Numbers stacking up for Yamasaki
They perform superhuman feats of strength for a living, but the battle for weightlifters is all mental according to Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Erika Yamasaki.
It’s mental toughness that has steered her 17-year career in the sport, starting from when she was scouted as a 13-year-old in a talent identification program at school.
At just 150cm, the softly spoken Yamasaki is unassuming – until she’s in the gym or preparing for competition.
Her kind eyes take on a steely determination. Her bright smile becomes firm in concentration. She lets out a warrior-like yell before every attempt.
The contrast is stark, yet completely authentic. Watching her in action, it’s almost as though weightlifter Yamasaki is just the outward expression of an internal, unbreakable strength.
This strength is essential but weightlifters carry huge emotional pressure on their shoulders.
“Weightlifting is 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent strength,” Yamasaki told GC2018.com.
“You only get six attempts, so really it’s six minutes you get out there on that platform to produce the best numbers you can.
“To get that one chance to lift a certain number, it means a lot to each athlete that’s out there.
“You can see the heartbreak when someone misses. And just as much, you can see the excitement when someone gets the lift that they need to win the gold medal.
“It’s a very emotional sport.”
Before she took up weightlifting, Yamasaki was competing in trampolining and gymnastics and while she knew she wanted to compete in elite sport, she wouldn’t have guessed weightlifting would be the event she was destined to leave her mark.
“Weightlifting grew on me initially. When I first started, it was a lot different to what I was used to doing,” she said.
“Both my parents had a massive gymnastics background. As funny as weightlifting is very different to gymnastics, they were actually both very encouraging for me to just choose a sport I loved doing myself.”
Six years later, she won bronze at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. It was an experience she never expected at 18.
“It was definitely one of the biggest highlights of my life,” she said.
“When [the announcers] would say my name, or say Australia, the crowd would roar and it just gave me goosebumps every time.”
Young and still new to the sport, Yamasaki marched in the Closing Ceremony as her career was just getting started.
But the past 17 years haven’t been without challenges. The success and accomplishments have been interspersed with injury and illness threatening to end the GC2018 Weightlifting ambassador’s career.
At the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, Yamasaki was on her way to another medal before being forced to withdraw after injuring her elbow during the warm up.
In 2015, she became the only Australian female weightlifter to clean and jerk double her body weight. Just months later, she suffered bulging discs in her lower back.
Yamasaki says as an elite athlete, having your body fighting against you can be unbearable.
“Being sick or having external factors that affect how you’re feeling; it makes things really difficult,” she said.
“Weightlifting is such a mental sport and so even having a thick head from being sick or a head cold, you can’t focus as well as you can normally and it just takes over.”
“I love being on the platform. I’ve been on many competition stages and for some reason, nerves [usually] get the better of me but when it comes to weightlifting, they don’t.
“I just feed off it. I am in my zone and I just enjoy the idea of the sport and what it’s about, and I just love competing.
“That’s what’s kept me around for so long.”
As well as her love of competition, the never-ending nature of weightlifting can become addictive. After all, you can always lift heavier.
“There’s really no end to weightlifting,” she said.
“You’re always going to have another goal, there’s always another kilo you can add on the bar.”
Preparing the body to lift such heavy weights takes commitment and self-discipline. Yamasaki trains five times per week, for up to three hours at a time. Sometimes, she trains twice per day.
She also works full time in finance.
“There’s not a lot of time to play with, and it’s very full on and there’s a lot of commitment and sacrifice that comes along with it.
“Talent does come into it but it’s also about the commitment and how much you want it.”
And when a weightlifter is on the platform, self-belief and ‘wanting it’ becomes more important than anything else.
“As soon as you tell yourself it’s going to be too heavy, you’re not going to get it.
“You need to believe that there’s a possibility and you need to give it your all to make sure you’re going to get it above head. Otherwise, you’ve already given up.”
With GC2018 approaching, Yamasaki isn’t ready to put down the bar yet.
Her experience in Melbourne 11 years ago gave her a taste of a home crowd Games, which has made her want GC2018 even more.
“[After Melbourne], I realised that I had been to one of the best Commonwealth Games that I would ever go to, being my home country.
“So when I found out it was on the Gold Coast, it was even better. Home state.
“For all of us Aussies, it’s going to be the biggest highlight of our careers.”
With all her medals and records, to Yamasaki, it feels like she’s still got something to prove.
“I really want to be able to show Australia that my time’s not up. I’m still here and I’m still going to come back and I want to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games next year.”
“I know I can do it. I know I haven’t reached my full potential.”
She speaks with such conviction; you know she’s right.
Memories will last, but tickets won't. Secure your seats for weightlifting.