Antwan Kilbert and Jerome Smith of the Lift For Life Weightlifting Team.

(Sam Masterson, KMOX)

St. Louis Is Home To The Top Youth Weightlifting Duo In The U.S.

The Lift For Life team will defend its title this month, after its two best lifters return from the Youth Pan Am Championships in South America.

June 06, 2018 - 4:00 pm

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Although they didn't realize it until recently, the next two months are what 17-year-old Jerome Smith and 16-year-old Antwan Kilbert have been training their entire young careers for. The Youth Pan Am Championships this week, U.S. Youth Nationals next, then onto a U.S. Youth Olympic Qualifying trial at the end of July. 

If things go their way, one or both could be representing the U.S. at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina this October. 

"This has been my long-time dream," Smith says. 

He and Kilbert have trained together for the last five years, Smith already had a two-year head start on his now close friend. Smith joined Lift For Life weightlifting program to escape from some youthful behavioral issues. Kilbert saw what the program did for his older brother and he wanted in. 

Their coach is Jimmy Duke, a trainer with The Lab Gym in St. Louis who is more surprised than anyone with how much he has grown in his time with Lift For Life. 

"If you would have told me this is what I'd be doing 10 years ago, I probably would have laughed at you," Duke says. 

He and his wife both coach the young weighlifters – completely on a volunteer basis. They pick the kids up multiple times a week from their homes or schools around St. Louis and drive them to and from training sessions. And then they travel, which gets more and more time consuming as their kids get more and more talented. 

June 3rd-10th, Duke is with Smith and Kilbert in Palmira, Columbia for the Youth Pan Am Championships. Four days after they return, they'll go with the rest of their Lift For Life team to the Youth Nationals in Michigan. Then, the Olympic Qualifying trial at the end of July is in Pennslyvania. And finally, they might also be going to the Pan-Am Junior Championships in Nicaragua in September. 

And if Smith and/or Kilbert perform well enough, they'll be headed to the Youth Olympics in October.

For a team that has a travel budget that's 100-percent relient on donations, it usually takes about $3,200 for the trio to travel for an international tournament. They have a GoFundMe for this year's Youth Nationals and as of Tuesday, were less than $1,000 away from their goal. 

In the second year Duke took the Lift For Life team to the U.S. Youth Nationals, seven athletes won a total of 15 medals and they broke two American records. 

Now he could have two Youth Olympians in his program. 

International youth weighlifting includes two types of lifts Snatch and Clean and Jerk, and an overall score.

Smith is regarged as the top contender in his weight class after he finished second in all three competitions at the Youth Pan Am's last year. And the man who beat him is now too old to compete. Antwan finished third in the Snatch, last year and is expected to finish at least top-three again.