Meet Mr. Silvestre Fonseca, the Portuguese weightlifting coach and athlete who has dedicated decades of his life to the sport. Now at 82 years old, just a few weeks before turning 83 he is still going strong and is an inspiration to athletes all over Portugal.
In this exclusive interview, Mr. Silvestre Fonseca talks about his early days as a weightlifter, what motivated him to take up the sport, and the mentors and role models who helped him along the way. He also shares his thoughts on the changes in weightlifting over the years and what he believes to be the most crucial elements for sporting success today.
Can you tell us how your early days as a weightlifter, including what motivated you to take up the activity and if you had any mentors or role models who helped you along the way as you started lifting weights, and how they affected your growth both as a coach and an athlete?
After finishing military service in 1963, after three years in a period of overseas war on three fronts, my friend and comrade from the army Mestre Zeca Pereira, upon verifying that my athletic qualities served for the practice of Weightlifting, invited me to try it out, which only happened in 1965, May 25, at the Luso Futebol Clube in Barreiro, a city on the south bank of the Tejo river and 25 km from the capital Lisbon.
I was in this club as an athlete and coach for 25 years, where I was very happy, having won many national titles and having become an international athlete.
The highest point in this period was when our lifter Sara Duarte, aged 19, won the Senior European Gold Medal in the Republic of San Marino in 1989, after only three years of training, in the 48 kg category. It was in this club that Mestre Zeca Pereira invited me to be the first Portuguese coach to train women in 1986.
In December 1989, I went with Sara Duarte and Eulália Romão, to the world championships in Jakarta, Indonesia, with Sara in 5th place and Eulália in 4th place.
In 1990, I transferred to another club, Ginásio Atlético Clube, in Baixa da Banheira, close to Barreiro, where I still work. On that date, I had already finished my participation as an athlete at around 42 years old, with the best marks in the Lightweight category (60 Kg) 72.5 Kg in the Press, 85 Kg in the “French” Snatch, and 110 Kg in the Clean and Jerk.
For someone who started late, already 25 years old, it was the best I could do. I should add that before becoming a lifter, I was a footballer for the club from my hometown, Galitos Futebol Clube. At Ginásio Atlético Clube, just as a coach for about 25 years, I went with my friend and athlete João Novêlo, who challenged me to transform the G.A.C into an even stronger team, which was largely achieved.
I have already mentioned who motivated me to practice the modality, but the reason why I joined Weightlifting was to want to improve my physique and become stronger because in the beginning I only weighed 50 kg. When I started training these were my goals, I didn’t think about competing, but with time I changed my mind.
That objective was fully achieved, today 82 years old, just a few weeks away from turning 83, and I feel strong, with a confident personality and character thanks to the practice of the modality, “Queen” of our times, according to the opinion of a Portuguese scientist linked to a magazine of the specialty in which he states that nowadays there is no modality that does not need to come to Weightlifting to “drink” teachings to improve the most diverse modalities.
To finish this point 1, I must say that I attended courses taught by the extinct FPH (Portuguese Weightlifting Federation), with Soviet, Bulgarian, and Cuban coaches, with whom I learned a lot after our “Revolution of April 25, 1974”.
How did your workouts look when you were a competitive weightlifter? What do you believe to be the most crucial elements for sporting success today, and how has training changed over time?
When I started training on May 25, 1965, with Mestre Zeca, training knowledge was very limited, there was more knowledge only at the technical level of liftings, snatches, clean and jerks, and squats, which has already evolved a lot since that time era.
We didn’t have knowledge at the training planning level, today we have a series of tools that allow us to film the training sessions, for example, with the help of cell phones to be able to correct movements, we have the internet to always be able to learn a little more about how to improve training and we still have the so-called Crossfit Box’s that provide us with a lot of raw material for the development and elevation of the modality.
When, seven months after the start of training, I entered a competition, there were only eight competitors and the competition took place in the building of the former Ginásio Clube Português, on the 7th floor, imagine, haha.
In the early years, there were three Press lifts, three Snatchs, and three Clean and Jerks. A few years later the European and International Federations banned the Press which in reality was harmful to lifters.
What do you believe to be the most significant changes that you have seen in the development of weightlifting over time? What effects have those modifications had on Portuguese sport?
This change was very important, as the dissemination of information that Weightlifting, as long as it was practiced and trained by competent people, was not harmful to the practitioners’ health, on the contrary, it came to alert many people in the best sense.
All sports, not only Portuguese but worldwide, benefited from these changes and today, as the scientist said, it is the “Queen of the World Modality”.
Many people might not fully comprehend what it takes to succeed in the sport of weightlifting, which calls for a great deal of discipline and dedication. What guidance would you offer to a young person who wants to compete in weightlifting but is interested in the sport?
