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Phil Grippaldi

Sport: Weightlifting

Born: September 27, 1946

Town: Belleville

Philip Salvatore Grippaldi was born September 27, 1946 in Newark and grew up in Belleville. As a boy, Phil got turned on to weightlifting by Mike Gubliano, a professional bodyguard obsessed with arm training.. His biceps measured a massive 22 inches and he worked with Phil to bring him to this level. By the age of 16, Phil’s arms wer 19 inches. At this point, he began training with a more mainstream coach, Butch Toth, who taught him the three Olympic lifts at that time: press, snatch and clean and jerk.

Phil continued to show jaw-dropping progress and power. He exploded onto the international weightlifting scene in 1966 at the age of 19, pressing 345 to break the junior world record by 35 pounds—and coming within 13 pounds of the senior men’s mark. He did so with breathtaking raw power and little of the technical knowhow of his European and Soviet rivals. Perhaps most amazing was that he stood just 5’6” and tipped the scales at just under 200 pounds, putting him in the middleweight class..

Phil soon began working with coach Mike Huska, a former Olympian. He bettered his junior record in the press, and placed second in the 1966 U.S. senior nationals. During a 1967 meet, Phil nearly lifted 410 pounds in the clean and jerk—just 8 pounds shy of the world mark. In 1968, he won his first national title. This meet featured great performances by several young lifters, including Russ Knipp and Bob Bednarski. The young lifters embraced the counterculture ethos of the late 1960s, long hair and all—except for Phil. With short hair and great charisma, he was something of a throwback.

Many proclaimed that a golden era of American lifting was on the horizon. However, it was not to be. One by one, these athletes drifted away from the sport, and none excelled on the international scene. Phil was the best of the bunch. He finished 7th in the 1968 Olympics and won a silver medal at the 1970 World Championships. Unfortunately, Phil’s best event—the press—was eliminated from Olympic competition. Focusing on the snatch and jerk, he just missed a medal at the 1972 Summer Games. He flunked a drug test at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He retired from competition in 1977. Phil was the U.S. champ six times between 1967 and 1977, and Pan American Games champion in 1967, 1971 and 1975. He was named Lifter of the Year by Strength & Health in 1970 and 1974.

Phil struggled to find himself after his competitive career ended. He did not have the technical background to become a college or high school coach or personal trainer. Eventually, he got involved in drug trafficking, and was convicted three times—most recently in 2008 for dealing crack at a strip mall in Wayne.


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