Young weightlifter, Magdelene Moyengwa has broken into the male-dominated sport, in the process, dismantling long standing gender stereotypes.
Despite initial resistance from her family, the 17 year-old has not just joined what is largely viewed as a male sport, but has excelled.
Competing in the 58kg category, Moyengwa recently scooped three bronze medals at the 2018 Africa Youth Games (AYG) that were held in Algiers, Algeria.
She told Mmegi Sport this week, upon arrival from Algeria, that her interest in the sport began when she was doing her Form Two in 2015. “It was during our Physical Education (PE) lesson that our teacher spoke to us about weightlifting. She wanted to know if there was anybody amongst us who was interested in the sport,” she said. Moyengwa said there was immediate interest and her teacher took her on a tour of the Botswana National Sport Commission gym at the National Stadium, where she saw women lifting weights. “I wanted to do the same thing and I started going for training sessions in 2015. That was the beginning of everything and I realised that I could benefit from it,” she said. Moyengwa said she continued training and last year, she made her debut on the international stage during the African Youth and Junior Championships held in Uganda. She made a remarkable debut, winning gold, silver and two bronze medals. The Mandunyane-born weightlifter’s fortunes however, dwindled when she competed at the 2018 African Youth and Junior Championships in Egypt, returning home empty-handed.
Before travelling to Algeria, she had a chance of competing in Port Elizabeth where she won a gold medal during the South Africa Youth and Junior Championships. The competition attracted weightlifters from Lesotho.
“I told myself that I should work hard and prepare for the AYG. My target was above bronze medal. It was a tough category but getting a medal is better than nothing,” she said.
Moyengwa said before competing in Algiers, she knew at the back of her mind that she had a medal already. “A day before the competition, my coach told me that my category was tough. I was to compete in the under 58kg. He encouraged me to eat a lot and gain weight so that I move up (the categories). I told him that I am ready to compete in my category. On the day of the competition I outdid myself,”
First position went to Nigeria while Tunisia got silver, with Moyengwa grabbing the bronze. She said her technique was better than that of her opponents. She pointed out that Nigerians are physically fit and use their muscles to lift but she had to be mentally sharp to beat them.
“I do not train properly because I stay in Mogoditshane, which is far from the gym. That affects the time I spend training,” she said. The stout-built Moyengwa said her friends are still finding it hard to believe that she is a weightlifter. Moyengwa said as long as she has support from her parents, the rest takes care of itself.
“When I started doing this, my father was unhappy. My mother tried convincing him to allow me to follow my passion but it was hard. When I went to my first camp in Pretoria, he was against that. When I returned, I used to get back home late from training,” Moyengwa said. She said her father changed his mind when she went to compete in Uganda. Moyengwa, a second born in her family, is a Form Five student at Mogoditshane Senior Secondary School.
Her instructor, Alex Rankgwe said he met the rising weight lifter through Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) talent identification programme in 2015.
“There were many participants and we selected those who were quick to pick the technique. She made the cut and we went for camp in South Africa. Her challenge is that she stays in Mogoditshane and that limits her training period and her progress,” Rankgwe said.
He said they are only able to train over the weekends. Rankgwe said they are negotiating with the BNOC for her to be given a chance to train outside the country.
“Last year during her debut, she was scared and I encouraged her to fight. In Egypt, she panicked and she admitted that after the competition. In Algiers, she was focussed and did not miss any weight, lifting all of them,” he said. Rankgwe said even the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) secretary general appreciated Moyengwa’s technique. He said they also appreciated that Botswana attends most competitions, which is good for athletes’ development.
Full name: Magdeline Moyengwa
Date of Birth: March 31, 2001
Place of Birth: Mandunyane
Sporting code: Weightlifting