It’s not every day you get to compete with Damon Kelly and Itte Detenamo

Here in Darwin, we host the biennial sports festival called the Arafura Games. At this year’s games, the weightlifting competition also included the Oceania and South Pacific championships.

As a resident of the Northern Territory, I was able to qualify for the weightlifting competition in the +105kg (super heavyweight) division.

Also entered in the competition were Damon Kelly, Australia’s Commonwealth gold medallist, and Itte Detenamo, the man Kelly beat for the gold in a thrilling contest in Delhi.

While this meant I didn’t expect to come even vaguely close to winning in such a phenomenal field of lifters, I was looking forward to lifting alongside them and representing my home state.

On Sunday, disaster struck. I began a training session at the end of a weekend coaching course. The course involved many hours of practical work drilling the snatch, clean and jerk progressions and I was physically and mentally exhausted. During the training session I felt a sharp sudden pain in my lower left back. I knew from experience that I had possibly hurt myself quite badly.

I decided that I wanted to compete, no matter what. Even if I had to lift an empty bar I wanted to compete. I saw physiotherapists on Monday, Wednesday and today (Friday). I was finally diagnosed as having a bulged disc in my lower spine – a minor herniation. On Monday I was in a lot of pain, and after standing for most of Tuesday I was in terrible pain on Wednesday. On advice from a physio, I went home and stayed in bed almost constantly for 2 nights and a day — and today I was able to walk and move almost without pain.

The physiotherapist I saw today pre-contest said he was surprised at how quickly I’ve healed, given that spinal discs have almost zero bloodflow. I credit the recovery to my weightlifting training.

And so it was that today, after having trouble walking, standing or sitting for almost a week, I was able to complete the competition.

My big shock this morning was discovering that under the IWF rules, I must declare opening lifts high enough that the total would be within 20kg of my qualifying total. My qualifying total was 170kg, which meant I would need to have snatch + c&j of 150kg or better declared at weigh-in. This was a shock as I had originally planned to make one token lift for each event.

I went down to warmup feeling apprehensive. Snatches were a bit painful at first, but by modifying my form to a Papuan style, I was able to lift without pain. However I had to powersnatch as overhead squatting began to hurt my back.

My opening snatch was 65kg and felt like it weighed nothing. I decided to change my plan and try for 70kg. It felt easy too — no pain. Almost a military snatch. Finally I took 80kg and lifted it without too much effort. My competition PB in the snatch is 110kg.
Next were C&Js. I had a lot of time to rest while the stronger lifters ran through their attempts. I started warming up. Because of the lower back injury, I switched from split jerks to power jerks. Again, squatting down in the receiving position caused pain, so I concentrated on powercleaning.

I started with 85kg, which again felt easy. Then I went to 95kg, and a small drama occurred. While cleaning the bar my left hand slipped clear off during the receive. I couldn’t pull my hand back by itself to get back under the bar. Remembering the rules about C&J, I decided to shrug the bar off my shoulders to reset the left hand — and succeeded. I was told later by some experienced weightlifters that they had never seen anyone recover from that situation before. I power jerked it successully. Finally I cleaned and jerked 105kg. (My PB is 131kg).

I had originally approached this competition hoping to lift 120kg/140kg, and I think that I would have made it easily but for the injury. The enforced bed rest meant that I went into the competition fully recovered and feeling fresh, apart from the soreness, niggles and occasional spike of pain.

By focusing on my form I was easily able to power snatch, power clean and power jerk my way to 6 lifts out of 6, with 3 white lights all the way. While the total lifted is a personal worst, in many ways this is the competitive effort I am the most proud of.

After I finished up, I got to watch Itte Detenamo smash 5 Commonwealth weightlifting records, including snatch, clean & jerk and total. He’s now the strongest man in the Commonwealth and the strongest man in Oceania. It was a thrill to watch because I, despite injury, despite not being a jot on these mighty lifters, got to compete on the same stage with them, on an equal footing. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

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4 Responses to It’s not every day you get to compete with Damon Kelly and Itte Detenamo

  1. tigtog says:

    Goodness, no wonder you’ve been quiet this week!

    It’s mentally very difficult to do bed rest properly when you’ve got a competition like that looming. Good for you.

  2. Jacques Chester says:


  3. Henry2 says:

    Hi JC,

    “I decided that I wanted to compete, no matter what.”

    I understand that its your sport and your back, but Im glad you didnt damage yourself further in attempting those lifts.

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