailed to put his name on the scoreboard. He was flawless on his first clean and jerk attempt and was oh-so-close to nailing a second just a handful of kilograms away from the world record. As his record-tying attempt fell to the ground after giving every ounce he had left, CJ left the stage with his head held high.  He knew he could compete against the world’s best, and I’m sure he was already hungry for that next shot over in Paris just three years from now. 

It’s a situation he knows very well. Back in his very first competitive weightlifting meet, Cummings finished on the short end, losing to Savannah’s William Coin. When he was 14 years old, he flew down to Lima, Peru, for the IWF Youth World Championship, looking to make his name known at the international level. The result was not what he was hoping for. Cummings went just 1-for-6 and failed to even place in the competition. It was one of those days that gets even the best athletes down on themselves. But CJ used the heartbreak to instead push himself forward. Just four years later, he completed an unprecedented quartet of consecutive Junior World crowns. Now, he has the opportunity once again to transform that disappointment into ultimate glory. 

National outlets have dubbed Beaufort’s own superstar as the “LeBron James of weightlifting.” Even the King stumbled at first on the biggest stage before his reign began. Michael Jordan didn’t capture his first NBA title until he was 28. At the young age of 21, Cummings will have at least two more shots at Olympic gold and American weightlifting immortality. After a probable trip to Paris in 2024, he’ll have the opportunity to do it in Los Angeles four years later. 

But there is a murky cloud that surrounds the sport’s future at the next Games and beyond. Despite its storied Olympic history, weightlifting has struggled through several recent doping issues and its future could very well be in jeopardy. In February, IOC President Thomas Bach warned that the sport could be in danger of removal from the program in future years if the patterns continue. It will be up to all involved with the sport to discourage drug use and implement anti-doping measures to save this seminal Olympic sport and give Cummings and others an opportunity to showcase their many years of dedication. 

For now, Cummings will return home to celebrate his phenomenal accomplishments and take a much-deserved vacation to Hawaii with family and friends. Becoming an Olympian is a phenomenal feat in itself. Finishing in the top 10 in your sport is extraordinary. But CJ knows he won’t settle for what he’s done so far. If he gets the opportunity three years from now in Paris, he will take his training and preparation to another gear, and push himself to return home with a little something around his neck.

The future of American weightlifting was forged right here in the Lowcountry, and he’s well on his way to becoming a national legend.

By Wes Kerr

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