As Maude Charron pressed the 131-kilogram barbell above her head with all her might, locked her elbows, and steadied her legs, a euphoric expression spread across her face.
She dropped the massive bar and cupped her hands over her mouth, truly amazed. She knew that final clean and jerk attempt was big – so big that no other weightlifter in the Olympic competition could catch her.
On Tuesday in Tokyo, the 28-year-old from Rimouski, Que., was crowned Olympic champion in a sport she began just six years ago after excelling first in gymnastics, circus arts and CrossFit.
Ms. Charron won Olympic gold in the women’s 64-kilogram class after lifting 105 kilograms in the snatch and 131 kilograms in the clean and jerk for a total lift of 236 kilograms. Next best was silver medalist Giorgia Bordignon of Italy and bronze medalist Wen-Huei Chen of Taiwan.
Ms. Charron is Canada’s second Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting, after Christine Girard won in the 63-kilogram division at the London 2012 Olympics. Both women are strong advocates for clean play in a sport that has had issues with doping.
Ms. Charron began weightlifting after a fascinating athletic journey. She started out as a gymnast, then did two years of full-time training as an acrobat at the École de Cirque de Québec, a circus school. She spent her days in classes for dance, flexibility and trampoline. She could do the Russian barre: a circus act in which two strong men hold the ends of a flexible balance beam and repeatedly catapult a woman high into the air as she performs flips and twists. She performed in live shows.
A demo reel on YouTube shows Ms. Charron’s many high-flying talents. But the circus training lifestyle was hard on the body; she was always suffering injuries. So she left the school to study business management at the University of Quebec in Rimouski. She misses the circus, but knows many aspects of her leaping, flipping sports have contributed to her weightlifting success.
“In gymnastics I learned to deal with stress,” Ms. Charron said on Tuesday in Tokyo. “Then, in circus, well it was all about the show. You’re the only one on stage and you have to entertain the crowd. Same thing here. I’m alone on the stage and have to entertain the crowd.”
From CrossFit, she learned to lift.
“That’s where I learned I was pretty strong,” she said.
Friends around her were competing at CrossFit, and she wanted in. She joined CrossFit Rimouski at 19 years old. She progressed quickly, and eventually caught the eye of a weightlifting coach. Ever since, she has been impressing people with how much she can put on the bar.
She entered her first weightlifting competition in September, 2015, and competed at her first nationals five months later.
She first stood on an international podium for weightlifting in 2016, when she won bronze in the 63-kilogram category at the FISU World University Championships, a little more than a year after she started in the sport.
She followed with more promising results: In 2018, she won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, as well as the 2018 World University Championships. In 2019, she was fourth in the 64-kilogram event at the Pan Am Games in Lima, sixth at the IWF World Championships, and took gold at the IWF Grand Prix in Lima.
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Her idea of what a female body should look like has changed along with her sports, she says. As a gymnast, she felt she should be thin.
“I wish someone would have said to me at that age, you know, eating is good for you, having muscle is good for you,” Ms. Charron told The Globe and Mail in an interview back in March. “With more muscle you can jump higher, you can spin faster.”
The pandemic interrupted her Olympic weightlifting training routine, but she didn’t let it slow her down. She moved equipment into her dad’s garage in Rimouski when facilities were closed. It was cold in there, so she added heaters and insulation and kept on training.
All of her work and diverse athletic talents came together in her gold-medal performance in Tokyo.
She strategized to choose the right weights, and was able to shake off her missed attempts, regain her composure and improve as she progressed through the competition.
“Maude shows that there’s a place for everyone in this sport, women and men alike,” said Craig Walker, president of the Canadian Weightlifting Federation and its team leader in Tokyo. “You don’t have to be one type of person or one type of athlete to excel. She’s been unflappable since she entered the sport. The weights she chose to lift, and her mental game on the platform, it all came together tonight.”
It was Canada’s second gold medal of the games, after swimmer Maggie Mac Neil’s victory in the women’s 100-metre butterfly on Monday.
That makes it eight medals for Canada so far, the most ever for the country through four days at a Summer Olympics, improving upon the seven earned in the first four days of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
When the medal was presented to Ms. Charron, she took a moment to really stare at it.
“Just to make sure that it’s real.”
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