Chris Rae – Weightlifting Glories and Darker Days – Part 2 of 2

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Chris Rae Strongman`
Winning Gold in Weightlifting at Melbourne Commonwealth Games

Part 1 of this interview talked about Chris and his new found interest and success in the sport of Strongman in Australia.

In Part 2 Chris tells us about his Olympic Weightlifting Career and the highs and extreme lows that he went through on this journey.

Chris Rae Strongman`
Winning Gold in Weightlifting at Melbourne Commonwealth Games

Phil Burgess: You previously competed in Olympic Weightlifting for Australia highlighting in a gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, is this the victory that you are the most proudest off?

Chris Rae: I’ve won 5 commonwealth games medals in my career.

In 1998, I won a bronze for the snatch, bronze for the clean and jerk, and silver for the total.

In 2002, I won bronze in the snatch, then collapsed under 180kg going for the gold, damaging my ankle. I struggled on and ended up 4th for the clean and jerk and total.

In 2006, it was definitely a case of third time lucky. Well not really, you make your own luck, and in 2006, despite a few injury worries, I was ready.

In the lead-up I’d lifted 180kg snatch and 227kg clean and jerk (my best ever weightlifting lifts) and on the day I felt good for at least that.

My best total of 405kg, was 25kg ahead of my nearest competitor.

It turned out I lifted relatively conservative lifting 172kg in the snatch and 216kg in the clean and jerk, missing 230kg on my final attempt going for a big lift to finish the show.

With a better competition progression, say 215, 225, 230, I think I was capable on the day, but hey… a commonwealth games gold medal was the goal, and that was achieved.

It’s a toss-up between what was better, holding the weight above your head knowing that the years of work have finally paid off, or standing on the podium hearing the national anthem being played for you!

Aside from that, I also competed in the 2000 olympics, finishing 19th, and have competed in numerous internationals as both a junior and senior.

As for the proudest moment… the commonwealth gold is definitely the most recognised, but for me, my first ever trophy at a state champs as a 14 year old still does it for me. I got rid of a lot of trophies a few years back, but definitely kept that one!

Phil Burgess: I read that you missed out on going to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, due to a blunder from the Australian Weightlifting Coaches in Pre-Qualifying?

Chris Rae:  That’s one of the toughest periods in my life. Competing in an individual sport, you learn to be accountable for all your own errors. You learn to accept your own shortcomings and equip yourself to improve them as much as possible.

The error that was made in the Athens Pre-qualifying against Nauru was that they left two of the best lifters for the country at the time at home.

Something I had NO control over, but even I could see was an error.

Chris Rae Commonwealth Games
Melbourne Commonwealth Games - Weightlifting Team

Mathematically, on paper, it worked, as a country, we’d still win (just). The problem with numbers on paper, is that when you turn it to real life, it doesn’t work like that.

A couple of guys bombed out (first international comps), but it wasn’t their fault.

When you first reach a big stage, it’s different, it’s harder, what you do every day is put into a new perspective, and things go wrong.

As a coach you should know this… An athletes job is to lift weights, a coaches job is to ensure you lift the right weights.

It isn’t rocket science, it isn’t finding a cure for cancer, but they made an error. And most frustratingly an error which didn’t cost them ANYTHING, they still went to the olympics as coaches…

I took it hard… real hard… to put myself in the best possible position to make the games, I made a LOT of sacrifices, you have to, the blokes who don’t, never get there.

I got home, and my olympic campaign was over… I was devastated… sacrifices are easy to make when it all works out, when it doesn’t… I wouldn’t wish how I felt on my worst enemy.

Phil Burgess: So is this what led you to taking a banned substance which you were eventually suspended for?

Chris Rae: If it had been MY fault with the Pre-Qualifying catastrophe, I could’ve dealt with it, as it stood… I was lost… I didn’t train, I drank alot, and smoked a LOT of weed.

Cannabis is a banned substance, it isn’t performance enhancing, but athletes are held to a higher degree than others.

I had no intention of competing at the trials, why waste my time, and smoking weed helped me to let go of how angry I was…

Two weeks from the trials, my coach wanted me to compete, I said “NO” flat out, but not long after that, my parents also wanted me to compete.

I told myself that it wasn’t going to happen.

