EWF Secretariat is honoured to have the opportunity to interview esteemed athletes and officials from the Portuguese weightlifting team who achieved remarkable success at the 2023 EWF European Youth and U15 Championships in Chisinau, Moldova. Join us as we delve into their inspiring stories, experiences, and aspirations. This amazing team archived amazing results, and showed that weightlifting in Portugal has big plans in future.

ANTUNES Joana and CANDEIAS Rafael young prodigies under guidance of their coaches Paolo and Rita ANTUNES, with the leadership of the ESTEVAO Vitor shared some inside informations about their preparations, training, winning medal moments and future plans.

Joana, congratulations on winning the 2023 EWF European Youth and U15 Championships silver medal! Can you share the emotions and thoughts that ran through your mind when you realized you had secured the medal?

To start, thank you very much. When I realised that I had won the medal, I was very happy for having achieved my goal and also because I knew it would be a great accomplishment, not only for myself but also for Portugal.

What obstacles have you faced as a weightlifter, and how have you overcome them? Can you refer to any specific instances when your resolve was put to the test?

An athlete always faces obstacles along the way, such as criticisms from society like “weights are bad for children,” “weights stunt growth,” “why don’t you try another sport,” and so on.
Personally, I handle these comments very well, and I just think, “When I reach the top of the mountain, we’ll see.” A situation where I believe my determination was put to the test was when I missed my first two snatch attempts, and I did everything I could to make the last one, which ultimately earned me the medal.

Your coaches happen to be your parents, Rita and Paulo Antunes. How have their guidance and support influenced your growth as an athlete? Are there any unique dynamics that arise from having them as coaches?

I have the privilege of having one of the most dedicated coaches in this country, Paulo Antunes, whom I can also call my father figure. I believe his dedication to studying weightlifting has helped me tremendously. Through him, I gain a lot of knowledge about the sport. I know that the presence of my parents was crucial for this result because without them, I wouldn’t be in this championship or even in this sport.

In addition to your medal-winning performance, what are some other significant achievements or milestones you are proud of in your weightlifting career?

I am very proud of my career as an athlete, and I know there is still a lot of room for growth. I take pride in inspiring other girls to practice weightlifting and breaking the “prejudice” that exists regarding children lifting weights.

What weightlifting objectives and aims do you have for the future? Do you intend to compete in any particular events?

With this in mind, my goals are to continue working to achieve the best possible results. I aim to compete in the Junior World Championships in 2024.

Rafael, a bronze medal at the 2023 EWF European Youth and U15 Championships! Can you take us through the intense moments of the competition and how you managed to achieve this feat?

Before the competition I felt a little nervous because I didn’t want to have any failures because I know that I worked a lot for that moment, but as soon as I climbed to the platform all the feelings disappear and I forget everything around me and focus only on the movement that I have to do to make it as good as possible.

I was able to get the bronze medal in the snatch due to the fact that a lot of training and a lot of work and sacrifices made by me, my parents and coach, who is also my father.

What inspired you to start weightlifting? Where there any individuals or experiences that played a significant role in your decision to pursue this sport?

Who inspired me were my parents because they already knew the Sport and helped me in everything that I need to be the best in that Sport.

Apart from your training and competitions, what are some of your hobbies or passions? How do these activities contribute to your overall well-being and mindset as an athlete?

In my spare time, which are few, I like to play the piano and guitar and play from time to time or go out with friends and my girlfriend. For me it affects me positively because I know that an athlete also needs to rest his head from time to time.

As you continue to progress in your weightlifting journey, what are some specific areas or aspects of your training that you are currently focused on improving?

Strength is the aspect I’ve been working on the most because it’s where I have to improve the most to reach higher marks in weightlifting.

Looking forward, where do you see yourself in the upcoming years on the weightlifting stage?

I see myself continuing my work and achieving my goals by being at the highest level in the European and World championships.

Rita and Paulo, as coaches of the Portuguese weightlifting team, how did you get involved in this role? Can you share your background and what drew you to coaching weightlifters?

We initially became involved through an invitation from President Vítor Estevão to join the organs of the Portuguese Weightlifting Federation. Our connection to weightlifting training came through our profession in the sports field, as former weightlifters and current coaches, as well as our love for weightlifting itself.

Winning historical medals at the 2023 EWF European Youth and U15 Championships must be a significant accomplishment for both of you. How do you reflect on this achievement and its impact on the weightlifting community in Portugal?

It was a great honour for us to see all the months of work rewarded in this way. We always work for the best, but we know that we have a lot of development work ahead of us, in an attempt to reach the level of the most relevant nations in terms of sports culture and technical knowledge. This achievement was also a triumph for the Portuguese weightlifting community, which gained new momentum and inspiration.

Training your daughter, Joana, adds a unique element to your coaching dynamic. Can you share how this parent-child relationship has influenced your coaching approach and the challenges and rewards that come with it?

