Journey of an Olympian. Chapter 20

Chapter Twenty: Manchester fast approaching & Major set-backs

Six weeks out from the Games, Luke assured me that I would almost certainly lift at 58kg. Prior to that conversation I had been hanging around a bodyweight of 57kg in case I might have to drop. When Luke told me 58kg would most likely be the call, I started to eat up and my weight went up to nearly 60kg.

A week later on 23rd June 2002, we had our NSW State Championships. My training had been going really well and I had cleaned 105kg a couple of times, just missing the jerk. I really wanted it in competition. Weighing 59.5kg in this competition I started off well, snatching 85kg. Then moving on to the Clean and Jerk I got my first lift on 95kg, then 100kg on my second attempt. On my third attempt we went for 105kg. I cleaned it, easier than I ever had before, but missed the jerk, again in front. This time though as I pushed the jerk and it went forward, I felt a pain in my left shoulder.

All week I hoped it wasn’t serious, perhaps it was just a small strain or pull, as it had been improving every day. Five days later on 28th June, I went and saw our NSW Institute of Sport doctor designated to Weightlifting. Dr Kuah gave me the news that the MRI scan I’d had the day before confirmed I had a small tear to my cartilage in my shoulder, plus ‘scuffing’ to the rotator cuff tendon. I drove home in tears. I was frustrated that I had given up everything and had been training so hard all year and just when I reach my target weights, now it seemed any medal prospects looked blown. I knew I had to try and stay positive and the Doc said I could probably start training again properly next week, but this really affected my mental state. Will I be able to handle the pain? How rusty will my technique be? Will I still be able to lift the same weight? These were all the questions running through my mind. Part of me knew I had to put negative thoughts out of my head. Part of me thought “I have come this far and I’m not going to let this get me down” Another part of me was full of doubt. “I guess I’ll just have to wait and see” I decided. In the meantime, I could still squat and do pulls, so hopefully I wouldn’t lose my leg/back strength. I was hoping everything would be alright, given time heals and I still had a few weeks left before the Games.

On Sunday 30th June, one month prior to the Games, I did something totally outside of weightlifting. I did my motorcycle test for my “P’s” (provisional license) and passed. Considering how depressed and worried I had been the past week it was nice to do something to take my mind off weightlifting. I came home to a beautiful bunch of flowers and a card from my thoughtful fiancé (lucky I passed) and to celebrate we ate a fruit cake and a huge bag of peanut M&M’s.

Then at 9 o’clock that night I received a telephone call from Luke. He had made the decision that I would drop to 53kg, as his latest research showed that would be where I would have the best chance of medals. I was happy with his decision but all I could think at the time was “if only he had called an hour earlier…” before I had just eaten a big bag of M&Ms and half a fruit cake! Oh yeah, it was also a really big secret and I was not to tell anyone! Luke was concerned about how others would react, particularly because the team selected had another 53kg lifter (Seen Lee). Although we were allowed to take two lifters in one category.

As my weight by now was up around 60kg this meant I had 7 kg to lose in only 4 weeks. So, I started another diet. This one would have to be the strictest I’d ever been on.

For the next two weeks not only was I not supposed to do any heavy overhead work, I was also now on a strict diet to drop weight quickly and effectively without losing strength.

Training – squats again

Training at first went as well as could be expected. I was managing to do my tailored program, still 13 sessions a week, without any pain. The bodyweight started dropping in line with my schedule too, although I was starving. This all played on my mind a great deal. Recovering from an injury while trying to drop weight, I couldn’t help worrying what effect all of this would have on my medal chances. Starving as well as worrying, I am pretty sure I was Miss Grumpy through all this!

Then on Thursday 4th July I woke up with a killer sore throat. I couldn’t believe it. Kick me when I was down. The next day Friday 5th July my throat felt better but the cold had moved to my sinus. I felt well enough to train but Luke dropped my training to two sessions that day. That night I had a great session. I was allowed to Snatch, only up to 60kg, but the good news was I felt no pain!  Also I jerked 80kg no problems. I was only supposed to go to 70kg but I sneaked in a 75kg and 80kg when the coaches weren’t looking (Lucky I wasn’t caught!). I managed Cleans up to 95kg only as I was still feeling a bit weak thanks to my head cold. My weight was around 58.1kg so it needed to come down a bit more but I started feeling a little more positive. Although I was sick of meat and vegetables already and it had only been 5 days of dieting.

