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2 teen weightlifters from Oakland focus on future Olympic glory

Teenage Oakland weightlifters have lofty Olympic dreams
Teenage Oakland weightlifters have lofty Olympic dreams 03:11

OAKLAND -- Two Oakland teenagers hope they represent the future of American weightlifting.

They are 2028 Olympic hopefuls but first they will try to make it onto the podium at the National Youth Championships in Philadelphia happening June 15-23.

"The part where I'm on the podium," said 15-year-old Robert Whitlock. "When I'm on the podium I just reflect on everything it took to get to that moment."

Whitlock started weightlifting when he was still in elementary school. Now he's a high school sophomore at Oakland Tech. He can lift well over 200 pounds in both the snatch and the clean and jerk.

He has big goals for himself, including standing on the podium at the Olympics, possibly in Los Angeles 2028.

"The Olympics ... and the Olympics after that too," Whitlock said.

Before he can get to the Summer Games, he and his training partner, 16-year-old Rucker Johnson, have more competing to do, including at the National Youth Championships.

In 2023, the two were in the same age group and together won the team championship for 14- to 15-year-old men.

Their coach Michael Jenkins says he looks at that win as a win for Oakland.

"This is where the need is," Jenkins said. "Young people in Oakland are hurting, so we need resources. I'm tired of all the stories of doom and gloom and what's going bad in Oakland and not enough stories about what's working. This is working here. So that's what I want to project."

Jenkins opened his gym Speed Power Strength (SPS) near the Embarcadero in Oakland in 2016. The hope is to grow the sport of weightlifting and to help young people in The Town.

When Jenkins met Whitlock, he said he was an unfocused kid. But Whitlock's mindset shifted after the pandemic and spending a lot of time on his own. Weightlifting has helped to keep him out of trouble.

"I was just doing what the coaches told me, because I'm like, if I have to be here, I might as well just listen," Whitlock said.

From there, Whitlock and Johnson started to excel.

Both are currently ranked near the top of their respective weight class and age groups in the country. They are also two of the youngest lifters in U.S. history to receive a full-ride college scholarship. They have offers from Louisiana State University.

Jenkins says it's about more than just athletics.

"I don't even look at it as a sport," Jenkins said. "I look at it as a tool. This is the foundation tool of making better humans, you know? You see how confident they are. Because, in weightlifting, they have to fail a little bit. They have to succeed a little bit and it's all in their hands. I can't help them with that."

The teens train for two hours a day, four times a week.

They can both squat more than 400 pounds but Jenkins has them focused on more than just their lifts. On the whiteboard, Johnson has goals set that include keeping his grades up. If he hits all his goals, he gets to go to Star Wars Land at Disneyland.

The teens cheer each other on. They both have hopes of being the first male American lifter to medal at an Olympic games since 1984.

"I want to do everything young so, if I mess up, I have another chance to go at it again. Because I have nothing but time," Whitlock said.

Whitlock and Johnson are in different age groups this year but both lift in the 81 kg weight class. Whitlock was scheduled to compete on Sunday, June 16, while Johnson was set to compete on Monday, June 17.

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