Olympic weightlifter Maryse Turcotte
This interview was done for Stumptuous in 1999. Since then, Maryse has built an impressive physique and career. Some of her achievements are listed at the end.
I started weightlifting in December 1990. I was in high school and there was a weightlifting competition happening in my school. The organizer asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer to bring the medals to the winners. So, for the first time of my life I saw what weightlifting was (I had never heard of it before!!! It’s crazy!) Anyway, there was a guy, named Simon Garand, from my school that did the competition and I knew him a bit because he was in my music class. He pushed me to go and try to do weightlifting the next week and I accepted. At my first training I really liked it so I decided to continue and I trained about 3-4 times a week (before my volleyball practice!).
I did my first competition after 2 weeks of training with Simon and a teacher at my school, who was a former weightlifter named Denis Dubreuil. There was a small regional competition in my school and I was allowed to compete. I did 30 kg (66 lbs.) in the snatch and 47.5 kg (107 lbs.) in the clean and jerk, in a bodyweight class of 52 kg (114 lbs.). I was so nervous that I almost threw up.
That’s how I started! In May 1991, there was a competition for 16 years and under and there was a trophy for the best team. We had 4 girls but 5 girls was the requirement for a full team. So, I said to my sister (who was 12 years old, 35 kg [77 lbs.], and mostly bones!!) “Come on, you will complete the team!” That’s how my sister got started in the sport, and she did a lot of competitions with me (almost all). She won medals at the first women’s junior world championship in July 1995, and she is one of the best junior Canadian woman that has ever done weightlifting. Now she is pregnant (she’s 20 years old) so I think that will end her career for now, but she still trains with light weight and will probably referee or coach for a while.
I am sad that I won’t have my sister any more with me in competition for the warm up. In Quebec, all the weightlifters called us the “Turcotte sisters”. That was our name! We have a lot of souvenirs from the training camp, the competition, travel… It’s very special to be in a sport with my sister; a lot of people ask us if we competed against one another. The answer is NO! Well, yes we competed at the same time, in the same place, but we were not in the same bodyweight class (she is a 48 kg [106 lbs.] class and I am 59 kg [130 lbs.]) and she is younger than me by 3 years, so it wasn’t a real competition. Even by the Sinclair formula, which is the way we compare two weightlifters that have different bodyweight classes (example: in the 58 kg class, if I do 200kg total, a girl in the 48 kg class needs 170 kg total to beat me), me and my sister never compared each other with that formula: it is not important at all to know that I do X points Sinclair more than my sister. The important thing is to say “Let’s go” to each other at the competition and in training and, to try to beat our personal best.
Anyway, after that competition where my sister came to complete the team, we took a break for the summer. I quit volleyball and in September, there was an ex-athlete that wanted to coach so me and my sister had an official and serious coach, named Éric Gosselin. Thus it was in September 1991 that I seriously started to train with a training program and a coach. I never stopped after that date; I trained 4 times a week for the first year, 5 times weekly after that, and now, I train minimum 6 times a week (8-9 in summer).
I “graduated” in competition, doing all the steps that I had to do: I started provincial competition for junior, national for junior, provincial for senior, and so on. I injured myself one time in competition: at the junior Canadian championship in 1993 (I hurt my right elbow by trying to hold the bar in the snatch that was too far behind me, and that I should had dropped). It took about 6 week before I did snatch again but after that, it was ok.
Since 1992, I have been dating Pierre Bergeron Jr., a weightlifter from another town, who was also starting to be involved as a coach in weightlifting. He started to coach me in 1994 because my other coach, Éric was working a lot and had less and less time to be involved in weightlifting. By the way, all the coaches and referees in Canada for weightlifting are volunteers. Anyway, Pierre still coaches me (and we are still together!), and he is probably the best coach in Canada. I say that because he has the strongest weight club in our country (best female and best male lifters in Canada plus other very good athletes). He is the one that brought me to where I am, and he aided me in refining the foundational skills that Éric helped me develop.
I did my first international competition in April 1994. It was an American championship, and I didn’t have a good day because I was too nervous!
My junior career ended in December 1995. To be a junior weightlifter you need to be 20 and under and I was born in 1975 so… 1995 was an important year: I competed at the Canada games (first in the 54 kg [118 lbs.] class with 152.5 kg [335.5 lbs.] total), I did my first senior world championship in China, scoring 6th position in the 50 kg (110 lbs.) class with 150 kg (330 lbs.) total. Overall in my junior career, my best lifts were, in the 50 kg (110 lbs.) class: 67.5 kg (149 lbs.)in the snatch, and 92.5 kg (204 lbs.) in the clean and jerk, for a total of 160 kg (353 lbs.).
In 1996, I had to improve my Canadian ranking by the Sinclair formula, which I mentioned above, because that’s the way to select a team for the big competitions. I was fourth in Canada in 1996 but I was improving because I moved to a heavier weight class (54kg [118 lbs.] instead of 50 kg [110 lbs.]).
I did my second world championship in May 1996 in Poland, and came 5th in the 54 kg (118 lbs.) class with 165 kg (363 lbs.) total. I won the best female athlete as ranked by the Sinclair formula (the most prestigious title in weightlifting in Canada), at the Canadian championship in 1997 (54 kg class with 180kg [396 lbs.] total).
