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  • ATR Extra: Heavy Lifting - Queensland Leads Australia's Weightlifting Revival


    (ATR) They have to thank their wives for finding their way into weightlifting coaching almost by accident yet Australian Olympic team coach Miles Wydall and protégé Callum Hannay typify how the sport is thriving in the State of Queensland while its reputation and Olympic status is the subject of a massive realignment internationally.

    Callum Hannay assists a lifter at the Burleigh Barbells gym.
    Hannay laughs that his first encounter with wife Sarah, a keen CrossFit competitor, former Mutai fighter and boxer, calling it “love at first fight”. It led to him making the progression from Mutai to CrossFit to barbells.

    It happened close to a decade ago when Sarah was matched with the 58kg Zimbabwe-born Callum as a training partner at a Gold Coast Mutai gym. After landing a few heavy kicks to her abdomen, Callum watched Sarah depart in tears. Days later they consoled and have been together ever since, with Callum progressing from CrossFit sessions Sarah introduced him to, to weightlifting coaching and competing at masters level.

    The smile is just as wide when Wydall recalls how, soon after he and wife Angela migrated from Britain in the early 1990s, he was worried about being left at home alone too often when Angela continued her weightlifting regime when they moved to Brisbane.

    He had done some bodybuilding in Britain and decided to join Angela in the gym. It took little time for him to realize he had no future lifting weights but he loved assisting youngsters and quickly realized he had a talent for coaching.

    Now, the couple head the largest weightlifting club in the country, Cougars in Brisbane, which has 110 competitors. Miles has also accumulated a record of great respect from training Commonwealth Games champions Tia-Clair Toomey, also a four times world CrossFit champion, Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medalist (105+kg) Damon Kelly and Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Ben Turner (77kg).

    Ben Turner, Miles Wydall and Damon Kelly
    Wydall coached into 2016 Olympic Games representation but she has since concentrated more on CrossFit, relocating with husband and coach Shane Orr to Tennessee in the USA in 2019 and picking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize-money and endorsement – and the title of the fittest woman in the world.

    And, well before COVID-19 affected the world, Miles had led the way with remote online coaching – with the then country-town based Toomey his first internet client back in 2013. Now he has 30 clients in Australia and other parts of the world, who he mentors via Zoom, What’s App and YouTube.

    Meanwhile, the sport of weightlifting is thriving in Australia, and particularly Queensland which has the most registered lifters of any State in Australia with many of them making the transition from CrossFit.

    In late November, the largest regional championships held in Australia were a great success in the north Queensland city of Townsville, which had to be extended to four days because of the enrolment.

    “I’ve been involved 27 years [as a coach] and it has progressed a lot, especially in Queensland,” said Wydall.

    “There are far more clubs than before, especially in regional areas, the State Championships are now a three-day event because of the number of competitors and people can make a small business out of coaching weightlifters.

    “A lot of that has to do with the popularity of CrossFit, which has brought a lot of people into weightlifting with Matt Swift, one of the founders of the CrossFit sport in Australia, at the forefront. There has been more emphasis [on weightlifting] even in commercial gyms.

    “And there’s a great spirit of mentoring and very good cooperation between clubs and coaches. Everyone wants to see the sport grow and coaching improve.”

    Hannay (lifted in the center) with Burleigh Barbells group
    An hour down the motorway from the Cougars club, Hannay has also seen a constant influx of new clients and emerging competitors at Burleigh Barbells, with many joining him via CrossFit.

    Hannay’s background is fascinating. Born in Zimbabwe, his family moved to Hong Kong when he was six, then to Saudi Arabia for three years and onto Cape Town in South Africa where he attended high school. He later lived in England and the United States, headed to Bali to surf and, from there in 2005, accepted the call from family friends in Australia to explore Down Under. He has been here ever since.

    After “being pummeled by guys half my age” during his Mutai career that saw him win a Queensland title and spend a month in Thailand training and eventually fighting competitively (wife Sarah who herself had more than 50 fights), he leapt into CrossFit due to Sarah’s influence and, in his early 30s, to weightlifting. He still competes occasionally at Masters level but has gathered a reputation strong enough to operate his own club, coaching at one of the few high school weightlifting programs at nearby St Andrews at Tallebudgera and, like Wydall, entering the world of remote online coaching.

    Maddison Power, 17, has already competed at Buenos Aires 2018.
    “We are breaking down a lot of barriers, especially with females who now see being strong and well-built as being attractive, not the image of skinny lithe models,” Hannay said.

    “We’ve had to educate parents on its benefits but if done under qualified sports programs in a strictly controlled environment with the right coaching, weightlifting can be so valuable.

    “Lifting weights has been part of training for other sports for a long time but we are slowly seeing it emerge more as its own stand-alone sport in Australia. The vibe and camaraderie at our club for example is outstanding, and contagious.

    “We have members at our club as young as eight and to those in their 60s.”

    Among them is a family with an extraordinary story – and future.

    Brothers Harper, Asher and young Atticus Manz (yes, all names from the classic 1960s novel/movie To Kill A Mockingbird) have joined father Matthew Manz at Burleigh Barbells. German-born Matthew can clean and jerk over 100kg but his flow chart recording the development of his boys shows they are stronger than he was at their age.

    Harper, 16, Asher, 13, and Atticus, 10 – all home schooled - are multiple Queensland champions and highly competitive at CrossFit as well.

    “They will go places,” delights Hannay. “They have great demeanour and attitude; sometimes I have to slow them down. Atticus often wins the ‘best lift’; he can do well over his body weight – he weighs 28kg and lift and jerk 35kg.”

    It is the remote coaching that is a fascinating development in the sport. He has a bright prospect on his books in 17-year-old Max Toller who competed in the RWF World Cup. He coaches Toller despite him being located almost 1800km away and also mentors a Japanese physiotherapist who used to live on the Gold Coast, and who brings two or three coaches to Australia each year for a week of tuition at Burleigh Barbells.

    Wydall has developed the remote work further since deciding to invest more time into the area since mid-2019. Among the group of 30 he coaches online is a young woman in Afghanistan and another in California. Most, however, are in regional Queensland.

    “Remote coaching was an idea for some extra income as I look towards retirement and it has just accelerated the popularity with COVID-19 happening,” he said.

    “I’ll have Zoom sessions; they will send videos of their training and we do one-on-ones online. I have exercise physiologists and physios working with them remotely as well.

    “By seeing their videos, you’re actually watching closer than if you’re trying to coach 30 people in the gym. Some of my clients might come down three or four times to Brisbane from regional areas for one-on-one coaching which gives us the best of both worlds.

    “Some can’t get into the gym during the times we are open because of work commitments and this works well for them.”

    Content presented by the International Weightlifting Federation

    Written by Neil Cadigan

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