Then came the pressure from SASI (South Australia Sports Institute), my friends, it was coming from everywhere. I agreed to compete, just to shut everyone up, but didn’t change my routine.

I thought the worst that could happen had already happened. I was wrong….

I competed, and to be honest, actually competed fairly well, 175kg snatch 215kg clean and jerk. Of course at a comp of that nature, almost EVERYONE gets tested, and I was no exception.

I tested positive for cannabis. I think it was almost 3 months before I got the letter with the results.

I remember being shocked, looking back, I don’t know why I was shocked… the aftermath, that was the really shocking thing.

As an athlete when everything is going well, people are queuing up to be your mate, when shit goes bad, wow:

  • I wasn’t allowed to step onto SASI property
  • I couldn’t train in ANY weightlifting gym in the country, (the fine print)
  • I couldn’t compete in any sport affiliated with WADA (World Anti-Doping Authority).

Most of my supposed mates were gone, but the best ones were still there, a good lesson in friendship to be had.

Learning the hard way has been a habit of mine.

Phil Maunder (an old boss of mine, and currently on the board of the Australian Weightliftng Federation) paid for an appeal. I got a 2 year ban reduced to 6 months.

Looking back, I really didn’t learn much of anything from the experience… sad but true.

Forward a few years… 2007 nationals (the second time I was tested positive).

In the leadup to the competition, I’d had an arthroscopy on both my knees, and had been told by the surgeon my lifting career could very well be over (I’ve got 15% of the cartilege in my knees I should have).

As it turned out, the comeback was tough, I’d lost my job because of the operations. I’d left myself in a lot of debt from the preparation for the 2006 games.

No job, in debt, injured, in pain every session at the gym. 2007 nationals was going to be my last comp.

I was winning by 15kg or so after the snatch, and pulled out, but I still managed to get tested… and went positive again (I’d already officially retired when I got the news), and just walked away…

Editors Note: Chris is now competing in Strongman after overcoming the problems discussed above. See Part 1  for his Strongman success to date

Phil Burgess: On a lighter note, there is an unfortunate video of you tripping over the resin tray after performing an Olympic lift. Is this the stupidist thing you have done at a lifting competition?

Chris Rae: Hahaha, unfortunately I’ve done better.

Chris Rae
Chris Rae Meets Resin Tray - Click for Video

One of the first rules of competing in olympic weightlifting is that you leave your pride at the door. Most weightlifters have managed to hit their chin or nose doing a jerk.

In one competition I managed to hit my chin hard enough to draw blood, putting myself off my lift enough, to drop the weight and hit myself on the forehead on the way down.

The end result?  Blood streaming from my chin and forehead, and a nice big lump on both to remember the experience by.

It’s amazing how quickly you learn how to get your head out of the way with that kind of experience.

In my first international competition when I was 16, I got spat out the back of a clean and somehow my foot managed to kick out and I had the displeasure of dropping 147.5kg onto my foot.

Losing grip with one hand while attempting a personal best clean in a competition, having the bar land on my bicep in the bottom position of a clean, thus having my bicep drop straight into my thigh with the force from around 165kg to speed it on its way. I think i ended up with 2 bruises the size of a dinner plate from that effort!

Those two examples were both before the joys of youtube, and while there is video footage of them, it didn’t manage to hit the internet.

A lifter mate of mine actually posted from the 2006 Commonwealth Games… with friends like that, who needs enemies eh!

Phil Burgess: What Strength Athlete has inspired you the most?

Chris Rae: The person who inspired me the most for the majority of my career was my first coach, who worked with me for all but the last 6 months of my weightlifting career.

As for other competitors, I find it tough to really have an opinion on them. You see them at events, and for the most part that is all.

I admire people for their struggles through adversity, which you very rarely get to see at a competition. You only see the results of their struggle, not the journey to get to that point.

One of the athletes I do admire isLance Armstrong, and that was after reading one of his books, and getting more of an insight of his struggles with cancer and the determination he showed to come back from that.

The journey is the inspiring bit, winning at the end of it all, is just the bit which makes you buy the book.

Phil Burgess: On that note thanks for your time Chris.  We really appreciate you candidly and openly telling your story, and we are delighted that you have come through the dark times and have turned the proverbial “corner”.  We will be closely following your competition successes in the sport of Strongman.