So, in Thailand, at the 1997 world championship in December, I was fighting for a medal in the clean and jerk but I did 110 kg (242 lbs.) and missed getting the medal. I wasn’t that down because at that competition, I became the first North American woman to clean and jerk double her bodyweight. I finished fifth again in the 54kg class with 187.5 kg total (412.5 lbs.).
In April 1998, I finished second, at the first College and University World Championship in Israel, with 200kg (440 lbs.) total in the 58 kg (128 lbs.) class (I moved up another weight class in 1998). Finally, to end my career story, I won, for the second year in a row, the title of the best female athlete according to the Sinclair formula at the Canadian championship in 1998 with 192,5 kg (430 lbs.) total in the 58kg class. In November 1998 I won my first medal at the senior World Championship in Finland with a clean and jerk of 115kg (253 lbs.) in the 58 kg class. I finished fourth in total with 200kg (at the World Championships, they give medals for the snatch, clean & jerk, and total but at the Olympic games, only in the total).
Now I am training for the second world College and University championship, to be held May 1999, in Japan, and the Pan-American games that will be held in summer 1999. Afterwards, I will compete at the senior World Championship in Greece, in November. That’s where Canada’s team will have to rank high enough to qualify for a place in the Olympic games.
For now, my best lifts are 87.5 kg (192.5 lbs.) in the snatch and 117.5 kg (258.5 lbs.)in the clean and jerk (205 kg [451 lbs.] total), which I did at the Quebec Senior Championship in October 1998.
I just want to mention some other things that weightlifting brings to my life; well, there are a lot but I will try to be brief!
First, parents are usually afraid of allowing their kids to start to do weightlifting, or other weight sports. That makes me a little bit mad because there is nothing bad in those weight sports if there is a good coach that knows the safety rules for beginner training. People think that they know what weightlifting is, and the only things they can say about it are usually negative things, like it stops kids’ growth, weightlifters all take steroids, it injures the back, it is not good for one’s health. The truth is that those people know absolutely nothing about weight training. They have just heard comments somewhere and they think that they know what weightlifting is. But if you ask them to describe the training of a weightlifter, they won’t be able to say a word!
Anyway, I always say to little kids whose parents don’t want them to do weightlifting (especially the girls) to invite them to talk to the coach and to assist in training in the club. 100% of the time, they feel a lot better after and they agree that weightlifting doesn’t create monsters (I think I look great! And the same goes for every athletes in the club, elite, beginner, girls or boys).
Intelligent weightlifting is good for everybody. I agree that there is some people who ruined their life because of too much training with too heavy a workload, or because of steroids. First, most people who overtrain (sometimes you have to take a rest you know!) and have had injuries are athletes who didn’t know how to train correctly. I only had two major injuries in 8 years of elite training in weightlifting. Most of the people who have had bad experiences of weight training are not even good athletes. Good athletes don’t ruin their life; on the contrary, they have a better life with that sport. Second, people who have health problems because they took steroids or other things obviously don’t have problems because of the sport, but because of drug abuse. Don’t stigmatize the weight training! In my club, we are doing a big promotion about the fact that we don’t want anybody in our federation (not only in our club but in all of Canada) who wants to cheat and take stuff that is supposed to make people stronger.
It can be very difficult to change people’s mind about weight training. But I hope the 2000 Olympic games will persuade girls that woman weightlifters look great.
Weightlifting has helped me to become a very organized person. I am able to have good marks at school and to perform in competition because I am a well-disciplined person, due to weightlifting.
My sport has also enabled me to travel around the world, to meet people in competition, to develop a team spirit, and to improve my self-confidence and my concentration capacity.
As I continue to train over a period of years, my body is has gotten more sculpted but I will never look like a bodybuilder because my sport doesn’t encourage people to look like that. We just want to lift more! Bodybuilding is different and maybe I will try it after my weightlifting career. I am very impressed by the looks of female bodybuilders.
To conclude, there are few disadvantages to doing weight sports. In weightlifting, the only bad thing is when you can’t improve anymore! When you start, the weight that you can lift improves quickly but with the years, it is more and more difficult to improve. You have to work harder and harder just to lift 2.5 kg (6 lbs.) more at the clean and jerk, for example. If you train for fun, this is not a big deal; you can easily live with that! But if you are an elite athlete who wants to be the best… it can be a big problem, particularly in mental terms, because you have to push yourself to train with the same weight that you were lifting last year!
Weightlifting is my life for now (I eat well, I go to bed early at night, I don’t drink, etc.) because I want to have the best chance to be the best. After my career of competition, I will never be able to completely stop doing weight training.
For me, it is the best way to feel healthy, to feel your muscles working, and to feel good in your body.
Pan Am Games: Maryse took gold in the 58 kg class.
2000 Olympics: Maryse took 4th place in the first women’s weightlifting event in the Olympics, again in the 58 kg class.
2004 Olympics: Maryse placed 11th in the 58kg class with a final lift total of 210kg (463 lbs).
2005 World Championships: 7th place in 53 kg class.
2006 Commonwealth Games: 15th place in 53 kg class.
Maryse retired from competition in May 2008 at age 33 to pursue a career in geriatrics. “I had a great career. I could not have asked for better.” She announced her retirement after completing a meet where she competed in the 48 kg class with a 63 kg snatch and a 91 kg clean and jerk. For now, she remains Canada’s most successful weightlifter.