Sandy Creek grad Travis Cooper competes for a spot in the 2008 Olympics

Thu, 05/15/2008 - 3:48pm
By: Kevin Wandra

Numerous athletes throughout Fayette County have made a name for themselves in sports such as football, baseball, basketball and soccer, among many others.

Travis Cooper is standing out in a sport that hasn’t received much recognition in the county, weightlifting.

Cooper, a 2006 graduate of Sandy Creek and a current student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is competing in the Olympic Weightlifting Trials today in the Ferst Center auditorium at Georgia Tech University to determine who earns spots in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Cooper’s interest in weight training began at Sandy Creek, where he played football and was a four-year starter on the school’s varsity wrestling team.

“Training with the football team at Sandy Creek got me interested in getting stronger,” Cooper said. “I became interested in strength movements, but first was interested in powerlifting.”

Cooper one day decided to check out Velocity Sports Performance, a sports performance training center in Peachtree City, where he met CJ Stockel, an employee at Velocity.

The two struck up a conversation, and, based on Cooper’s body type, Stockel was intrigued; he convinced Cooper to come back to Velocity and work out with him in Olympic weightlifting.

Starting in Nov. 2005, Cooper trained with Stockel four days a week, two and a half hours a day for one year, focusing on three weight training exercises: the squat, snatch and clean and jerk.

“Coach Stockel was real enthusiastic,” Cooper said. “He was a good person to train under.”

Cooper competed in his first Olympic weightlifting event only two months later at a local competition in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (There are no qualifying procedures for a local meet in Olympic weightlifting; the only requirement was signing up as a USA Weightlifting member, which Cooper did.)

“I wanted to see what Olympic weightlifting was all about,” Cooper said.

Cooper showed no signs of inexperience competing in the 77-kilogram weight class, lifting a combined total of 210 kilograms — Olympic weightlifting consists of only two lifts, the clean and jerk and the snatch — to qualify for the Junior Nationals (20-and-under nationals).

“After that first meet, I realized I wanted to stick with [Olympic weightlifting],” Cooper said. “It gave me a chance to see what I could do. I was proud of myself.”

Then Cooper stood out at the Junior Nationals, his first national competition, in 2005 in St. Paul, Minnesota, placing fifth in the 77-kilogram weight class.

Cooper’s weight lifting prowess was on display again that summer, when he took first place in the 17-and-under Nationals.

“When I won the 17-and-under nationals, I started getting recognized,” Cooper said.

One person who recognized Cooper’s significant achievement was Paul Fleschler, the resident coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with whom Cooper kept in touch.

Meanwhile, after a year of training Cooper at Velocity, Stockel got a new job in Nov. 2006, becoming the strength and training coach at Flowery Branch High School. Cooper and Stockel then started training together in Stockel’s garage in Newnan for another six months until he graduated high school.

Training in a garage was an adjustment for Cooper.

“It was hard going from training in a premier facility to a garage,” Cooper said. “It was a culture shock but motivating at the same time.”

Once he graduated high school, Cooper continued his weight training at Georgia Tech, where he went to school in the fall. While working out at Georgia Tech, Cooper met Chandler Alford, with whom he sparked a friendship.

Alford will be joining Cooper in the Olympic Trials this weekend.

While training at Georgia Tech, Cooper continued to compete in events across the nation.

In the summer of 2007, Fleschler gave Cooper his big break, inviting Cooper to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado for a training special for two months. A training special means an athlete is a non-resident and will train for a short period of time, but the athlete shows the potential to someday become a resident.

“I was very happy when Coach Fleschler invited me to train in Colorado because when you live there, you concentrate more on training; you make it more of your priority,” Cooper said. “It was another accomplishment I was proud of.”

Once his training special concluded, Fleschler was so impressed with Cooper’s work ethic and improvement during the training special that he asked Cooper to become a resident.

When Cooper became a resident, Fleschler and Cooper mutually decided that Cooper should put on weight and move up to the 85-kilogram weight class.

“It was hard for me to cut weight,” Cooper said. “Paul and I decided that it would be best for me to move up a weight class.”

Competing in a heavier weight class, Cooper took second place with a 310 kilogram total in the first Olympic Trials qualifier in Dec. 2007.

Two months later, Cooper finished first in the Junior Nationals, held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with a 310 kilogram total.

Cooper then participated in another high-profile event, the Senior Nationals at the Arnold Sports Festival March 1, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio, which was the second qualifier for the Olympic Trials.

The pressure of lifting in such a prestigious event did not faze Cooper, who took second place with a 313 kilogram total. His exceptional performance secured his spot on the Junior (20-and-under) World Team, which will compete in Cali, Columbia, June 17.

“Making the Junior World Team was probably one of my biggest accomplishments,” Cooper said. “It felt good to finally accomplish that.”

Now Cooper has his sights set on a bigger prize — a spot on the U.S Olympic Weightlifting Team.

Cooper is one of 12 Georgia athletes who have qualified for the Olympic Trials, and he will compete against 48 other top weightlifters from across the country for one of three spots on the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team.

When asked if he feels he has a legitimate shot at making the team, Cooper said, “Possibly. I just plan on trying to lift as much weight as possible.”

If Cooper does not finish in the top three, but he finishes among the top eight lifters, he will earn a spot on the World Cup team.

Cooper has been training diligently for the Olympic Trials at the Olympic Training Center, where his workouts include two two-hour lifting sessions Monday, Wednesday and Friday and one two-hour lifting session Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

“It’s strenuous,” Cooper said of his workouts. “Your body adapts to it, though. I have made a lot of strength gains, and I have adapted real well to the program.”

There is an old adage that hard work pays off. Cooper is hoping that his hard work leads to a trip to the Olympics.

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Submitted by LostIslander on Wed, 06/18/2008 - 12:47am.

He shows up about :41 into the video on YouTube:

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