Tom Eisman’s Road to Redemption and the Magic 800

The odds on favorites to win the 1972 Gold Medal in the 100 meter sprint, and title of “World’s Fastest Human” were two Americans, Eddie Hart of California and Rey Robinson of Florida. Months earlier, they had both run 9.95 in the Glamour event of Track and Field in separate meetings and were poised to blast that record into the stratosphere when they finally met in Munich. The third American, Robert Taylor was simply along for the ride and to provide a little more relay muscle. Unfortunately, neither Hart nor Robinson ever even made it to the finals as one of their coaches failed to read a last minute schedule change which left them cooling their heels at the Olympic Village while a semifinal went on- without them. Disqualified for being no-shows, and without even getting a shot at the record, they had to sit and angrily watch Soviet “Running Machine” Valery Borzov win the 100 in a rather pedestrian 10.25 time and their also- ran teammate Taylor win Silver. This tragedy haunted them the rest of their athletic career and prompted a firestorm of finger pointing –was it the ineptitude of the US Coach- or was it more- a sinister anti-American conspiracy fueled by Soviet sprint ambitions and crooked double dealing IOC politicos? No one will ever know, and now, almost 4 decades later, both Robinson and Hart, both college track coaches in their 50’s, still wince at the thought and secretly wish that somehow, someway, they could magically get that second chance at redemption, a chance that time and age have forever eradicated. Bill Buckner will never forget that moment in late October 1986 when his Boston Red Sox baseball team were facing the New York Mets in the World Series . It was Game 6, score tied and Mookie Wilson of the Mets was up. After fouling off several pitches Wilson tapped a slow roller to Buckner, playing First Base. A “gimme” out under 99.9% of normal circumstances, Buckner inexplicably lost concentration for a split second, and allowed the weakly hit ball to slip between his legs, and into right field scoring the Met’s Ray Knight and forcing Game 7 which the Mets would eventually win. Buckner’s brilliant career, one that spanned two decades - was forever to be defined by this one boneheaded error and he, like Robinson and Hart would undoubtedly give anything to grab that one split second in time back. Too late now, and forever for Buckner. Anyone remember Milorad Čavić? Few do, but I bet Michael Phelps does. For it was Cavic, competing against him in the Men’s 100 meter butterfly Finals- that Phelps beat in the Beijing Olympics by the incomprehensible time of 1/100 of a second to keep his shot at a historic 8 Gold Medals alive. Protests and replays to the contrary, Cavic will never get that one moment back, his one moment to capture Olympic Gold and better yet, to STOP the inexorable rush to 8 Golds by Michael Phelps. I wonder how many times he wished he could have stretched his finger just a little more, held his breath for split second longer or done anything-ANYTHING to make up for that miniscule tick of the clock? Finally, In 1979 at the World Powerlifting Championships in Dayton Ohio, New Zealand’s Precious McKenzie was sailing along looking absolutely unbeatable in the 56 kilo ( 123 lb ) class. Squatting a then World record of 507 lbs plus a huge Press of 314 put him squarely in the catbirds seat for a Gold Medal. After some consulting with his coaches, and deciding to play it relatively safe- he obliterated a 3d attempt World Record in the Deadlift of 556.Precious could have easily pulled 562 or 569, but why bother-?He had just set a World Record in the Deadlift and Total, and was over 60 lbs ahead No one could overtake him. Well, almost no one- as the USA’s Lamar Gant piled on another 61 lbs on the bar for a mind bending 617 lbs- just what he needed to beat the mighty little Kiwi – and squeezed out an improbable Deadlift, which looked like to me ( I was in the audience,) was his absolute max for the day. If McKenzie had listened to his body instead of his coaches and had ratcheted the last pull up by even 5 lbs, would Lamar have succeeded with the ensuing heavier weight? I lived and worked in NZ for four years in the early 90’s and remember asking Precious why he didn’t try a little heavier weight, and all he could do was shake his head sadly. No one will ever know what would have happened and Precious had to forever settle for Silver that historic day. A bitter pill for him to swallow as he was then in his early 40’s and the sands of time were running out of his International Career. Yes, in the illustrious pantheon that is Sports that is so full of so many inspirational stories of triumph and victory- is equally littered with the dreary campaigns of disappointment and defeat which haunt those involved for the rest of their lives, and make them wish for that second magical chance to try again. In all cases- this is not just impossible, It is totally and utterly laughable. People get older, slow down, the reflexes go. Legions of younger athletes crop up, and obliterate old records. In some sports, like gymnastics or swimming, a 30 year old competitor is considered ancient.It would be just as ludicrous to expect Rey Robinson or Eddie Hart to make the 2012 Olympic Team for a belated shot at the Gold Medal as it would be for Bill Buckner to suit up for the Sox one more time.Unfortunately, the World of Sports is extremely unforgiving- you get your one chance at Destiny and that is it, in all sports- all but one that is, and probably only for the man we are about to meet in this month’s Power Vault. It was a rainy spring day in New Jersey. The year- 1986 at the New Jersey State Powerlifting Championships . A slim, inhumanly strong young man stalked a barbell loaded to the impossible weight of 800 lbs. The weight would have been not only a World Record in the Deadlift for the 181 class then, but now, some 24 years later, would still have been. The young man, though super fit, looked more like a runner, bicyclist or college wrestler than someone capable of elevating this load. He stalked the bar like a man possessed, bent down, and began his pull. The bar seemed to be glued to the ground, but the young man’s lower back muscles, as thick as twin constrictors, tightened up with the load and his trapezius stood up as it was made out of concrete, not flesh and blood. The monstrous weight began to inch up ever so slowly, and seemed- seemed- mind you to stop for a fraction of a section before it was explosively locked out to the pandemonium and shouts of the small audience. These cheers gave way to groans of disappointment as two reds came on- no lift. Or was it? This lift has now been unearthed from the bowels of time , and converted from its original 16MM format into digital. It is now is available on You Tube as a grainy, though viewable video. Did he imperceptibly hitch the pull, as one referee thought? Or was he an innocent victim of a North vs. South Jersey confrontation? Was the lift good? Finger pointing aside, this lift is part and parcel of Powerlifting History not just because of the audacity of the number but at the affect it has had on one man-. The young man-Dr. Tom Eisman- is now, some 24 years later- preparing to finally get a shot at that elusive 800 lb record once again, defying the ravages of time, age and gravity once more as he strives to create his own destiny in the World’s Strongest Sport. It is a testament to this sport- our sport- that there is one person, who can through careful preparation, even attempt to right the wrong that he has lived with for so long, and do it on his own terms. This is his story and the story of his road to Redemption for the Magic 800 lb Deadlift. Tom Eisman has always been an analytical sort of guy. Quiet and introspective, he early on realized that his greatest strength was not necessarily his mighty back, but his ever active mind. Digging