Royersford’s Rychlak sets record by benching 1,010 lbs.
Jake Hallman, Special to The Mercury

As soon as Gene Rychlak Jr. stepped off the platform after an unsuccessful attempt at the IPA world competition in York over a month ago, he had an idea.

With a sour taste in his mouth after withdrawing from that said competition, Rychlak decided he’d try again to reclaim his world record in the bench press. And though the superheavyweight powerlifter from Royersford had only a month to train for the event, not to mention the fact that he’d been training in top form since September, he decided to try for the record again at the APF Metal Militia Christmas Memorial in Lake George, New York Dec. 16.

Turns out, it was a great idea on Rychlak’s part.

On his second attempt, Rychlak unracked 1,010 pounds, eased the bar down to his chest, then pressed the massive weight and fully locked out his arms for a successful lift and the world bench press record that was unofficially 1,008 pounds held by Scot Mendelson, Rychlak’s West Coast nemesis. Rychlak nearly broke his own record on his third attempt of 1,025 pounds, but the Spring-Ford High School graduate couldn’t lock out his arms for an official lift.

"All the stars were aligned, on that day," Rychlak said. "All the time that it took me to get back was worth it, you can’t rush the body. At this level, everything has to be working in unison."

While Rychlak made things look easy in his most recent outing, the 38-year-old said it’s been a long road back to the top.

Since Rychlak became the first man to bench over 1,000 pounds in 2004, he hasn’t been able to match that feat since.

Along the way he’s had problems with his diet, supplements that made his skin turn yellow, heat and mishaps with his custom benching shirt that helps him keep proper form during the lifts. So when Rychlak recaptured his record, he said he finally felt back at the top of his game.

"It’s been two years since I won anything," Rychlak said, "and it was kind of a weird feeling when I walked up to accept an award."

While Rychlak is a veteran in the sport of powerlifting, he credits getting back in the groove to some advice from a novice. During one of Rychlak’s workouts, training partner Andy Shaffer, a 1996 Spring-Ford graduate himself, gave big Gene some advice that his mentor passed onto him.

The advice has worked for Shaffer, who recently recaptured his own world record as the 29-year-old Phoenixville resident benched 605 pounds in the raw division (without any gear) to lock down the raw world record for the IPA. Besides tweaking his technique, Rychlak also shed 20 pounds to weigh in at a lean -- for his standards -- 355 pounds, the lightest weight he’s competed at for several years.

"The lift was divine retribution to stuff it in all of the faces of everyone who counted me out over the past few years," Rychlak said. "You can’t stay at that high of a level for so long without taking a step back. I was starting to doubt myself after I didn’t do so hot at worlds."

Now that he’s back, Rychlak plans on putting some distance between himself and Mendelson. Rychlak said Mendelson’s 1,008-pound lift wasn’t performed under the same scrutiny as his attempts. And just to make sure his recent record breaker was legit, Rychlak had the three judges and the meet director inspect his benching shirt to clear up any rumors that his shirt was tampered with.

Looking ahead, Rychlak plans on taking some time off to let his body adjust from competitions. Today, he’ll locally host the Boyertown YMCA’s Gene Rychlak Jr. Bench Press Classic, which is open to both YMCA members and non-members. After that, he plans on resuming his quest to 1,100 pounds with the two to three meets he has scheduled for 2007.

"The recent meet was basically my road back," Rychlak said. "I’m on a roll right now, and I want to give Andy (Shaffer) a shot at making him the best he can be. But I’ve proved to people again that it’s just a matter of time before the record will fall by me."

©The Mercury 2006

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