How good was Ed Zercher?

by Roger LaPointe

Frank Ciavattone performing a Zercher Lift at the 2000 USAWA National Championships. The entire video of this meet is available for sale from Atomic Athletic.

Comparing old records to modern records can be tough. In the case of Ed Zercher, we can compare contemporary results in the Olympic lifts.

The Olympic weightlifting contests were very different in the early 1930s. The biggest difference being in the number of lifts contested in a single day. Today, there is just the Two Hand Snatch and Two Hand Clean & Jerk, but way back then it was a weightlifting pentathlon, including the single hand version of those lifts and the military press. Of course, the equipment was less sophisticated and the rules slightly different.

At the Fifth Annual Western AAU Weight Lifting Championships Ed Zercher (Bodyweight 156 Pounds), had the following lifts:

One Hand Snatch 120 lbs.
One Hand Clean & Jerk 130 lbs.
Two Hand Military Press 170 lbs.
Two Hand Snatch 145 lbs.
Two Hand Clean & Jerk 200 lbs.
Total 765 lbs.

Ed was also a Loader and Official in the meet.

As a comparison, John Terlazzo (Olympic Gold Medalist Tony Terlazzo’s brother) won the 148 pound class at the 1935 AAU Junior Nationals, as well as John Terpak and Walter Good, as reported in the same issue of The Arena & Strength.

Terlazzo (148#) Terpak (148#) Good (165#)
One Hand Snatch 143# 126.5# 159.5#
One Hand C & J 159.5# 143# 176#
Two Hand Military Press 181.5# 176# 203.5#
Two Hand Snatch 187# 187# 192.5#
Two Hand C & J 242# ——- 275#
Total 913# 632.5# 1006.5#

(I believe Terlazzo’s OHS was his National Record, but it is not mentioned as such in the accompanying article.) Terpak went on to win a Gold Medal in the 1936 Olympics and Good took 14th in the 1936 Olympics.  As you can see, when it came to the five lift Olympic contests, Ed was not quite up to Olympic caliber, but he was not far off.

Thom Van Vleck has reported on the USAWA web site (usawa.com) that “The oldest record listed that has a verified date (Old record list from Bill Clark) is a Harness Lift done by Ed Zercher, Sr with 2150lbs in 1940.” He also reports, “Clark stated that the below records were Missouri Valley AAU marks prior to 1941. So, while we don’t know the exact year these were set, they were set prior to or in 1941. “

Aug. 3-4, 1963 Iron Man Lifting News reported on the 3rd Annual Heart of America Festival, which contested 15 different events, of which Ed (age 56) competed in the following:

Roman Chair 610 lbs., Leg Press-Unsupported 10 Reps 600 lbs.

The Zercher Lift was also a lift at this meet, but Ed did not compete in it. However, he did officiate.  Ed continued to be a judge for Olympic weightlifting contests in the 1960s, Iron Man Lifting News has him listed as an official for the Dec 7, 1964 Missouri State Weightlifting Championships, Missouri State AAU Olympic Weightlifting Championships at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, December 10, 1967. He was also an official for the March 30-31, 1968 Missouri State Penitentiary Weight Decathlon, during which they contested 10 lifts, including the “ Zercher Lift”. The Emcee was Bill Clark.  Ed did not lift in either contest.

Zercher would likely have been considered a “Presser”, but his One Hand Snatch was quite good as well. If powerlifting had been an organized sport in the 1930’s, I suspect that with his pressing ability transferring to the bench press, his record in the deadlift and obvious ability with leg pressing and other squat-type movements, he would have really done well, if not taking some national or world titles.

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