Erika Yamasaki remains the only Australian woman in history to clean and jerk double her body weight, lifting 106 kilograms.
Despite holding more than a dozen national records, Yamasaki is yet to realise her dream of becoming an Olympian.
The 32-year-old, who is based in Brisbane, currently sits in top qualifying position for Tokyo 2020 in the 55kg and 59kg weight categories, with just two competitions remaining to secure a qualifying spot.
“Anything can happen between now and the end of April,” she said.
For the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, the results on the road to Tokyo 2020 have been nothing but positive, but her experience leading into the Rio qualifications were anything but.
“Once the qualification period started, things fell apart — I had so many injuries and nothing went to plan,” Yamasaki said.
“I’m just trying to make sure I don’t get injured this time and trying to make sure that I do the things that I need to still get to the Olympics in one shape.”
Japanese father shares Olympic dream
Yamasaki also describes the possibility of competing in Tokyo like a home game of sorts.
Her father was born and raised in Tottori in Japan and was also an elite athlete, representing Australia in gymnastics.
“It’s always been a dream of his to go to the Olympics … we’ve always kind of together dreamed about getting there for me,” Yamasaki said.
“Even though I was born and raised here in Australia, I know that Japan will also feel like a second home.”
‘Adrenaline and the fire’ of weightlifting
Yamasaki started her competitive career as a gymnast but “fell into weightlifting” almost 20 years ago and was hooked immediately.
“Past sports that I’ve done — diving, gymnastics, baseball, trampolining — I would go out there, I would try to compete and I’d just stuff something up and everything would fall to pieces. For me, weightlifting just works,” she said.
“The adrenaline and the fire that I get just standing out there, it’s something that’s really hard to find anywhere else.”
Yamasaki will compete at two more international weightlifting meets between now and April, with her four best results from the last six competitions contributing to the qualification rankings.
“The top eight in the world, plus the number one in each continental region, will be selected and get to compete in Tokyo,” she said.
“So I’m siting in number one for both weight classes, so I feel really good leading into these last two events.
“You just never know what might happen towards the end, so I still need to stay on top of my game and hopefully still produce some really good results.”
‘She was a tiny little thing’
Her coach, Angie Wydall — a former weightlifting champion — met Yamasaki 19 years ago and said it was remarkable the 32-year-old was still pulling out personal bests after two decades in the physically and mentally taxing sport.
“She was a tiny little thing when she started and it was immediately obvious she was very talented,” Ms Wydall said.
“She’d done some gymnastics before — she was lovely and flexible, very well coordinated.”
Ms Wydall recalls a time earlier in Yamasaki’s career when females were not widely accepted as professional weightlifters.
“People were saying ‘oh, women shouldn’t do weightlifting, they’ll damage themselves’ — it’s all changed now,” she said.
Yamasaki said the sport had gradually moved away from being so male dominant.
“As the years have progressed, it’s a lot more socially acceptable for a female to have some sort of muscle and be strong and be confident,” Yamasaki said.
Confidence on the platform has never been an issue for Yamasaki — in fact, under pressure is where she thrives.
“You just know that all that hard work that you’ve been doing for so long has come to those six lifts on the platform, six minutes, and hopefully you can walk away with some sort of success.”
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