Indeed, training athletes with such a strong family affinity can sometimes be a challenge. Excessive confidence among peers and the difficulty of separating family life from sports life are challenges that we have addressed in the best pedagogical way we know. On the other hand, we better understand the side of those who return home frustrated by tough training days, and we try to balance both sides by providing extra comfort on those days. Nevertheless, we experience the rewards and victories that each training day brings, as if it were a daily competition.

As coaches, what are some key strategies or principles you emphasize when training young weightlifters? How do you foster their development both as athletes and as individuals?

We try to make training a place of fun, happiness, constant learning, and interest, where above all, young lifters feel good. Additionally, we teach fundamental principles of conduct and good practices, always aware that we are not just shaping athletes but, above all, citizens whom we hope will be good human beings. Regarding training strategies, we emphasise variability, especially in younger age groups, as well as technical rigor, which we foster through games and the practice of weightlifting movements.

Looking ahead, what are your plans and aspirations for the development of weightlifting in Portugal? Are you working on any initiatives or programs to promote sport and nurture young talent?

Our plans involve encouraging younger generations to engage in weightlifting because we know that’s where the future lies. This includes athlete recruitment initiatives, training programs, and raising awareness among parents and physical education teachers. Currently, we have a national technique championship for children up to 12 years old, where only the quality of the technical gesture is evaluated, regardless of the load. In addition, we have our national championships for youth and junior weightlifters.

As the President of the Portuguese Weightlifting Federation, how do you feel about the success of the Portuguese athletes at the 2023 EWF European Youth and U15 Championships? What does this mean for weightlifting in Portugal?

 I think it is the result of the work that the FHP has been doing in favour of the modality, which has translated into an increasing commitment and motivation of our athletes and therefore the results have started to appear.

This means that history was made in Chisinau, for Portuguese Weightlifting, not only because the last medal won by the Portuguese athletes in European Championships dates back to the distant 1980s, but also that a youth athlete had never won medals in this age group, therefore, a silver medal and a bronze medal is synonymous with success, especially after so many years of absence from the “international stages”.

I cannot fail to mention that of the five portuguese athletes, Joana (silver medalist) and the twins Rafael (bronze medalist) and Rodrigo are those who are closest to me since I have known them since they were children and since then I have followed their evolutions, so it is for me an even greater source of pride.

Can you share any insights into the overall preparation and support provided for preparation for the 2023 EWF European Youth & U15 Championships? What initiatives or strategies contributed to their success?

Regarding the strategies adopted and the support provided, I would like to mention several, but unfortunately our Federation is still in the final stage of official recognition by the portuguese government, which means that we do not have any kind of funding. With no funding available, the support given to the athletes was practically nil, and the Federation’s strategy at this moment is only the inclusion in our calendar of competitions of specific competitions for athletes up to 12 years old, in which only technique is evaluated, as well training camps for youth athletes.

With these remarkable achievements, what impact do you anticipate it will have on the popularity and growth of weightlifting in Portugal? Are there any plans to leverage this success for further development?

The impact was huge in our community and beyond, so much so that medal-winning athletes were invited to participate in television programs, which for weightlifting is extremely rare in Portugal. The impact was not even greater due to the still weak sports culture in our country, in which little else matters other than football.

As for leveraging this success to provide further development, it brings us back to the question of the lack of any kind of funding which in itself makes it almost impossible to do more than we already do. We do hope that the sports authorities in Portugal and the government itself will take these results into account and speed up the completion of the recognition process, which is already quite late.

This event brings Portugal back not just with athletes, but also with ITO. How is your feeling as ITO during the European Championships?

As for being an ITO, it was really a very personal desire that I was fortunately able to achieve. I knew it was going to be a challenge and despite feeling confident and prepared, when I sat down as center referee for the first time, I felt the pressure and weight of responsibility combined with the fact that I was being examined by the jury, and at the same time under the scrutiny of athletes, coaches and even the public, ultimately, everyone.

What are your vision and goals for the future of weightlifting in Portugal? Are there any upcoming activities or important events that you are particularly looking forward to??

I am particularly confident and hopeful in the future of weightlifting in Portugal, with the perfect notion that we will not last much longer without funding from the state. Despite the great motivation and desire that athletes have to continue their sports careers, it will not be possible if they have to continue to bear all the expenses inherent to that, especially those related to registration, travel and accommodation necessary to participate in the European Championships and World Cups, for example.

The Junior & U23 European Championships in Romania will not have portuguese athletes participating, unfortunately, but I will be there as ITO, so I’m also looking forward to it.
The next World Championship in Saudi Arabia will be the next competition with the participation of portuguese athletes and despite all the difficulties, it will be the biggest delegation ever in a World Championship, once again with all the athletes bearing all their expenses.

Our concern now lies with next year’s international competitions, in which we cannot yet guarantee a presence, once again due to financial difficulties. Given this, we have already prepared some activities aimed at raising funds.


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