By Saturday 6th July I felt a lot better all round. Training went well again, I managed to Snatch 70kg in the afternoon, thanks to ‘Sinutab’ for clearing my nose (after checking it wasn’t on the ‘banned’ list). I was certainly feeling more positive, hoping I could do some big Snatches in the next week or two.

Now it was time to pack again. This was difficult on this occasion, as I was to be away for six weeks, in three different climates. First stop was Melbourne, leaving the next day for another training camp.

Coming up next – Chapter 21: Another training camp in Melbourne

Journey of an Olympian. Chapter 19

Chapter Nineteen: Planning for 2002 Commonwealth Games

Not ready to retire having reached my Olympic goal, I decided to stay on for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, which were being held in Manchester, England. This would be the first time Womens Weightlifting would be part of the Commonwealth Games.

Meagan, Mehmet and I had a month off after the Olympics. Shortly afterwards, the dreaded skin-fold callipers came out and we all were tested for body fat levels. Besides finding out just how efficient (or inefficient) our body weights were, the tests were also used to ascertain whether any of us would be able to move into other weight divisions. Despite trying to think up good excuses for our fat levels – mine was that I had taken a break from hard training after the Olympics – we still couldn’t avoid the test and I soon learnt that my fat levels came in at around 25% – I was informed it was “not bad for an average person, but not real good for a so-called elite athlete”!

Training in 2001

So in January 2001, planning ahead for the 2002 Commonwealth Games to broaden my options for medal possibilities, Luke and I agreed I would try to drop down a weight division from 58kg to 53kg. I started a strict weight loss diet, which mainly consisted of increasing protein and reducing fats & starchy carbohydrates (like bread and pasta). I found that while the weight came off relatively easy, my strength levels did not drop. I lost 8kg over a period of 8 weeks! I was also using supplements from Musashi during this time, like creatine and amino acids, which helped maintain my strength & energy levels. I particularly liked their protein bars and muesli slices, because I have a sweet tooth and so these satisfied any sweet cravings I had.

2001 Telstra Boroondara Invitational

In March 2001 the experiment proved successful. I not only managed to get down to 53kg (with help from a long sauna), but I broke 7 Australian and 6 Oceania records at the Telstra Boroondara Invitational Tournament in Melbourne at this new bodyweight.

Unfortunately this success meant I would have to keep dieting and drop to 53kg again. Australia had been invited to compete as a guest nation at the East Asian Games in Osaka, Japan, in May 2001, fully funded by the AOC. Having never been to Japan, I was excited to be part of this trip, even if it did mean continued dieting. Osaka was an interesting place, although we didn’t get much time to explore. Very few people spoke English and watching Japanese TV in my hotel room while making weight wasn’t much fun. Thankfully the Japanese food worked well in my diet of chicken /fish and rice and I managed to make weight ok. I lifted pretty well here, snatching 75kg and Clean & Jerking 95kg, breaking another Australian and Oceania record. More importantly, I finished in the bronze medal position, which I was really proud of considering the domination the Asian nations hold in Weightlifting. Some video footage of my lifts (on YouTube) is here

2001 Oceania Champ’s (Auckland)

However, I couldn’t maintain that body weight and so I returned to my comfortable weight division of 58kg for the latter part of the year, for the Australian Championships in Sydney in August; and then the Oceania Championships in Auckland, New Zealand in October, where I broke more Australian records at each competition.

I was disappointed when the September 11 events and following action in the Middle East resulted in a decision by the Australian team not to travel to Turkey for the 2001 World Championships. We had been planning that I would drop to 53kg again for the Worlds and I was looking forward to doing a good competitive total there (hoping for top ten). If it had been up to me I would have still gone, although I know Steve and my family wouldn’t have been happy with that. Perhaps it was better the decision was taken out of my hands.

