In 2001, at age 56, John Mitsopoulos set the world powerlifting record for his age group with a 402.5-pound bench press. The record still stands.
Now nearly 80 years old – with a shoulder and hip replacement – Mitsopoulos is still setting records and is quite healthy so far.
“I’ll be 80 in February and I’m looking forward to competing in the 198-pound weight class in this age group,” he said.
On November 13, Mitsopoulos fought for the world bench press record in the 75-79 age group at the World National Powerlifting Championships, held at the Ramada Town Inn in Bordentown.
At 235 pounds, Mitsopoulos hit his target.
He said he’s always been a competitor.
“I love a challenge and lifting weights keeps me strong and healthy,” he said. “When I compete in the World Natural Powerlifting Federation (WNPF), the staff really know how to get you going.”
Mitsopoulos is a former Flemington resident and longtime math teacher at Hillsborough High School and St Joseph High School in Metuchen. He is also a professional magician.
Mitsopoulos now lives in Florida and goes to the gym every day. He trains at the Fort Myers YMCA.
“I alternate between weightlifting and cardio, and I sometimes rest on Sundays,” he said. “On the Monday before a contest, I sit semi-heavy on the bench and try to lift what I expect to be my opening exercise. That’s a confidence boost. I bench press twice a week; an easy day and a fairly difficult one. On the days I’m not benching, I focus on my back, shoulders, and triceps.”
It was during his time at St. Joseph High School that Mitsopoulos met a young man who was training for a decathlon.
“He got me into lifting weights,” he said, noting that a decathlon competition includes discus, shot put, and pole vault. “I needed to bulk up since I was only about 145 pounds. That was the beginning. I was addicted to the bench press because I was a natural. I benched over 300 pounds after leaving St Joe’s to teach at Hillsborough.”
One day while he was training at the YMCA in Flemington, athletic director Mitsopoulos asked if he would be interested in attending a powerlifting meeting at that YMCA. At first he said he wasn’t interested.
After a four-year scholarship to St. John’s University in New York, Mitsopoulos said he wanted to rest and wasn’t sure if he was interested in “competiting” anymore.
“Well the sporting director begged me and said the meeting is right here at the Y, close to home and we need people,” he said.
The rest is history and the beginning of Mitsopoulos’ powerlifting competitions.
At their first meeting, Mitsopoulos “beat the second [place winner] in the Nationals competition,” which “inspired me to no end.”
Since then, Mitsopoulos has set numerous state, national and world records in various federations in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
He was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In The Crowd” May 1, 1995 issue when he set a world record in the 50-54 age group.
When he’s not in the gym or competing in powerlifting, Mitsopoulos turns to his other passion – magic.
“I’ve been into magic since I was 10 years old. As I got older I started performing at birthday parties and now I perform at many different venues with magic shows on different themes,” he said.
“I ran a magic club at Hillsborough High School for 30 years and taught children magic. Every spring we put on a stage show and the kids competed for the Magician of the Year award. Some of my students are still performing professionally and doing quite well. Chappy Brazil later starred in his own show in Las Vegas and George Galesky (now George Gee) performs everywhere and became President of MAES (Magicians Alliance of Eastern States). So proud of her!”