In what has been an incredible year for sport at Glasgow, with tumultuous results and breathtaking finales, students from our university have frequently flirted with the podium. One of the newest winners is powerlifting alumni Louise Murray. Murray, who has competed across the globe, recently powered her way to third at the European Championships in the Czech Republic and sat down with us to chat all things powerlifting.
Guardian: How did you get into powerlifting?
Louise Murray: When I was at Glasgow University, I started to put on a little bit of weight when I was in first year. I used to be on the British Taekwondo team but I had gotten really badly injured. I wanted to get back into that, but to get back into that I really needed to strengthen my legs to make up for how I was injured. But, it never happened. I ended up being really good at powerlifting and I know that the guys at the gym were really pushing me for weightlifting but I didn’t like the idea of that; all the stuff over your head is a bit scary!
Guardian: Many on the outside of the sport often confuse powerlifting with weightlifting. Can you just tell us what the differences are?
Murray: They are very different events and whereas weightlifting is in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, powerlifting isn’t. So weightlifting is your snatch and your clean jerk, powerlifting is squat, bench and deadlift. In terms of the differences in these, you have the Sumo Deadlift that is a really wide stance and is better for people with shorter legs and arms. This is normally ideal for lightweight woman, but I am the opposite with short legs and long arms! I, however, use a conventional deadlift, and am the only one in my class who does so.
Guardian: Do you want to pursue it further?
Murray: I do see myself going further. I’ve got the British Championships this weekend and the World Championships in June. I am still very active in the University in various sports, from Judo to powerlifting, and I am one of the new coaching members of the Weightlifting and Powerlifting Clubs. But powerlifting is still my favourite.
Guardian: How are the preparations going for them?
Murray: Unfortunately I’ve taken a bit of a knock back. At the Europeans a week past, I never sit at the top of 57(kg), so I thought I might as well trying to be at the top of 52(kg), but the cut of 2 and half kilos has really affected my strength and I need to work hard to build back up to 57(kg).
Guardian: So, you’ve been all around the world competing in your sport, from Africa to Europe. Just where has been the most memorable for you?
Murray: Having been to Norway, South Africa, France, I would have to say Norway is the most memorable. The set up they had was extremely professional and really intimidating. Coming eleventh out of sixteen wasn’t too bad at the World Championships; but I have to admit that I panicked in the warm up room at all the pressure. They take it very seriously and even have television cameras in your face in the warm up room, which was crazy! The whole world is watching, it isn’t just a live stream on the Internet but it was being broadcast on live TV.
Guardian: Are there any places you regret going, or even want to return to prove a point?
Murray: I want to go back to the US and make a point. Some of the commentary, I have heard, was like “oh, there’s this girl who doesn’t look like she is doing very much. Do they have many strong lifters in the UK?” I mean, excuse me. I won two British titles and now have a European title.
Guardian: Again, congratulations on your terrific bronze last month. You broke several records on your way to doing so. Just what were these?
Murray: I broke the British Squat record, the British Bench and British Total record and they were all easy to break. After having a bad day previously on squat, we decided to take it easy and just go for safe lifts to secure the bronze medal. At one point, I was on track for a European record in squat, but with the weight cut, it sadly didn’t happen.
Guardian: Did you ever think you would break such records?
Murray: The records had just been set at the British Classic in October last year, but before that, they had been unbroken for a while. But, no, I didn’t think I would break any of them. When I started out, I used to look at the records and think it would be really good to break one of them someday. At the time, I started out at 52(kg) and the woman with the records was Louise Clark – now Edwards. I thought I would never be able to beat her, but I met her when I joined the Great British team and it was a bit strange! At one point, she was a hero and then she was a name I had to beat or equal, but now she is a really good friend and teammate. She has no hard feelings about me taking her records, just so long as I leave the deadlift record!
Guardian: In the Czech Republic your best event appears to have been the squat, where you finished second in your weight category. There were about five points between you and your opponent (Anna Komleava of Russia). Do you think you could make up these points and what do you think the difference was?
Murray: Sadly, I opened too high on squat. We thought I was going for the 140(kg), which is Anna’s European record, but I should have been more sensible and just kept matching her lifts.
Guardian: When you go to these events, you are usually there as part of either a Scottish or British team but what is the competition like to get into these?
Murray: Well, in terms of Scotland, they haven’t even decided their selection criteria for the Commonwealth competition in the winter, never mind having picked a team. With the competition in British Columbia in Canada, I would love to go as part of the team and feel confident enough about being picked, but it is just getting the funds to go. If I get the funds to go, I will do well. Without any funding from the Olympic committee, I have to apply for funding from the Commonwealth Games Legacy, but because we are not a UK recognised sport at the moment, we don’t get a lot of funding.
Guardian: Are you trying to get the sport recognised by the Olympic Committee?
Murray: The first step is IOC recognition and we are in good standing with that. The International Weightlifting Foundation is supporting the International Powerlifting Foundation all the way. It is unlikely to happen by Rio but perhaps Tokyo at the earliest, but that is not too late for me! Powerlifters tend hit their peak in their mid-to-late thirties so it is certainly an achievable goal.
Guardian: I guess that brings us on to powerlifting as a whole. Where do you see its place in UK sport? Do you think it is on the up?
Murray: It is definitely up and coming. It went from the British Championship being two or three people at my weight class, to having upwards of sixteen people. Entry for Scottish Championships now has to be capped at fifty because we get too many people entering them. I think this is because of the uptake in Crossfit. People are finding powerlifting through this and people from sporting backgrounds are finding it as a more effective weight loss method than cardio. The next step is for it to become a professional sport and hopefully that funding will follow from there.