In January 2002 there were two major occurrences. First, I decided to take the plunge and resign from my full time work in order to concentrate on training for the Commonwealth Games, due to be held in Manchester in July 2002. In actual fact I had asked my employer if I could take 6 months unpaid leave. Being a small business they declined, they said they couldn’t hold my position open for 6 months and would have to replace me. They told me I would have to resign but they would gladly take me back again afterwards as long as they had another position available. I accepted this response. It was an easy decision despite losing my income… who wouldn’t want to do nothing all day except train? Although this training all day turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Fortunately, an anonymous sponsor came forward to offer me some cash each week to help towards the living expenses. Steve and I also took out a bank loan for $20,000 to cover part of the mortgage repayments for the 6 months off work. Although I wasn’t impressed when the bank manager jokingly asked me if I was “on the gear”, I managed to bite my tongue, smile and respond pleasantly “of course not”, then explaining the rigorous testing we went through. I was a bit prickly at times about this automatic inference from complete strangers. We no longer bank with ANZ!

The second thing that happened was I had a really poor performance at an invitational Australia Day competition in Melbourne, where I bombed in the Snatch (missed all 3 lifts). I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe it was because all through my warm up there were two very senior officials (whom I highly respected and regarded) stood next to my platform having a nice chit-chat. Not that I was listening, but it distracted me enough so my mind was completely off focus by the time I came out for my lifts. Perhaps I was too complacent since it wasn’t an important competition? Maybe I was in the wrong phase of my program cycle, not peaked for this competition? Or perhaps I was just having a bad day? Whatever the cause, I couldn’t pull it together on the platform. This was the second time in my weightlifting career I had bombed (the first time was back in my first year of lifting when Luke started me on my PB snatch weight to see how I would perform under pressure – I didn’t like bombing then either).  I didn’t take this lightly. Actually I was devastated and embarrassed. Someone with my level of experience shouldn’t bomb. So I was determined this would never happen again. After beating myself up a bit, I eventually made peace, put it down to a bad start to the year and decided things would have to get better.

Since I wasn’t working, and so had more time for recovery, Luke increased the intensity of my programme. I trained 13 times a week and lifted around 45 tonnes per week. My program consisted of:

  • Mon, Wed, Fri: 9.30am (1 hour), 11.30am (1.5 hours) and 5.30pm (1.5 to 2 hours)
  • Tues:   9.30 am (1.5 hours), 5.30pm (1.5 to 2 hours)
  • Sat:     9.30am (1 hour), 1pm (1.5 hours)

That’s not including stretching, massage and saunas. Or travel times – I lived at least 40 minutes drive from the gym.

2002 Mermet Cup (Melbourne)

It worked though, I felt stronger and fitter than I had ever felt, and by 16th March 2002 in the Australia vs USA Mermet Cup in Melbourne, I broke 2 Australian records in the 58kg class, in the Snatch (83kg) and Total (185kg).

The media had started paying a bit more attention to me after the Olympics and especially so in 2002 as I was now ranked number one in Australia in 3 weight classes (53, 58 and 63kg) in the lead up to the Com Games. I wasn’t looking too bad in the Commonwealth rankings either. When Nigeria received a ban from international competition and I was asked for a comment, I didn’t hold back.

Daily Telegraph 27.3.2002
2002 Oceania (Fiji)

The Oceania Championships were held in Fiji on 12th April in hot & humid conditions. This was my first visit to Fiji. I was expecting tropical beaches, blue skies and palm trees. However we were in Suva. So we saw palm trees, grey skies and no beaches, not that we were there for a sun tan. The rest of the town was what you would expect for a developing country. I was training hard, on a strength building program phase, so wasn’t expecting massive weights. However I managed to win the 58kg class, lifting 80kg snatch and 97kg clean & jerk.

2002 Commonwealth Games Trials, Melbourne

A few weeks later on 4th May, the Commonwealth Games trials were held in Melbourne. I was lifting at 58kg again and was selected easily, despite having been sick with a virus (what was it with me getting ill during Trials?). Just like the Sydney 2000 trials I really wanted to lift, despite not being 100%. I was already in a good position for selection due to my previous results and rankings but secured the decision, lifting an 80kg snatch and a national record of 103.5kg in the clean and jerk. This time a full team meant selection of 7 women and 8 men (unlike the Sydney Olympics where we could only take 4 women and 8 men).

