Kiana Elliott on her transformation from elite gymnast to champion weightlifter. By Richard Cooke.

Credit: AWF

Raising the bar: Kiana Elliott, 20, weightlifter

I started gymnastics after doing it in school. The lady who ran it picked me out as a talented child at that stage, and I got into it. We decided to go down the elite route, and it involved quite a big move. I grew up in [Sydney’s] Menai and moved over to Dundas Valley so I could train at Epping, and then I changed schools for high school, so I could train at an elite level.

I came away with a couple of medals and a few injuries. I injured my back and then I injured my leg and then I injured my back again. So it took quite a long time to recover. It left me questioning my long-term health. I decided to give it up at the end of 2011.

No more sport was a bit weird for me. I was very invested and very focused on my gymnastics, so when it came to that retirement thing… 

I decided to try to get into as many things as I could that weren’t sport. So I ended up going overseas to Tanzania with a youth leadership group. That really opened my eyes a bit. 

One of the girls there had family who did CrossFit, and she said, “You should try it. You might enjoy it.” So I came back to Australia, made my way over to the local CrossFit gym and started working out there. I was only 15, and I was working out with people a lot older than me, but I enjoyed it. I started weightlifting by this stage. 

An American weightlifter had come over to run some seminars in Australia, and afterwards she contacted me on Facebook and said, “You probably would have placed at the junior state level. Maybe you’re interested in doing the sport.” 

The most similar movement is the handstand. You flip that the right way around and you end up with the bar over your head, so just being aware of where an object was in relation to my body allows me to pick up how to move around the weight, around the bar. I was fascinated by how to do it. 

Weightlifting is deceptively technical. Often people think it’s just brute strength, but it’s deceptively technical. The best lifters, they make it look really easy and almost effortless.

When you start weightlifting you get what we call “newbie gains”. You make big technical improvements and you haven’t quite reached your strength level yet. So as you make technical improvements, you move really, really quickly and you get a little bit of arrogance. Then you look at your progression and you’re like, “If I did this linear, I would be great in two years, right?” And then slowly, slowly, slowly, it starts to get harder, harder and harder and you really start appreciating every single kilo you can get up. 

Sometimes it can take a year to improve by a kilo. My coaches always put to me, “Okay, it’s easy now. It’s really fun.” Because I’ve always liked the challenge of facing something that seems really heavy that you’ve never done before. But when they put to me, “What are you going to do when you don’t improve? How are you going to be able to mentally approach it?” It’s a lot harder, because it’s a whole different ball game once you’re in it for a few years.

When I got into weightlifting I found a bit of a stigma against it. I was at an all girls private school – Abbotsleigh [on Sydney’s upper north shore] – from year 7 to 12. So my peers and my teachers were like, “Are you going to have to get all muscly?” Even I had those stigmas in my head.

In weightlifting and gymnastics, the coaching is completely different. My coach now leaves all the motivation up to the athletes, pretty much. He’ll give you the technical assistance you need; he’ll give you the program you need to get there; he won’t motivate you. That’s up to you.


This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Derby Day

Saturday, 1st race 11.45am (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

Rugby union: Wallabies v Japan

Saturday, 4.40pm (AEDT), International Stadium, Yokohama

• Soccer: W-League: Newcastle Jets v Sydney FC

Saturday, 5pm (AEDT), McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

CrossFit Invitational

Sunday, 4pm (AEDT), Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne

Soccer: A-League – Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners

Sunday, 4pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Horseracing: Melbourne Cup

Tuesday, 3pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 4, 2017 as "Raising the bar".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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