George Pjura-Weightlifting’s Ageless Wonder

Few sports fans have heard of George Pjura. One reason is that Olympic Weightlifting is not a highly popular sport in the USA. Another reason is that George is humble and speaks little of his achievements. But those who know weightlifting know who George is.

I’ve known George for roughly forty years, and we’ve trained together numerous times. I enjoy training with him because his approach to training is much like mine: no-nonsense and 100% focused! But training with him could also get a little frustrating because I wasn’t on the same level as him.

Although we were in the same weight class back then, it was hard to keep up with him because he was lifting heavier weights than me. I was an average Olympic lifter, maybe slightly above average. George was, and still is, a top-level lifter.

We’ve remained friends throughout the years, and I decided to write an article about him and ask him for an interview.

George’s list of accomplishments is impressive. For starters, he’s been competing for almost fifty years. That in itself is an incredible feat. But there’s a lot more to his story than longevity.

From Humble Beginnings to Collegiate Success

George was small in stature as a child and wanted to gain some muscle and get stronger. He read some weightlifting and bodybuilding magazines and worked out in his basement. The movie Hercules was also a source of inspiration. Although he didn’t gain much size, George noticed that he was getting stronger and stronger than most of his classmates at school despite his lack of size.

After graduating high school, George started College. He made a few trips from his residence in Connecticut to New Jersey to lift at the Belleville Barbell Club, where several Nationally ranked lifters trained. Later, George moved to New Jersey and transferred to Montclair State University.

The College had a weightlifting team with many of the same lifters he met at Belleville. George joined the team and began competing in the 60-kilo/132-pound weight class, where he won first place at the Collegiate Nationals.

Climbing the Ranks

It wasn’t long before George began adding muscle and winning medals. He moved up to the 67.5-kilo class and continued to succeed, qualifying for the Junior Nationals in 1978 and the Senior Nationals the following year. His Clean & Jerk was now up to 135 kilos/297 lbs, which was double body weight, an achievement he was very proud of.

George continued gaining muscle and moved up to the 75-kilo weight class. He qualified for the Senior Nationals again from 1980–1983 but couldn’t crack the top three, although he did win first place at the 1983 American Open. George eventually moved to the 82.5-kilo/181.8 lbs weight class, where he did his best lifting.

303 lbs snatch at the 1984 Olympic Trials.

He became a top-ranked lifter and qualified for the Sports Festival (where the top four lifters in each weight class compete against each other). His goal was clear: to become a member of the USA Weightlifting Team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Continued Success Through Masters

George again qualified for the Nationals in 1984 and was involved in a three-way tie for first place. At that time, the tiebreaker was determined by body weight, and since George weighed about one pound heavier than his competitor, Mark Levell, he had to settle for second place.

But his outstanding performance qualified him for the Olympic Trials at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Despite snatching an all-time best of 303 pounds at the trials weighing only 180 pounds, it wasn’t enough, placing him third.

Not making the Olympic team was a disappointment, but George got right back to training and competing. Teammate Mike Listro eventually broke the New Jersey records he set in the 75-kilo class, but by then, George was setting new State records in the 82.5-kilo class.

George continued to qualify for the Nationals throughout the 1980s and ranked in the top five for his weight class. In the early 1990s, in his mid to late 30s, George continued to hold his own against much younger lifters. He could have started competing in Masters competitions at age 35 but waited until he turned 40.

Coming Back From Major Injury

George was doing exceptionally well as a Master lifter, breaking some USA records, but then disaster struck. While competing at the Garden State Games on his 45th birthday, he tore his left quadricep tendon, which required major surgery. It was a long road to recovery, but he returned to compete again one year later.

George continued competing, and in 2006, at age 50, George won a gold medal at the Masters World Championship in France in the 85-kilo weight class.

2006 Masters World Championships. Clean&Jerk 126 kg/278 lbs @ 50 yrs old.

From 2007 to 2020, George was still competing and winning medal after medal along the way. But the 45 years of competing was beginning to take its toll. The left knee he had surgery on twenty years earlier finally gave in, and George had a total knee replacement in April 2021.

Now 65 years old, George retired from his job as an IT senior analyst and began training again once he fully recovered from his surgery. He accepted that his competing days were over and was happy that he could at least still lift weights to keep in shape and stay strong.

But now able to train without knee pain, George started gaining his confidence back, and training became fun again. He slowly started gaining his strength back, and before long, the desire to compete again returned.

Exactly one year to the day of his knee replacement surgery, George competed at the Masters Nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah. On his final clean-and-jerk attempt, he had the winning lift overhead, but the lift was turned down by the judges for a press-out. George had to settle for the silver medal but wasn’t through yet.

Eight months later, George competed at the Masters World Championships in Orlando, Florida. Once again, he had the winning lift overhead but was turned down by the judges. Had he succeeded with the lift, it would have not only won him the gold medal, but he would have also broken the American record for his age group.

But coming in second place could not dampen his spirits. Just twenty months after knee replacement surgery, George could claim to be the second-best weightlifter in the world in his age group/weight class.

What The Future Holds For George

And he’s not done yet. George hopes to break the American records in the 65–69 age group at the Howard Cohen American Masters in November. He also plans to compete at the Masters Nationals in April 2024 and the Masters’ World Championships in Finland in September 2024.

Besides lifting, George also does some occasional coaching. He has a level-one coaching certification and has coached several cross-fit athletes in the Olympic lifts. In the past, George helped out his friend Mark Cohen, teaching high school athletes to learn the Olympic lifts at the Police Athletic League in Cliffside Park, New Jersey.
Outside of lifting, George enjoys working around the house, doing some moderate bicycling, and traveling with his wife, Valeri. He and Valeri were also avid scuba divers and even worked as instructors briefly.

George’s all-time best competition lifts are Snatch-137.5 kilos/303 lbs. Clean & Jerk- 177.5 kilos/391 lbs. These lifts were in the 82.5-kilo/181.8 lbs weight class.

George’s all-time best training lifts are Snatch- 140 kilos/308 lbs. Clean- 180 kilos/396 lbs. Back Squat- 500 lbs x 3 reps. Front Squat- 425 lbs x 3 reps.

One final note: George Pjura was inducted into the Masters Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2017.

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Mark Morthier — Old School Sports

I grew up in Northern NJ. I grew up in the 1970s. I was always a big sports fan. I enjoy writing about old school sports and weightlifting.