Interview with an Olympian | Q&A with Weightlifter and QSMC client, Brandon Wakeling
Only 2 days to go! The largest Australian Weightlifting team since the Sydney Games in 2000 was announced to compete in Tokyo. We sat down and spoke with Brandon Wakeling in the lead up to his first Olympic appearance. He’s representing Australia in the Men’s 73kg Weightlifting competition. He’ll be kicking off his Olympic campaign on Wednesday 28th July.
When did you first get involved in Weightlifting?
I got involved in the last quarter of 2015 after playing rugby for about 16 years. I was a big commercial gym goer at the time. I loved training and had friends who were involved in it so I just tagged along to mix it up from my usual gym stuff. I ended up having a bit of a knack for weightlifting. That following year, after I stopped playing rugby league, I picked up weightlifting. I would have been 21 at the time and I’m 27 now.
What age do most people start weightlifting?
If we’re talking internationally, from quite a young age, as with any other sport. But I guess in Australia not as young. Although I have coached kids as young as 8 years old.
When did you realise you wanted to take up Weightlifting professionally?
So I started at the end of 2015, in 2016 I did it as a hobby and competed in it just for fun. I graduated from uni in 2016 and had actually ended up with a fairly good ranking in the country. So I decided before I entered the workforce that I would spend 2017 training full-time for the Commonwealth Games taking place in 2018. I just worked odd jobs here and there. I worked at a bottle o on the weekends and as a cleaner at a pub 3 mornings a week. In between that I was training twice a day for the majority of that year and ended up making the Commonwealth Games. I’ve pretty much stayed on course since then.
Have you competed in many tournaments since then, or been able to compete during covid?
Pre-covid I did two world championships. I also won the pacific games in 2019 and have been able to do a couple Oceania championships. Since then not so much, obviously with there being covid. I was able to do one low key comp last year that was in Brisbane.
How important is looking after your body to your performance?
Massively. When I played rugby league I didn’t take care of my body at all. I guess that’s a general thing in rugby league, just strapping tape and deep heat. When I started weightlifting I couldn’t even perform a snatch because I didn’t even have the mobility to be able to do it. I had to start taking care of my body, looking into stretching and sorting out professionals, like Shane, to help make sure I can not only perform but have a sustainable career.
Has this [looking after your body] had a massive impact on your career?
Yeh massively, massively. Without it there’s no way I’d be at the level I am now.
So there’s five athletes in the Olympic team for weightlifting, 4 of you train at Cougars Weightlifting Club. How long have you been with them?
2 to 3 months going into the 2018 Commonwealth Games my former club closed down so I had no club and was just training wherever I could. Once I was in the Commonwealth Games camp, Miles (one of the coaches from Cougars), told me to go and try out their club after the games. So as soon as I finished there, I signed up with them. It’s been a few years now.
What’s been some of the biggest highlights of your career?
I would have to say competing at the Commonwealth Games was one. In Weightlifting we have a grading system for the country. So at the top we have elite grade, A grade, B grade and so on to qualify for certain competitions. When you hit B grade you’re in the Australian squad, A squad world champs and so on. So I was the first guy to hit the elite grade out of all the males. And 2 more have hit that since then. So that was a big goal of mine, that total last year. This was at the same time the Olympics were supposed to be last year. That and competing at the Commonwealth games with all my friends and family watching was great. Usually we compete in random countries so it can be really hard to get people to come watch.
Do you have a favourite location or country you like competing at?
Preferably I’d always choose Australia. In 2019 I went to maybe 5 different countries and in 2018 I did a few as well. In terms of competition quality, Turkmenistan was very good. For one of their comps, which was the Indoor Asian Martial Arts Games, they spent more money on that than Rio did on the Olympics Games. They’re very wealthy too. That was probably one of the best ones, apart from hosting the Commonwealth Games.
Is this your first Olympics?
Yes it is. I only really started out in weightlifting when Rio was on. I am the second Indigenous Olympian to represent Australia in weightlifting. At the Sydney 2000, Anthony Martin was a super heavyweight. It feels great to continue the representation.
In 2018 and 2019 you travelled overseas quite a bit, how did you find being at home and training?
Way better. I competed and travelled way too much, during the qualification period it was so condensed with high level competitions that your body wouldn’t get the chance to recover and have an adequate training block to lead into another competition. It was just compete, compete, compete and then my body was tapping out in that second half block. Then once covid hit and I got to just train at home and rebuild without any competitions, that’s what led into my best competition halfway through the year.
Have you set yourself specific goals for the games?
No, not at all. I guess in the grand scheme of things the numbers I hit at this event don’t matter so I guess it’s just trying to enjoy myself; which I rarely get to do at competitions because there’s always a specific goal that I put a lot of pressure on getting.
Next year at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games you’ll go for gold?
Yeh, I want to win that medal. So typically for the Olympics for Australia, making the event is a big deal for us because a lot of these other countries and the numbers they’re lifting are just insane, you can’t even comprehend the weight they lift. So when we go to the Commonwealth Games that’s where we win our medals.
Who is the number one contender in your weight division?
Shi Zhiyong from China. In competition he snatched 169kg and he’s clean and jerked 200kg. And he’s done more in training. Pound for pound he is one of the best out of all the weight classes together.
What does the rest of your preparation look like? There must be about a month left now until you compete?
Yeh, well now I really need to start ramping it up again. Obviously I’ve had random injuries like my finger that have put me back a little bit. I crushed one of my fingers in training back in March. I was doing a push press on jerk blocks and one side fell off. Then the bar hit the block on the way down with my finger in between them. From the nail up, it squashed my finger completely so I had to get plastic surgery. It was a very frantic Monday morning to say the least. And I had surgery on it that night.
How did that set you back in training?
Oh massively, that took a long time. It basically took out all my conditioning, and I couldn’t train for about a month. For a few weeks I couldn’t even move my fingers. I also couldn’t grip the bar for a long time. But once the wound healed up and it wasn’t an open wound then it got better.
Are you excited for the Olympics? What are you looking forward to the most?
Yeh! Ever since I was a kid I actually wanted to go to the Olympics for long jump. That was my big plan when I was a kid. Rugby League and Little Athletics I did as a kid from the age of 6. Even at Christmas time, my present was that my parents dug a long jump pit in our backyard.
Will you follow or watch any other sports, apart from Weightlifting?
Everything! Back when I was younger I’d watch anything – whatever was on TV. Mostly track and field. The 100m sprint would be the event I’d want to go see.
Don’t forget to tune in when Brandon slips into the green and gold on Wednesday 28th July!