In fact many people still today do not fully understand the benefits of sport in general and Weightlifting in particular. Even some medical classes have this difficulty.
In our Club, today we have, like other clubs, youngsters aged 9 and 10 training and competing, where only technical execution counts and it is a success.
The guidelines that we must give to young practitioners is that the modality requires a lot of discipline and dedication and a lot of sacrifices, as is the prerogative of individual modalities.
In addition, young people should also be alerted that everything has its time and that trying to go too fast can and is usually wrong… you have to give “time to time”.
How do you as a coach interact with young athletes who are just getting into weightlifting? What characteristics should young lifters possess, and how can you help them hone their abilities and maximize their potential?
As a Weightlifting coach for 10-year-olds and adults over 60, my first concern is people’s physical integrity, and only after that comes the concern of Kg. We must not forget that we are all 100% amateurs, nobody currently has any financial benefits, and we still pay to train. In addition, our young people and adults come to train after a day of work or study at school. As we are not state-subsidized athletes, we try to do our best, teaching technique, and flexibility, which is very important, as well as speed, so that in the end you can maximize your full potential.
Which of your weightlifting lessons has helped you the most in terms of growing both personally and as a lifter?
After 58 years as a lifter and trainer, I owe it to Weightlifting to be today an accomplished person, recognized in my country and throughout the weightlifting world.
I am also grateful to all the people who over the years encouraged me to continue, especially my wife, children and grandchildren.
In Portugal, weightlifting has a lengthy history. Can you share with us some of the weightlifting’s most memorable moments in Portugal and how those moments affected the sport there?
In fact, Weightlifting in Portugal has a long history, as it is one of the oldest Olympic sports. In the XX century, the first federation, grouped with the Greco-Roman Wrestling, was called Portuguese Federation Athletics and Wrestling Portuguese Federation, in which the lifters also fought and the fighters also lifted weights.
It was only in 1970 that the F.P.H., Portuguese Weightlifting Federation was formed, which would be closed around the year 2003, by order of the then Secretary of State for Sport with the connivance of the Portuguese Sports Institute and the Portuguese Olympic Committee due to disputes between federative leaders and government sports leaders, as well as tax fraud and even some serious cases of Doping.
Only in 2015, by the hand of Vítor Estêvão who was also my athlete for several years, were the first steps taken towards the constitution of the current FHP, the Weightlifting Federation of Portugal, which came to pass legally at the end of 2016, which has evolved a lot since then and fortunately already recognized by the European and International federations of the modality.
As you might guess, the closure of the former FPH left a huge void in our weightlifting reality and if it weren’t for the clubs Ginásio Atlético Clube, Associação Académica de Coimbra, Grupo Sportivo de Carcavelos, Luso Futebol Clube, Círculo de Ferro and even Ginásio Clube Figueirense, with its internal championships, today maybe not there was weightlifting thriving and growing in Portugal as there is! Congratulations to the Portuguese Master’s athletes who managed to keep Weightlifting alive in the darkest of times!
Portugal has a strong strategy in place to return to weightlifting on the world stage after a long absence. What changes do you believe are necessary to ensure the sport’s growth and success? Do you have any upcoming projects or initiatives that you believe will assist the Federation given your decades of experience?
In fact, Portugal may have everything it needs to be a strong competitor in European Weightlifting in the medium/long term. There is still a lack of raw material in sufficient numbers and of course more financial support, however, it already has young coaches with a lot of talent and knowledge, and it has reasonable training facilities and has accumulated experience and young managers with a lot of value and will. So there’s the main thing, now what’s missing is for our sports authorities to provide us with the main thing, which is the sports public utility statute, with funds, in order to be able to develop our youth teams.
Alongside this, it is urgent to create a federal technical office and a semi-professional structure, at least for now. Furthermore, also in the medium term, with state funds, at least three regional associations should be established – north, center, and south.
All of this, as is easy to understand, will only be possible with the goodwill of the national leaders who manage sport, especially the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth, but I know that Vítor Estêvão and his small but excellent team will get there. After all, they’ve been so far away and now they’re so close.
Weightlifting has the ability to motivate and bind people from all corners of the globe because it is an Olympic sport. What message about the value of sports and the potential for weightlifting to unite people would you like to convey to the general public?
Sport, it is often said, is the spectrum of nations, and Weightlifting is an integral part of that sport, as alongside Greco-Roman wrestling the oldest Olympic modality, it has the duty and has had it, due to the experience it has lived, It has been a rallying point for all creeds, religions and races in every corner of the globe and it must remain so.
This is my message that I would like to convey to the general public.
Mr. Silvestre Fonseca is the oldest active Portuguese coach and athlete
By EWF Secretariat