Canadian weightlifter Maude Charron ready for new chapter at Commonwealth Games
Olympic champ leads 14-member weightlifting team in Birmingham, England
It's an exciting time for weightlifting in Canada.
Riding a wave of momentum created by Maude Charron's gold-medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, the sport is soaring to new heights. Charron delivered Canada's first Olympic weightlifting medal since 2012, and her success has created a ripple effect by generating more support and interest.
"We have a great future in weightlifting," Charron told CBC Sports. "After the Olympics, Canadian weightlifting has had more support and more attention, which helps a lot for our development and for the next generation."
Charron leads Canada's 14-member weightlifting team this month at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England — where she will be looking to return atop the podium after winning gold in 2018 on the Gold Coast of Australia.
Canada boasts a strong team that features four other Tokyo Olympians, along with some exciting newcomers. Canada has eight women and six men competing from July 30 to Aug. 4 at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre. Charron is competing in the women's 64-kilogram weight class.
"Everyone is in shape. Everyone is excited for this awesome competition; it's going to be a good one," Charron said.
The team includes three other medallists from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with fellow Olympians Boady Santavy (96kg), Rachel Leblanc-Bazinet (55kg) and Tali Darsigny (59kg) also looking to get back on the podium. Santavy's resume also includes a silver medal at last year's world championships.
WATCH | Charron claims gold at 2018 Commonwealth Games:
But the weightlifting competition in Birmingham will also provide a look at some rising Canadians who signify a major shift for the overall makeup of the national team.
"We have an interesting new generation. In the past, Quebec was one of the most dominant provinces in Canada in weightlifting, and now it's kind of changing," Charron said. "Other provinces are getting stronger and getting more coaches, and their development is getting better and better. So now we're seeing a more diverse team.
"Normally, maybe 80 per cent of the team was from Quebec, but now it's like half of the team is from Quebec and the rest is from everywhere in Canada, which is really awesome."
Weightlifting Canada Haltérophilie is targeting four to six medals in Birmingham, including three gold. Canada placed fifth overall in the standings in 2018 with five medals, with Charron's being the lone gold.
While having success on the Olympic stage can be one of the greatest moments of an athlete's life, it can also bring added pressure and stress — something Charron has had to overcome since Tokyo.
Charron had a major gut-check moment after winning gold last summer, and she can't help but feel a little nervous entering the Commonwealth Games under the weight of added expectations.
"It makes me nervous a bit. I feel like people are expecting Olympians to do well when we get back, but it's totally different," Charron said.
Charron opened up about the pressure that comes along with being an Olympic champion, while adding that she is happy to just turn the page and move forward in a new Olympic cycle.
"You win a medal for your country, so then people are kind of taking a part of your win with them. So you're not just a champion, you're their champion," Charron said. "That was a shock to me to feel like I'm not owning myself anymore. It took me a while to process it, and I'm still processing it right now; I have help with dealing with that."
In her comfort zone
But Charron is truly in her element when she's competing, allowing her to rise above her nerves and return to a feeling of familiarity. She said she is excited to compete at the Commonwealth Games again after having such a great experience four years ago.
Charron also set a Games record in the clean and jerk by lifting 122kg in her breakout 2018 performance.
"I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be great. My last experience at the Commonwealth Games in Australia was really awesome," Charron said. "It's one of my favourite experiences ever, so I feel like these will be the same
The Commonwealth Games will also have added significance for Charron, as her family will be in attendance to see her do what she does best.
"I'm really excited about that because they were supposed to come for the Olympics, and a big part of my disappointment at the Olympics was that they weren't there to see me win," Charron said. "Just knowing that my parents and my family will be there will make a huge deal for me."
While Charron reached the top in Tokyo, she said she still has an Olympic dream that has yet to come true. Her drive and motivation to represent Canada again on the Olympic stage in Paris goes far beyond the prospects of winning.
"My motivation to go back to the Olympics is not to get another medal or defend my title, it's just to have an Olympics like I dreamed about," Charron said. "I dreamed about an Olympics with my family. I dreamed about an Olympics where I would go to the opening ceremony without being afraid of catching COVID. I dreamed about an Olympics where I would be able to stay there after my meet."
"It wasn't the Olympics, I was expecting, so I feel like I have to give a shot to the next one to live the kind of Olympics I always dreamed about. So it's not about result for me; that result is in my in my past."
Driven to inspire
But weightlifting is about much more than chasing Olympic dreams for Charron, as her ultimate goal as an athlete is to be a role model for the next generation.
Charron visits schools to speak with young students about her journey while also teaching them how to set and achieve goals. She said being a strong role model is what drives her as an athlete, and part of her mission is to inspire young girls to believe in themselves.
"How many times has a girl heard, 'don't do that, it's dangerous for you or don't try to lift that, it's too heavy for you,' I feel like we need to change that," Charron said. "Weightlifting is really good for self confidence. I'm happy to be a role model, and it's what drives me the most to continue in weightlifting, just to continue to inspire young people and younger girls to just take the leap."
WATCH | Charron seeks to inspire young female athletes:
Another positive sign for the future of weightlifting in Canada is an important change Charron has noticed when giving her motivational school speeches in the wake of her Olympic victory. She gets a first-hand look at the influence her gold medal has created for the sport across the country.
"I always start those public speeches by asking them if they know what weightlifting is. Before the Olympics there was only one or two students raising their hands, and now everyone is raising their hands. So just that is a huge impact and a huge thing for me," Charron said.