Interview: Rio Olympian Sonny Webster

Sonny Webster has been lifting for 11 years and in the summer represented GB at the Rio Olympic Games in the 94kg body weight class. He hit life time personal bests in the 2016 British Championships of 152kg Snatch and 194kg Clean & Jerk. This 346kg total landed him a spot at the Rio Olympic Games. He has represented Great Britain on many occasions from European Championships right up to World Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Being the only male athlete, what was it like competing at the Rio Games?
It was amazing. I was in a dream land. We were treated like royalty and Team GB looked after us amazingly well. They made it very easy to keep your routine from how training was in the UK. I had a constant smile on my face. I was so excited and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. It was more emotional than I thought. My warm up was OK, not the best, but it didn’t stop me enjoying the whole event, especially on the platform!

What was your training like leading up to the games?
I had a strict routine, I replicated the same 8 week cycle I had running up to the British Championships in June. It didn’t give me a huge amount of time to work on strength but I managed to keep up my fitness and evade deterioration to a large extent. I had to change my Jerk technique slightly as they used bars with more whip. I will also be working on my grip strength going forward as the bars at the games had a softer, smoother feel oppose to Eleiko bars I train on. That was a surprise. I will be doing things like Snatching and Cleaning without the hookgrip until I get to really heavy weights.

How much effect do you think a coach has? And if you had to choose between a training partner and a coach who would you choose?
A coach is invaluable. My coach Andy Sutor of Empire Weightlifting Club, Bristol has been great and still, to this day, picks up on technique points. He has been there to support me with training programs and advice all the way up to the games, I can’t thank him enough. A training partner is great, I’ve had lots of fantastic sessions with Jack Oliver, Gareth Evans and Ben Watson just to name a few. But, that said, it’s down to the individual. If you’ve got the motivation then you can get through any training session.

What’s your next plans?
I’m going for gold in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018. Glasgow 2014 was great but now I’ve experienced it, I know the feeling, I want the gold medal and I can’t see any reason why it’s not possible.

Where do you see Weightlifting in the next 5 - 10 years?
I hope the mentality will change, we live in a culture where we settle for just going to international championships and enjoying the trip, which don’t get me wrong is great. I’m hoping we can go to a competition and win some medals at the World Championships and even Olympics.

There is, however, still a long way to go with banned substances in Weightlifting. We do need a fair playing field and I hope the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) can raise their game and give life time bans from World Championships and Olympic Games to the athletes that are doping.

I would like to say although there are a lot of changes going on with British Weight Lifting (BWL) they are trying to professionalise the sport, which is what we need if we are to bid for more funding. There is a teething period but I think it’s for the good of the sport in the long run. They should however be a bit more understandable to the veteran coaches, like Dave Sawyer, Philip Karlsson and Andy Sutor that have put in a huge amount of voluntary work.

What are your thoughts on the lack of male funding?
I try to look at it from an outside opinion, if BWL had the funding from UK Sport they would be able to help the male lifters financially. But everyone who’s a top Weightlifter doesn’t do the sport for the money, it’s never been a wealthy sport. Also there are people out there that are more than happy to support athletes with big dreams. My sponsor Jeff Dovey has been a huge help in getting me to the games. Sure you will get rejection but there will be someone that is willing to sponsor you.

Top Tip?
Find yourself a good coach. Someone who’s educated and done it before. You never see good lifters come out of nowhere, there’s always a great coach behind them. Seek professional advice and surround yourself with great coaches, they’ll always have something to say to improve your technique and strength. Also have patience. Think of your weightlifting career as a long term plan. Set out what you want to achieve in 5 - 10 years not just the next few months.

Thank you Sonny for the advice and insight in to your life as an athlete!