into some old computations for sets, reps and maximum weight, young Tom came up with this theory: “I believed then that that the weight most lifters could do for 8 repetitions was about 80% of his maximum. So, at the time, I could do an easy set of 5 with 640 lbs., and realized if I could push this up to 8, I could lift 800 lbs. I drove to Oceanside Gym in Pleasantville, NJ, not far from Atlantic City. I warmed up and put 640 lbs. on the bar. I told the people I was training with I was going to see how many repetitions I could do. So, I asked them to count for me to make sure. I pulled it for an easy 8 reps. I knew then I had 800 in my gunsights…” Tom now believed that the could pull the big “8”. The gym owner, Phil Pelura, was not as convinced as he didn’t believe that 640 lbs. for 8 reps translated to the huge weight of 800 lbs as many lifters who can rep with reasonably big weights simply hit the wall when it comes to all out maxes. “ In order to convince Phil, I devised a quick plan: following my heavy set for the next few weeks, I would do a heavy single. If that single each time was relatively easy, he would consider it. I loaded the bar to 700 lbs. and lifted it effortlessly. Every week leading up to the 1986 New Jersey State Championship, I added 10 lbs. to my heavy set and 15 lbs. to my single, so it looked like this: 650 x 8 followed by 715 lbs. x 1, 660 x 7 followed by 730 lbs. for 1. Tom ( and now Phil) was absolutely convinced that the all time record was going to fall. The next week it was off to West Orange, New Jersey to the West Orange Racquetball Club for the 1986 USPF New Jersey State Championships. Tom’s strict adherence to a vegetarian, drug free lifestyle allowed him to weigh in at 181.5 without the rigors of dieting. Remember the old Biorhythm Charts so popular in the 70’s and 80’s? Tom Eisman was charting for a TRIPLE High. “ I felt good, strong and confident. The judges were Ron Panissidi, the NJ state chairman, Bill Clayton and Larry Presby, the head judge.Phil Pelura and I agreed on a game plan. I would open with 730 and then go right to 800." One more thing- Tom wasn’t about to take token attempts in the Bench and Squat- he was there to lift big on all three events. At that event, there were many great lifters in attendance there including Super Squatter Rob Wagner and the legendary Deadlift King himself, John Kuc who had an equipment booth set up. Tom was upbeat and happy as he approached the meet mentally: I remember Phil telling me he told the NJ State Chair, who ended up judging my 800 lift, Ron Panissidi, that “Tom has some surprises.” There was always, for some, a rivalry between the north and south Jersey. Meanwhile, I squatted 690 lbs. for a state record. Next was 720 lbs. And when Ron Panissidi, from North Jersey, heard the announcement of a state record attempt, he had Bill Clayton and he switched with the side judges. I received two red lights from the North Jersey judges.” I find the last statement a bit, shall we say suspicious but not knowing the nuances of this so called rivalry, I’ll let it pass. For now. The Deadlift was up and all eyes were on Tom now, as rumors were circulating of a monster pull in the offing: "Let’s get to the deadlift. My last warm-up was with 630 lbs. and it felt effortless. I was in a perfect place with my technique and in my mind. I was fired up and ready to go where no man had gone before. The year before I had broken the state record of 630 lbs., which had stood for approximately 15 years with 650 lbs. and then again with 705 lbs. 730 lbs. was my opening attempt and after I obliterated it, I looked at the weights as did Phil Pelura to check for a misload. I was in the place I dreamed of: I was going to lift 800 lbs. at 181 lbs., a world record. I paced around the meet site and I couldn’t wait to set the mark. It was as if I was not walking on the earth, but in the clouds. Ten minutes more or less and I would meet my destiny. I approached the bar with complete confidence, lifted it past my knees easily and swiftly, shifted gears and let out a yell as I ripped it to completion. I replaced the bar and threw my arms in the air in jubilation while the crowd cheered in amazement. The crowd‘s reaction switched like a light as the lift was inexplicably turned down 2 to 1. Chaos ensued as many looked for answers, but none were found. I was not bothered by this 2:1 decision, for I felt it was easy and I would get it next time.I just didn’t know when that would be, though.” Well, it is now 2010. Tom has begun his quest for the 800, and for those of you who need to be reminded- he is not in his 20’s anymore -he is 52- married with kids, and a business ( Eisman Family Chiropractic). At an age when most of us are content to do some light training, maybe some kettlebell work , and bodybuilding-and sit on our laurels, Tom has quietly begun the Road back to the Magic 800- for him, his personal Road to Redemption. Results have been nothing short of amazing, by the way-he has lifted as much as 772 at a light 198 ( 189) and once again, a close miss at 800 at the same weight- in 2008. We Powerlifters tend to be spoiled in some ways- as the sport allows for some terrific performances well into middle age and beyond, but this is nothing short of incredible. He is about to do what Eddie Hart, Rey Robinson, Bill Buckner, and countless hundreds , if not thousands of athletes in their 40’s and 50’s could never even HOPE to accomplish- that is, meet and potentially exceed his original performance levels of over a quarter century ago. This would be like Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France again- in 2032, or Carl Lewis pulling on his track spikes to run against Usain Bolt in 2012.Closer to home, this is akin to the 2010 version of Mike Bridges, now a super fit 52 year old competing in the 198 and 220 class-once again squatting a deep 832 at 181-a number that he achieved with stunning ease back at the 1980 World Championships in Arlington, Texas. According to Tom, even the referees then doubted their decision that day- Ron Panissidi is a very well respected Coach ( Palisades High – Football and Track), Powerlifter and State Accredited Referee. I spoke to him today and he was extraordinarily gracious about his decision that day: “ As soon as I turned that light on, I started to doubt myself. I thought I saw his hands open up, and the tiniest hint of a hitch, but I wasn’t sure. Instinctively I pulled the red light, but I noticed thatLarry Presby, who never gives any gift whatsoever gave him a white. By then it was too late to change it. I would unquestionably say that the lift was good…..” Wow. What class, for him to admit this and basically validate, though unofficially- a momentous and historic lift. Why he simply didn't switch the red light back to white is a real mystery to me. Today Tom Eisman is a man on a mission. He is planning some tweaks to his routine, and because he has been so diligent with his diet and lifestyle all of these years, he is in excellent physical shape though gone forever is the curly 70’s “Disco Mop” hairstyle. Tom has travelled to meet with the Grandmaster of Powerlifting- Louie Simmons, who showed him the nuances of training with bands, and has consulted with other experts all over the USA on recovery techniques, kettlebell work and special exercises. He plans to implement all of this in his Road to the Magic 800, which if he is successful, will have its final conclusion sometime in 2011. Yes, he is a Powerlifter, and not a sprinter, swimmer, or baseball player, sports that naturally are a lot more difficult to recapture body flexibility, pure speed and similar mechanics needed for success. But….you cannot ignore the fact that soon, very soon, Tom Eisman will duplicate a performance he did over a quarter century ago… a rare and literal re-write of History. This is Ron Fernando, reporting from the Power Vault, for To Powerlifting History- Past Present and Future