The Sun Herald 19 May 2002

I still didn’t know what weight class we would enter in at the Commonwealth Games as we were waiting to see what the other countries were doing with their team selections and watching the rankings. I was totally trusting my coach, Luke, to do all the analysis and make the final decision, although I was, of course, very interested in keeping up to date with the rankings myself. My main rivals were Canada and India in both 53kg and 58kg divisions, but at 58kg there was added competition from Wales and Nauru. Once Nigeria’s ban was confirmed (due to their numerous doping violations), my ranking improved to “4th” in both divisions. My training was going so well we were optimistic that at 58kg I could possibly win a Gold medal in the Snatch if I could get 87.5kg or 90kg, although it could go either way. The number one ranked female lifter from Canada, Maryce Turcott had dropped from 58kg to 53kg as well. It was difficult to predict what weight class she would contend. It was probably going to come down to a gamble at the end when deciding. Good thing my coach was a good gambler!

Coming up next – Chapter 20: Manchester fast approaching & major set-backs

Journey of an Olympian. Chapter 18

Chapter Eighteen: The big come down

It was only on reflection afterwards that I realised how magnificent the whole experience was. At the time we got swept along with it all and thought of the experience as another competition from our own little bubble. When the Games finished I had time to read through all of the fan mail sent to me from school kids all around Australia and to talk to other people who were not involved in the event except from a spectator point of view.

Of course watching the Paralympics was another extraordinary event, which I myself could experience as a spectator. I began to realise how much the Olympics meant to other people and from different perspectives. We all found it inspirational in different ways and all of us were touched in some way by what we saw or experienced. It inspired us to try to excel in whatever we do whether it be sport, work or every day life. It proved to us that hard work and pain is all worth it when we reach our goals or achieve our aspirations or just to be involved in any elite event such as this. It also showed us how well we can do things, in terms of successfully hosting such a fantastic and large-scale event, which many people were so negative about in the months and years preceding it.

For many of us though, there was a big “come down”, with bouts of depression suffered while trying to get used to being a normal person again. For us athletes, we had all been made to feel so important and special during the Olympics, now we had to go back to normal life, work and bills. We came back down to earth with a massive thud.

For myself, I was astonished at the attitude of my employers. Not only had I received a telephone call from one of my managers on the morning of the ticket tape parade asking me when I was coming back to work (he was hoping I would be in the next day – I asked if I could have the rest of the week off) – but when I did go back to work and a crowd of colleagues were around my desk at 8.45am asking me lots of questions the same manager came along and said something along the lines of “back down to earth now” (which to be fair, was a true statement)… then “lets get back to work”! He was smiling but I knew he was serious. I’m not sure what I was expecting but maybe a little more patience or time to bask in my short-lived glory?

I sat at my desk for the next few weeks miserable as hell, wishing I was anywhere but there. Having been a full time athlete for two months had given me the taste for it – and I liked it.

What kept me sane, was, one: planning forward for the Commonwealth Games; and two: going to Olympic functions and presentations. I was also asked to give some talks to various groups of people, so writing speeches about my Olympic memories helped keep it alive a bit longer.

Steve was very tolerant of me during those weeks also. I was incredibly moody, questioning everything from my career to my relationship. You see, having also spent some time by myself, ie, without Steve, gave me a little taste of independence, not having to answer to anyone about every move I made, although there had been the usual numerous mobile phone calls to Steve to ‘check-in’.

During the Olympics I became very good friends with the other three girls on the team. They may not like me sharing this publicly, but fair to say, they were all having the same difficulties I was having. In some cases much worse, suffering to a higher magnitude.

Unlike me, a couple of them didn’t have a job to go back to – to take their mind off things. One was having terrible problems with her knees and had decided to retire from Weightlifting. She had no idea about what she wanted of her future. It appeared that she had been so focussed about her Olympic goal, she had not thought (or planned) beyond it. She also discovered that outside of weightlifting her relationship with her husband was not entirely what she thought or wanted and they ended up splitting up. One of the others also broke up with her partner as soon as she went back home. Things had not been good before she had left for the training camp in Melbourne, her partner had never shown her any support with her sporting career. To make things worse she found out some infidelity had been going on while she was away anyway. So not only did both girls have the ‘come-down’ from the Olympics, but they had to find a new place to live and get over a broken relationship. As for the other (and youngest) female lifter of our team, she also suffered the post Olympic depression. She had lost a tremendous amount of weight to make the team dropping from her usual weight class. I heard rumours she was partying hard, putting on a lot of weight in the process.

