Artie Drechsler's Tribute To The Late, Great Clyde Emrich

by Artie Drechsler, Author of "The Weightlifting Encyclopedia" and Friend of Clyde Emrich

Photo of Clyde Emrich (Photo by USA Weightlifting)


Weightlifters throughout the world, and Chicago Bears fans, have been devastated by the news of the passing of a true legend – Clyde Emrich, who died last week at the age of 90.

Clyde began lifting weights on his own when he was 15. Training with weights enabled him to excel at football, wrestling and track and field, and Clyde never forgot the contribution weight training made to his performance in those sports. He loved weightlifting the most of all the sports he tried, so he decided to devote the rest of his young life to the pursuit of excellence in our sport. He was rewarded with an outstanding career, which included becoming an Olympian in 1952, winning two world championship medals, a Pan American Games gold medal and four national championships. He not only earned many medals, but he “raised the bar,” literally and figuratively, by setting two world records in the clean and jerk. In making his first world record, he became the first non-superheavyweight in the world to clean and jerk 400 lbs. in the 90kg category (then the last category below heavyweight). Clyde’s second world record, of 409 lbs., was so outstanding that it remained the American record for more than a decade.

While he was still competing in weightlifting, several players from the Chicago Bears approached Emrich for advice on weight training (Clyde lived in Chicago most of his life). He took them under this wing and, after seeing the positive effects weight training had on their football performances, they became advocates of the use of weights for football. Then when NFL teams like the Bears became interested in teaching their players how to train with weights, it was natural for them to turn to Clyde, who became one of the NFL’s first strength coaches. He joined the Bears in 1971 and held his strength coach position for 20 years. After trying another conditioning approach in the early 1990s, they asked Clyde return as a strength coach for the team, and he remained with the team in various capacities until his passing. So grateful were the Bears for Clyde’s contributions to the team over so many years that they built and named the Bears’ training center after Clyde in 2008.

In recognition for his many contributions to sport, Emrich was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, among many other honors.

Photo of Clyde Emrich (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

I had the privilege of being Clyde’s friend for many years, during which he shared countless stories with me about his lifting and coaching careers. There were so many that I could write a book about them. But one story that particularly stood out for me was one about what it was like for him to compete in his first national championship, in 1951, in Los Angeles. As one might expect, the young Emrich was both nervous and excited about his first opportunity to compete in a national championship (where he would ultimately place second). But in addition to the thrill of competing, Clyde reveled at the thought of being able to see some of his heroes in person for the first time. The one he most wanted to see (and maybe meet) was the great John Davis, already a legend for his undefeated winning streak in the sport, having won the world championships for the first time in 1938, and continuing his undefeated streak through 1950, and having set many world records.

When Clyde entered the warmup room at nationals, he was incredibly nervous. Yet he still managed to scan the room, looking for men who he’d gotten to know only through their pictures and their deeds. Suddenly, his eyes caught the image of John Davis and the rookie froze in his tracks. He was overcome with the desire to seek out his hero and introduce himself, perhaps even ask for an autograph! Then the most amazing thing happened: Davis began to walk in Clyde’s direction, as the young man’s mind wrestled with the options of leaving the great one alone, trying to shake his hand, trying to get his autograph, and several other options.

Suddenly, Davis made the decision for Emrich. He strode straight for Clyde, held out his hand, and offered Clyde a welcome to the nationals! Davis told Clyde he’d been following his career, was impressed, and wanted to welcome the newbie to nationals. It is a gesture Clyde never forgot. He learned that day that not only was John Davis his hero for Davis’ feats on the platform, but also for his welcoming overtures.

Clyde’s story is one of the greatest illustrations I have ever heard of the very special community we have in the sport of weightlifting. And I know the memory of it was something Clyde carried with him for the rest of his life. Perhaps that meeting was one of the reasons Emrich became one of the sport’s great ambassadors, always ready to explain the benefits of weightlifting and always ready to encourage the newcomers and champions alike. We salute you, Clyde!

Photo of Clyde Emrich (Photo by USA Weightlifting)

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