It was an on-going battle for MIYAKE Hiromi, who was suffering from extreme pain in her lower back during the Rio 2016 Games. It was so intense that she was receiving regular injections of painkillers.
Competing in the 48kg category, the 147cm tall weightlifter had failed twice to snatch 81kg – something she was usually able to do – in the final. Hiromi knew that if she failed again then that would be the end of her Olympic dream.
Down in eighth place, she decided to focus all her energy on the clean and jerk event. On her first attempt she managed 105kg, which put her in fourth place. When she tried lifting 107kg to get a possibility of a medal. She failed.
There was only one chance left. Lifting with all her might, the barbell lifted over her head…
It was a success! She snatched a bronze medal.
“The four years between 2012 and 2016 were exhausting; mentally it was a terrible time,” Hiromi said.
“So, when I won that medal, I was so happy. It was my [second] consecutive medal, and I was just glad that the four years of hard work had resulted in a medal.”
The reason she thanked her barbell was because she thought, ‘Maybe this will be my last Olympic Games’.
And Hiromi thought this for a while, but just the thought of Tokyo being just around the corner made her heart beat faster.
“If it wasn’t for Tokyo, I think I would have retired,” she said, “But having the Olympic Games in Tokyo is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so I just have to do it. I don’t want to have any regrets.”
A young woman in love with weightlifting
Hiromi grew up surrounded by weightlifting. Her father MIYAKE Yoshiyuki, Chairman of the Japan Weightlifting Association, was a bronze medallist at the Mexico 1968 Games, and her uncle MIYAKE Yoshinobu was a gold medallist at both Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968. Her two older brothers also compete: MIYAKE Toshihiro is a Japan champion and has been head coach of the Japan women’s team.
However, as a child Hiromi had no interest in weightlifting.
“You just go and lift something heavy and come home. It’s monotonous. Even when I went to watch I wondered what everyone found so interesting.”
She had a change of heart during her third year at junior high school after watching the Sydney 2000 Games.
“I wanted to do something different from other people; I wanted a dream. I was learning the piano, but somehow, I just knew it was not really my thing. So, I was searching for something, and it was at that time that I thought that because my father and uncle are both medallists, maybe I could do it too,” Hiromi said.
Her father Yoshiyuki remembers the time clearly.
“I was shocked. A girl doing weightlifting? Both my family and I opposed the idea. So, we left it for three months. We thought: ‘She’ll give up”. But no. She kept saying that she wanted to do it. ‘You can’t quit. You need to win an Olympic gold medal.’ Those were the conditions I imposed. I said, ‘If you can abide by those rules then I’ll support you all the way’.”
Hiromi started with 15kg and practiced in the kitchen.
London 2012 changed her life
Weightlifting is one of those sports where an athlete can notice progress as they continue to train.
“You see the progress if you look at the weight, so I worked hard every day. There’s no limit to how good you can get, so it’s fun to see just how far you can go,” Hiromi said.
“If you break some records, that’s fun. It’s so motivating because you don’t know how far you can go.”
And that’s what Hiromi did.
At 18-years-old she was selected to represent Japan at the Athens 2004 Games. It meant that two generations of her family had fulfilled their dream of representing Japan at an Olympic Games.
At her second Olympic Games – Beijing 2008 – she placed sixth. However, it was at her third Olympics at London 2012, where she won a silver medal, surpassing the achievements of her father. It was Japan’s first ever medal in women’s weightlifting, and the first time in Japan’s Olympic history that a father and daughter to both won medals.
Battling against injury and pain
Despite standing a mere 147cm tall and weighing just 48kg, Hiromi can lift over 100kg but the strain on her body is unimaginable. Every part of it is screaming. Her knees, her lower back, her legs…there is no end to the places that hurt. Not to mention the stress fracture in her femur and her herniated disc.
If she hears about somewhere promising for treatment, she goes. It doesn’t matter how far it is. At the moment she is travelling between Saitama (an hour away from Tokyo) and Fukuoka (down the bottom of Japan) for treatment as she sets her sights on the stage of the Tokyo International Forum, which is the venue for the weightlifting for Tokyo 2020.
Twenty years since she started weightlifting, the now 34-year-old is set to compete at her fifth Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020. She is on a journey into the unknown, heading into an uncharted territory but she is not alone – and hasn’t been throughout her journey.
For the past two decades, her parents have been part of her athletic journey. Her father had been picking her up from school to take her to training while her mother has made her meals and met nutritional needs, supporting her and helping her to maintain optimum health.
“Because my parents support me, I can continue with this even though I am over the age of 30 now,” Hiromi said.
“He [my father] sometimes tells me he sees dreams of me missing the snatch…he cares for me that much. I want to succeed and lift some really heavy weights so that I can put his heart at rest,” she said as tears welling in her eyes.
She wants to win another medal
With a silver and bronze medal to her name, Hiromi wants to medal once again at Tokyo 2020.
“For the sake of my family, and the staff and coaches that support me with positive words of encouragement, I want to go to the Olympic Games and win the gold medal, the shiniest one of all,” she said.
“But the road to the gold is really going to be a tough one. I’m ready to take the journey to the top.
“If I’m to win in Tokyo, being able to lift 207kg is a must. I’ve never forgotten what it felt like to win, and I’m sure that my muscles remember the weight when I lifted my best, so I believe I can do it [again].”
With a promise to her dad to win gold when she first started weightlifting, all eyes will be on Hiromi as she goes for gold at a home Olympic Games.