I may have gotten off the easiest. As painful as it was, going back to work was probably what got me through, as this forced me to settle back into normal life quickly.

The Manly Daily 16 Nov 2000

Coming up next – Chapter 19: Planning for 2002 Commonwealth Games

Journey of an Olympian. Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen – Enjoying the rest of the Olympic Games

Me, Naim, Michelle, Raelene

I was able to relax for the rest of the Games, enjoy the atmosphere and food of the Village and watch some of the greatest athletes in the World compete. I mainly watched the Weightlifting competitions, which I had unlimited access to. Besides wanting to support and cheer on our team mates when they were lifting, it was great having the chance to watch, and even meet, some legendary weightlifters, like Naim Suleymanoglu, Halil Mutlu, Galabin Boevski, Pyrros Dimas and Marc Huster (I even got to wear Marc’s silver medal).

Me with Marc Huster (85kg Silver medalist- Germany)

On two occasions I was able to get ‘athletes tickets’ to see the Athletics at the Stadium as well. There I sat in a designated athletes area, to experience the exciting atmosphere and noise of the crowd, watching the relay finals and the awesome Marion Jones and cheering on the Aussie relay team.

As we walked around the village we played “guess which sport” people were in. I couldn’t believe everyone was sooo tall! At first I thought everyone was basketball, then I realised many of the other sports, like volleyball, swimming and rowing were also really tall. They don’t look that tall on TV! I think people were also tying to guess our sport as occasionally we heard a mutter of “gymnast” as someone walked past…

When not watching competition or eating, we played some pool and used the computer room to catch up on emails.  Also, we were allowed to apply for a village pass to bring a friend or family member into the village. I was able to bring Steve in on one day to show him around. Most afternoons they had a band or some other entertainment on in the village and it just so happened Spiderbait were performing that day so Steve and I sat on a grassy hill in the sun and enjoyed watching their gig.

Meagan and I ‘went to town’ in the Dining Hall as we finally relaxed our diet. Although McDonalds was there I was more tempted by the different array of foods from other countries which was available. It was strange eating in the village dining hall, sitting at a table next to the high profile swimmers like Susie O’Neil and Ian Thorpe who I had seen on TV. I was surprised when I saw the tennis players, all sat together except for one well-known player, who seemed to be ostracised from the others as he was sitting way away on his own. I heard later the others all hated him. I kept meaning to take my camera with me, although you have to be careful about approaching some athletes before they have competed. They don’t like being hassled for autographs and photos as it is, let alone from fellow athletes. Towards the end Meagan and I did manage to get our photo taken with Nova Peris-Kneebone.

Meagan, Nova, Me

We received piles of ‘hero mail’ from school children everywhere – it was really inspiring although a lot of the theme was on hoping we won a gold medal… if anyone reading this is a teacher perhaps you could convey to your students that there is so much more to ‘achievement’ than winning a gold medal. I certainly didn’t feel a failure coming away 10th. We spent our spare time writing Olympic postcards to thank the children for their messages. I hope they received them.

Michelle, John Howard, Me, Mehmet

We didn’t just stay in the village, we also were invited to some special team functions, one of which had John Farnham performing for us. A few of us met then Prime minister, John Howard, who was a massive sports fan.

My only complaint about the Olympics was the ticketing. Many of the weightlifting sessions were not full, yet tickets were supposedly sold out. A friend told me later he had tried to get a ticket the day of my competition to watch me but the ticket lines around Darling Harbour (where 4 sports were being held) were so long people were queuing for hours and then they were told they couldn’t purchase tickets for events held the same day. It’s a pity there wasn’t a ticket booth designated to each venue to sell tickets for those events only, perhaps even a system so those empty seats (corporate or no-shows) wouldn’t go to waste when there were people outside wanting to come in. As an athlete, it’s a much better vibe being in front of a full house of cheering spectators.

