There seems to be some confusion by students of the Olympic lifts about contact by the barbell with the body proper on the way up the during a snatch or clean. Also some individuals, from outside of Olympic lifting, in efforts to criticize Olympic lifting while not really understanding Olympic lifting rules and technique, point out in the their arguments that Olympic lifters regularly bounce the barbell on their thighs while executing snatches and cleans. The fact is VIOLENT THIGH CONTACT HAS NEVER BEEN ALLOWED.
First, notice the differences in the wording of the rules for the "clean" in the 1970 rule book as opposed to today's rule book in the year 2000.
THE CLEAN RULES: 1970 AAU WEIGHTLIFTING RULE BOOK*
From Pg. 36: The bar shall be placed horizontally in front of the lifter's legs. It shall be gripped, palms downward, and brought in a single movement from the ground to the shoulders, while splitting or bending the legs. The bar must not touch the chest before the final position; it shall then rest on the clavicles, the chest, or on the arms fully bent. The feet shall be returned to the same line, legs straight, before performing the Jerk. The lifter may make this recovery on his own time.
From Pg. 40, Rule #5 from General Rules of Lifting: In all snatches or cleans, if the bar touches the thighs with a violent contact, or with a visible stop, it shall be rendered the attempt "No Lift". But if during the pull the bar grazes or lightly slides along the thighs without stopping, it shall not render the lift "No Lift".
From Pg. 40, Rule #7 from General Rules of Lifting: A clean in which the bar is placed on the chest before the turning of the elbows over shall render the attempt "No lift".
*NOTE: The National AAU Weightlifting Committee was the official affiliate to the IWF in 1970.
THE CLEAN RULES: 1998-2000 IWF HAND BOOK
The barbell is placed horizontally in front of the lifter's legs. It is gripped, palms
downward and pulled in a single movement from the platform to the shoulders, while
either splitting or bending the legs. During this continuous movement, the bar may slide
along the thighs and the lap. The bar must not touch the chest before the final position. It
then rests on the clavicles or on the chest above the nipples or on the arms fully bent. The
feet return to the same line, legs straight before performing the Jerk. The lifter may make
this recovery in his or her own time and finish with the feet on the same line, parallel to
the plane of the trunk and the barbell.
NOTE: As you can see above, the 1999-2000 IWF handbook's addresses the thigh brush directly in the "lifts proper instruction" rather than in the "general rules for all lifts" as it was in 1970.
Starting in the 1960's some Olympic lifters and coaches found a more refined and efficient way to elevate the bar by using a two pull (first pull/ second pull) technique. So it wasn't long before the old single pull style of cleans and snatches became obsolete.
To more efficiently execute a two pull lift (snatch or clean) it was found that incidental contact of the bar with the thigh or lap area was needed. However at no time did referees deem this as a "continental" infraction! A Continental is where the barbell is cleaned in several steps before reaching its final resting place across the clavicles. To perform a continental the bar must "stop", and it is this "stopping" that has always been the main issue when snatching or cleaning a barbell in Olympic lifting. Thus, as long as the bar was continuously moving upward, incidental thigh and bar contact was never really an issue.
As a point of interest, historically, this point was argued vehemently by the pioneers of
Olympic lifting back in 1904 on the eve of the formation of the Amateur Athletic World
Union. The AAWU was a fore running governing organization for weightlifting before the
IWF was officially formed.
Taking the side of the "Clean" was a French weightlifting authority, one Professor
Edmond Desbonnet, who argued that stopping and resting the bar (continental) on the way up was dangerous! When defending the Clean, Desbonnet said:
* "Being an exercise of short duration, the heart does not have to suffer strong loading for too long, sometimes that is harmful to the heart like, for instance, in the endurance lifting-in which the Germans and Austrians delight themselves so much."
Taking an opposing argument to Desbonnet, in favor of a "continental" clean, was a German weightlifting authority, one Albert Stolz. Stolz said:
* "Apart from the fact that Mr. Desbonnet criticizes and declares unhealthy, and therefore not applicable, exercises which have never been proposed for World Championships, his suggestions are in perfect harmony with ours. He pretends, however, to have freshly invented something we actually proposed. The point at which our suggestions and Mr. Desbonnet's concepts diverges is merely the permission of cleaning in two stages of a weight for a two arm jerk.
*Italics quotes from "The Lost Past" by Gottfried Schodl
Now, although the IWF eventually leaned more toward Desbonnet's argument, that did not stop the Germans, Austrians, and others of that time from holding competitions with their own rules and using "continental" style cleans!
Example: On November 4th, 1911 in Vienna, an Austrian lifter Karl Swoboda clean and jerked 185.6 kg./ 408lbs. However, because it was common practice for Austrian and German lifters to continental clean before their jerks, Swoboda was never given official credit for a C&J world record. In fact the first officially recognized heavyweight world record around that time was only 151kg./ 332lbs. done on Jan. 28th, 1912 by Herman Glasser of Germany. Swoboda's 408 lb. mark was not "officially" broken in the IWF until October 17th, 1954 when Norbert Schemanski of the USA did 192.5kg./ 423.5lbs.
NOTE: I'd like to thank weightlifting historian Gherado Bonini of the Italian Weightlifting Federation for his assistance in providing relevant information.