Weightlifters are often (wrongly) perceived as steroid-hungry meatheads on a superhuman quest to add an extra vein to their biceps and tone their body definition to titanic heights. Truth is, the discipline, resilience and mental strength needed to master this Olympic sport would make any other professional athlete run for cover. Here, we shine a light on six of the country’s best, our very own national pride.
Sarah De Coster (26)
Weightlifting is a very complete sport: it requires technique, power, speed, body coordination and mental strength.
“Originally I did track and field and hammer throwing, but because I was too light my coach took me to a weightlifting club. That’s when my talent was discovered and I stopped all the other disciplines. Weightlifting is a lot of fun and a very complete sport that requires many different things: You need speed, but also power and technique. It’s important to be very strong mentally, because in a competition three attempts are all you got. And you need a lot of body coordination. Actually it is very helpful for other sports too, that’s why almost every track and field athlete does it. It’s not about being big and strong, as many might think. So for others it’s hard to believe that I do weightlifting because I look so small. I used to train five times a week at Powersport Zaventem, but right now I am injured and I don’t even know if I will ever be able to weightlift again. But I’ve been practicing it for 15 years and basically reached all my goals, so it’s not the end of the world. I was 10 times Belgian champion, I’m holding the Belgian record in the 53 class and was fifth at the World University Championship in Greece, my best experience so far. I’m not good enough for the European championships, so I’ve pretty much reached everything that is in my capacity.”
Alea Fairchild (48)
People expect me to be huge, eat lots of steak and be manly. I am none of the above!
“I only started weightlifting at the age of 40. I discovered it when I had to do physical therapy after a car accident. Now I train four days a week at Powersport Zaventem. What I like is that it’s just me and the bar. In weightlifting, you only compete against your own ability, and gravity, of course. In 2009, I won a gold medal at the European Masters and in the same year I won a silver medal at the World Masters in Australia, my biggest achievement so far. Weightlifting requires first and foremost patience, determination and a strong mental framework. It is fun and challenging, and you get to train with a very diverse group of people – not just ‘jocks’ as many might think. Technique, not power, improves your results. I have been lucky to find a few women who were the groundbreak- ers in the early days of competitive women’s lifting, such as Corinne Grotenhuis (US) and Sandra Smith (UK) who have coached and supported my efforts, and are now friends. But my all-time favorite weightlifter is Arnold Schwarzenegger, mainly because of the Arnold Classic in Ohio, where I have competed twice now. It is a great event!”
Anna Van Bellinghen (18)
Did you know that almost every professional athlete does weightlifting? It improves all your capacities.
“I like the huge concentrated effort that weightlifting requires in just a short moment of time. It only takes a few seconds but it is very powerful and emotional. It’s a beautiful sport. Originally I was doing athletics, but I had to do some weightlifting exercises for it and that’s how my talent was discovered. I participated in the European Championship for under 17 year olds and felt that I could do more. So one year ago, weightlifting became my first sport. Of course it requires body strength, but mental strength is just as important. You also need speed, explosiveness and coordination – it’s a very technical sport. I usually train eight or nine times a week. I’m very serious about it, I want to get better and do my best. It’s just a pity that the infrastructure in Belgium is not as developed as in many other countries. I mostly train alone with my coach whilst in other countries the weightlifters go to huge training centers and have many people around them that help them as a physiotherapist or a nutritionist. My next goal is to perform well at the European Junior Championship in November. Weightlifting is a great way to gain confidence, especially for girls who are rather strongly built. And it’s not true that it makes you fatter, you actually lose weight and get much fitter. I don’t feel any prejudices anymore as a female weightlifter. People have evolved in the last 15 years. There are more girls doing weightlifting than you might think. My favorite is Nadezhda Yevstyukhina from Russia: She is very feminine and at the same time has a very clean technique. ”
Nicky Van Wemmel (26)
In weightlifting mental strength is just as important as physical strength.
“It’s hard to explain what I like about weightlifting… I just really enjoy it. I started when I was 17. My dad was doing powerlifting and took me along one day. I tried weightlifting and it turned out that I had quite some talent: Only three months later I participated in my first competition. Now I’m the second best in Belgium after Tom Goegebuer and I won several Belgian championships. I hope in four years I will participate in the Olympics. My worst experience so far was when I competed at the European Championships for under 23 year olds. I failed completely because I was too stressed. Many people don’t realise how important mental strength is for weightlifting. You have only three attempts in a competition, so you have to be really on the point and use your power in the right way at the right moment. It’s very technical. I’ve been doing weightlifting for nine years now and I am still working on improving my technique. If your technique is bad, your physical strength is useless. You need to know how to efficiently use your power. I opened up my own gym where I trained a few people and all of them stopped because they found it too difficult. There aren’t many weightlifters in Belgium, I hardly have any competitors. And there are only around 10 clubs where you can actually learn the sport. It’s a shame because it really is a great sport which is good for your whole body. You train every single part of it. Every part of your body needs to be strong and it’s also a great basis for all other sports.”
Hugo De Grauwe (58)
Finding a good trainer is essential, someone who really knows the technique and keeps his eyes open: Weightlifting is a sport that constantly develops and never stands still.
“When I was a little boy I thought it was great to have lots of muscles and started doing bodybuilding. I was fascinated by Serge Reding who I saw perform on TV in the late 60s. When I met a coach who showed me weightlifting I instantly got hooked. Unfortunately I was already 15, and that is a bit old to really make it internationally. Nevertheless I participated in the Olympic games in Moscow in 1980 which actually became the worst moment in my weightlifting career: I completely failed. I think I was probably too stressed, it is different to perform in front of 6,000 people instead of the usual 100. So for me my personal highlight is not the Olympics but the World Championship in Greece the year before where I finished 8th. As a weightlifter you need strength of course, good legs and a strong back plus a lot of dynamic. I can only recommend it, also because it’s a great basis for all other sports, be it judo, football or volleyball. It improves your dynamic and especially your balance. Now I have my own weightlifting club and Belgium’s national Volleyball trainer recently stopped by, for example, because he wanted me to evaluate his technique. I stopped doing weightlifting in 1988 and changed to Powerlifting, which is similar but requires less technique. As a Powerlifter I was more successful and won two bronze medals at World Championships. A few years ago I stopped competing altogether, but I’ll probably never stop training.”
Tom Goegebuer (37)
Weightlifting has so many components that even after 25 years I can still enhance my style and technique – it never gets boring.
“Weightlifting is not dangerous or unhealthy, as many might believe: I haven’t had an operation in 25 years of practicing the sport. But it’s important to do it in a proper way, with a qualified trainer. It’s not about bodybuilding or being big: Sometimes I do competitions in the 56 class. It’s all very technical, like high jump for example, and everyone can do it. Personally I got into the sport through my father, who was a weightlifter too and is now my coach, together with my girlfriend. I already wanted to start as a little child, but he told me I had to wait until I was 12 years old. I practice daily, usually for three hours. Flexibility, speed and strength are the most important qualities you need. It’s a complex movement that only takes seconds, so you don’t need endurance as in many other sports. I’ve competed in the Olympics in 2008 and now in London: I hope I can improve my result from four years ago and possibly make a new Belgian record. But my biggest achievement so far was probably when I won the European Championship in 2009. My favorite weightlifter is Naim Süleymanoglu, he is just amazing, no one gets near him.”