Closing ceremony shenanigans

The Closing Ceremony whilst expressed as a giant party, was quite sad for most of us as it signified the event was at an end. Everyone associated with Australia was there, Elle McPherson, Kylie, Crocodile Dundee and a giant thong (flip-flop)… The athletes were in the middle on the field and we were really close to the action. Again I felt really proud that we put on a great show for the rest of the world, especially with the creative way the cauldron’s flame was carried away by jet.

Me & Emma George (Australian Pole vaulter)
Sydney ticket tape parade

The final highlight for me was the Parade through Sydney’s CBD. That morning we packed up all our belongings ready to go home. Buses collected all the Australian team from the village and delivered us to the Opera House where we mingled in a holding area. While we were there I managed to get a few autographs and before setting off for the ticket-tape parade I finally plucked up some courage and took my chance to ask Ian Thorpe for one. I was a bit offended and embarrassed by his unfriendly response, but at least he accommodated my request. I guess he was fed up by then. During the parade, again the crowds were tremendous, making us all feel special. Each sport was arranged in alphabetical order, so with Weightlifting being at the end, I expected people to be tired of cheering and waving by the time we got to them, but again we experienced their generosity. My family was in the crowd waving and cheering, as was Steve. We laughed and joked and piggy-backed each other as we walked through the streets. Meagan was in my local paper with one of the water polo girls in her arms, demonstrating her strength yet again!

We finally ended up at Town Hall at an official ceremony where we were all given a key to the city. Then we mingled around one last time before we collected our bags which had been delivered there for us and we got ready to say our good-byes and leave. I felt quite sad, having had an amazing time, I really didn’t want it to end.

That’s when the ‘come-down’ started. If I thought the build up was tough, I certainly wasn’t ready for what happened next. And I was one of the lucky ones.

Coming up next – Chapter 18: The big come down

Journey of an Olympian. Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen:  My day of competition at the Olympic Games

On the 18th September, Day 3 of the 2000 Olympic Games, my day of competition arrived. I felt surprisingly relaxed as I woke up that morning. I felt no pressure, that no one was expecting me to do great things, considering the immensity of the event. Of course I was apprehensive about wanting to do my best but I tried to keep calm and focussed. I was trying not to think about the end result. Instead, I was thinking about the stepping stones of how to get there, i.e. one lift at a time. I went over it in my mind, visualising each lift and practising my usual thought processes involved in lifting the weights.

The morning went by quickly and I was glad to pass the time with Meagan, as we hang around our cabins getting ourselves ready. Before we knew it we were being whisked off in a bus to the Sydney Convention Centre at Darling Harbour, with plenty of time before we had to weigh in.

During the weigh-in, two hours before the competition started, I was in good spirits. I always found that I performed better when in a good mood and believed it important to feel happy and positive before a competition. There were times when I had been joking around right up until walking into the warm up room and I usually ended up doing well at those competitions. So I thought it best to continue with what worked. The joking and laughing also helped me keep the nerves under control too.

The moment I walked into the warm up room, the final realisation that I was at the Olympics set in. I looked around the room and saw the Olympic rings on the banners hanging on the walls and saw that I was amongst the best lifters in the world. I didn’t freak out, but the immensity of it all hit me there and then and I did start to shake a little. I took a deep breath, thought to myself “well I’m here, this is it” and we chose a platform to warm up on.

Photo Credit: Sport the library/Scott Grant

As I first touched the bar and started my bar stretches to begin warming up for Snatches, I settled down a little. During my warm up, I felt good mentally and physically, but I was still unavoidably nervous. When coming out onto the platform for my first lift, the noise from the crowd was almost calming, in that I could feel the positive vibes from everyone. The lights on the stage were bright, the audience dimly lit, so I couldn’t see anyone but I could feel they were all on my side and wanting me to do well.

Unfortunately though, the nerves succumbed. My heart was pounding and I rushed the start position and missed my first attempt on 77.5kg. This wasn’t uncommon for me, missing my first lift, so I wasn’t alarmed. I refocussed, although a little angry with myself, and got ready to come back out for the next lift, determined to get it this time.

My 2nd attempt was better and I did succeed with this lift. Still, annoyed I hadn’t got it on my 1st attempt, I wasn’t celebrating. I felt relieved though – registering a lift I was now in the game.