Submitted by Jeff Hackett 1 on
Great article, a little more info on his current training would have made it better. I think there was way-way-way too info on the other sports leading up to Tom's piece. A few sentences about how other sports competitors got hosed would have been sufficient to set up for Tom. Jeff Hackett. ULTIMATE SIZE, STRENGTH, AND STAMINA

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
An absolute pleasure to read. In a world of bullet points, a well written article is rare. As I was sending the link to others, it was sent to me by three lifting buddies of mine. Loving the Power Vault and digging the fact that it was allowed to be put up as it is a little longer of a read. A very nice complement to PLW's typical news and the like. Great job!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Thank you Ron and Jon. I agree, it's an uncommon thing, a well written story about powerlifting:)

Submitted by Howard J. Wilk (not verified) on
"Valery Borzov win the 100 in a rather pedestrian 10.25 time" No, 10.14.

Submitted by Howard J. Wilk (not verified) on
The 1972 Summer Olympics were notorious for bad, perhaps politically motivated officiating--see, for example,,9171,906352-1,00.html (which went to press *before* the gold-medal basketball game ( I have not heard the 100 m race-time snafu to be alleged to be part of any anti-American conspiracy. Here's one description of what happened:

Submitted by Ken Ufford on
Sorry I just watched the video and did not read the story. I thought they gave it to him. Ken Ufford