A look at the Dammarie-les-Lys Weightlifting Club and their awesome training equipment, circa 1906. (Dammarie-les-Lys is a suburb of Paris) Note the chest expander, and ring weights and, of course, an excellent selection of globe barbells and dumbbells. The president of the club, M. Gustave Dechelpretre, sits front row center holding the sign.
History’s greatest performer of the One-Arm Snatch was the French weightlifter Charles Rigoulot. His one-arm snatch of 261 pounds will likely never be surpassed. Here, Rigoulot prepares to one-arm snatch only 220-1/2 pounds in Paris in 1925 while still an amateur .
It is fairly common knowledge that on March 3, 1930 Charles Rigoulot attempted, (and of course, subsequently lifted) the famed rail car wheels of Apollon. You probably haven’t seen this one though: on the morning of the attempt, the wheels were delivered to the Voltaire Gymnasium from the museum where it normally resided. Here’s a rare shot of the crew of workmen getting the wheels off the truck and they sure don’t look too thrilled about it… Look closely and you’ll see that they delivered other weights besides the wheels that day.
Performing strongmen used to be a common sight in many big cities. Here’s a rare shot from a Paris sidewalk of a strongman having a few onlookers lift a globe barbell to his shoulders so he can walk with it, circa 1950. Look closely and you’ll notice there’s four additional french block weights tied to the bar. His other outstanding equipment: a few globe dumbbells, a few globe barbells, more blockweights and even a baltass all sit in the foreground.
Here’s an extremely rare poster from the late 1880’s, when Karl Abs was the featured attraction at the Cirque d’ Hiver (Winter Circus) exhibition hall in Paris, France. Each night, Abs harness-lifted a horse and challenged all comers in the wrestling ring, (among other feats.) It’s pretty awesome that the Cirque d’ Hiver, which opened in 1852, is actually still going strong to this day.
Here’s a sport you don’t see these days, at least not around these parts: Barrel Rolling. Many competitive events started off as “work” and this is a perfect example. Long before mechanical machinery, heavy lifting had to be done by hand and in the vineyards of France, the quickest way to move a wine barrel from here to there was to roll it on its edge. Well, as these things often go, one fine day, one gentleman said that he could roll a barrel farther and faster than all his friends and soon it turned into a full-fledged contest. It became very popular, so much so that the different areas of France had their own tournaments culminating with the championship held in Paris.
It takes strength as well as dexterity to keep a rolling barrel under control and moving in a straight line. The champions of this sport could keep their barrel moving while at a full sprint. Some places in France still have these contests.
Alfred Decottignies, shown here ‘muscling out’ a block weight whilst simultaneously pressing a heavy globe barbell overhead, established the Comines Weightlifting Club in northern France in 1892. The club is still going strong today making it the oldest ongoing weightlifting club in existence. Alfred’s son, Edmond Decottignies went on to win the gold medal in the lightweight class in the 1924 Paris Olympic games.
Ironically, American weightlifting champions often got more recognition from the international media than they did back home. Here”s John Davis, pictured on the cover of a French Sporting magazine in 1950 on his way to winning the heavyweight class the 1950 World Championship in Paris, France. By the weight on the bar, this appears to be Davis’ winning snatch lift of 147.5 kg.
In the early Olympic games, the athletes had the choice of using plate-loaded barbells or shot-loaded globe barbells. Shown here is the selection of weights for the 1924 Olympic games in Paris, France, the last time that this choice was available. The great French champion Charles Rigoulot won the Gold medal in the heavyweight class, and, interestingly, was the only lifter who chose to compete with the shot loaded globe barbells.