On my 3rd and final Snatch, a mobile phone rang somewhere in the front of the crowd as I was just about to lift the bar from the floor. My concentration lapsed for a fraction of a second (so much for my new found ability to block everything out) and I over-pulled, landed the weight sitting a bit too far back, too far to save it. I missed it behind. It was so close though, I thought I almost had it.

 

Here’s a video of all three of my snatches :

Photo credit: Sport the library/Scott Grant

So only being successful with one Snatch attempt out of three, I was disappointed with only lifting 77.5kg. I had been getting 85kg in training, and whilst competition is very different from training I had hoped for a Personal Best of at least 82.5kg. I had finished in 13th position, just ahead of Meagan who was also only successful with one lift, on her opening attempt of 75kg. She had missed 80kg twice and was also disappointed. But you only get three attempts, so we had to put it behind us and start thinking forward. We still had the Clean and Jerk to go.

While we waited for the other lifters to finish their snatches and in the 10 minute break before the Clean & Jerks, I refocused and calmed down as Meagan and I chatted and giggled a little while having a snack in the back booths. We also changed our lifting suits. We wouldn’t normally do this but we couldn’t decide between the navy and the green/gold suits we had been given. The navy was nicer looking and more flattering (told you, I’m such a girl), but we also wanted to wear our traditional green & gold national colours too. Eventually we had secretly decided to wear the navy for the Snatches and green/gold for the Clean and Jerks.

I felt more relaxed during the warm up for the Clean & Jerks and came out on the platform for my opening attempt with more success this time, comfortably securing 97.5kg.

On my second attempt my confidence continued, I was fired up and successful with 102.5kg. This was a Personal Best and Australian Record at this 58kg bodyweight, so I was really happy about that result.

I was really psyched up for my third attempt on 105kg and felt positive as I chalked up. There was a slight delay and I was held back while they were cleaning the platform, before allowing me up on the platform. As I approached the bar I saw a smeary mark on the floor like they had just mopped it. However it looked dry enough and this quickly went from my mind as I went through my usual thought processes, telling myself technical cues, as I stood over the bar composing myself. I knew I had to really pull the bar as high and strong as I could if I was going to clean it.

Unfortunately I missed the Clean, not quite enough leg strength to stand up. I ended up falling backwards, landing on my backside. Unbeknownst to me, as I found out later when watching the replays in the back room, I sat in the remainder of a small puddle of urine left on the platform by the Belgian lifer who had an accident on her attempt before mine, when she was pushing too hard in the clean and jerk. Very embarrassing for her – but because I landed in it I have never lived it down since.

Below is a video showing my Clean & Jerks:

As it ended up, my Total of 180kg was also a Personal Best and Australian record at 58kg bodyweight so I was really happy with this overall result, despite missing a few lifts. After finishing my 3rd and final lift I was ushered through a media zone, rather than straight back into the warm up room. My memory is a blur here. I was on a high and have no idea who I spoke to, but eventually through the haze I saw Steve and a few of my family come down to the front to meet me. I said hello and quickly ducked back into the warm up room to thank the coaches and grab my stuff, then headed back out into the audience area to meet everyone.

As I came out into the crowd I found lots of people I knew, who had come to watch and support me. There were old friends from school, current friends, work colleagues, my family of course, even a cousin who I hadn’t seen for at over 10 years and who had flown in from the USA to watch me! My boss was there with his children and they had made a big sign saying “Go Natasha” and a few people asked me to autograph their official programs and T-shirts afterwards. I felt super special and was on an amazing high. I enjoyed sitting in the audience with Steve and a couple of friends watching the final lifters fight it out for the gold medal (the Mexican lifter who finally won was impressive with her poor technique and gutsy fight to the end, winning Mexico’s first ever gold medal in any sport). Then the final result came up on the board while waiting for the medal ceremony – we realised I had placed 10th. I was over the moon! I had somehow achieved my goal of placing in the top ten and, with a rare display of emotion, I jumped into Steve’s arms! He was really proud of me too. It was success for him as much as it was for me as he had been there supporting me all the way from the beginning.

After finishing my competition I expected to feel an anti-climax, but the high remained for quite some time. The sense of relief was immense, like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders (pardon the pun), and it slowly started to dawn on me what I had in fact achieved, and that I was an Olympian!

Coming up next – Chapter 17: Enjoying the rest of the Olympic Games