Canadian weightlifter Maude Charron has been preparing her entire life for what became her gold medal moment at the Tokyo Olympics — just not quite in the way one might expect.
The Rimouski, Que., native once had dreams of becoming a circus performer and competed as a gymnast for most of her childhood. She then transitioned into crossfit before a coach introduced her to her current sport, which she has been practising for six years now.
That may not sound like the typical journey for a future Olympic champion who managed to lift 131 kilograms over her head. But Charron doesn’t regret any of it.
“Every aspect of it helped me to achieve that moment,” she told Global News over Zoom from Japan. “I’m glad of my weird road to here.”
The 28-year-old finished first in the women’s 64-kilogram competition Tuesday after a successful lift of 131 kilograms on her third and final clean and jerk attempt.
Charron also had the highest score in the snatch phase, lifting 105 kilograms, contributing to a combined total of 236 kilograms. Her excited and tearful reactions to her win and at the medal ceremony were widely shared on social media.
Two days later, Charron says she’s still processing the emotions she felt upon securing her win and getting to hear the Canadian anthem from the top of the podium.
“My grandma wished me once to sing the anthem, and now I just sang it on the Olympic podium,” she said.
“So many things happened in my head during that. I still have chills, and it’s still hot here (in Japan), but yeah, a lot of emotion that I still cannot process.”
Someone else Charron was thinking of was Christine Girard, another Quebec native and the last Canadian to win the gold in weightlifting at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
Girard’s journey to that medal was also not typical, though much more devastating than Charron’s. Girard was originally awarded the bronze, but Olympic officials later stripped the gold and silver from Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan and Russia’s Svetlana Tsarukaeva after both women tested positive for banned substances.
It wasn’t until 2018 when Girard was finally elevated to the gold, without the customary ceremony that Charron got to experience.
“I thought about her all along during the competition,” Charron said.
“After the snatch portion, I was in the lead and I told myself, ‘I hope I will win the medal for her,’ because in some ways it’s kind of her gold medal as well.”
Girard’s experience has inspired Charron to join the fight to eliminate doping in sport and ensure a level playing field for herself and her fellow competitors.
She says improved testing and scrutiny at these Games — where Russia has been barred from competing under its own flag and name due to a string of doping scandals — gives her hope things are moving in the right direction.
“In my group, out of 10 (athletes), eight were tested right after the competition,” she noted. “We’re going where we need to get to, to clean sport.”
Pandemic training pays off
Charron’s clean sport mindset has prepared her for what is shaping up to be her best year yet. Her Olympic gold came just three months after another gold at April’s Pan American championships.
The year leading up to Tokyo was challenging, however, as the postponement of the 2020 Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced Charron to dig deep in order to stay in top form.
“It was hard to stay motivated,” she said. “We didn’t know if we would need to qualify again, what will happen with our points. So it was hard to get up out of bed and get the work done without knowing what’s next.”
Unable to go to her usual gym, Charron set up a makeshift training space in her father’s garage in Rimouski, which she shared with her dog. She covered the walls with inspirational quotes and a whiteboard with a countdown to the Games.
It turned out to be exactly what she needed.
“Just being in my hometown close to my friends and with my dog in that garage, I felt like I was in a safe environment and it was a great place for me mentally,” she said.
It was another unconventional approach that has paid off for the new Olympic champion, who always had faith she’d make it to sport’s biggest stage somehow.
“I just found another way to go,” she said.