Tenishia Thornton has dominated the headlines in Malta this week as the young weightlifter rewrote the history books in Maltese sport when she secured three gold medals at the World Youth Championships that were held in Mexico.
Competing in the 55kg category, Thornton topped the standings in the snatch, clean and jerk and the overall category to become the first Maltese weightlifter to return home with a gold medal from a world championship in an Olympic sport.
Contacted by the Times of Malta, Thornton was visibly emotional after her success.
“I am really happy with this result,” Thornton said.
“This is an historic result not only for me, but for all the Olympic sport in Malta. To win a gold medal in a World Youth Championship is something nobody did it and I am so proud to have attained such an historical achievement.
“The coach and me worked really hard for this success. Throughout the year I always prepare myself for various competitions, but to be honest our long-term goal is always to strike success in these championships and to fulfil this objective is a dream come true for me.
“I would also like to mention many and many people who support me throughout the year, such my friends and family, who without their backing I would not be here today.”
Jesmond Caruana, the national team coach and president of the Malta Weightlifting Association, said that this result could have only been attained with hard work and dedication.
“The level of competition at the World Youth Championships was very high,” Caruana said.
“To be honest these kinds of results could have arrived for us much before if it wasn’t for COVID-19 that cancelled many competitions. We have worked hard to finally arrived for such a result. And this result should be an encouragement for our young athletes.
“Winning gold at the World Youth Championships was a big dream for us but if you train well and you are committed and dedicated anything is possible. Obviously, without the support we received from the people around us this result couldn’t arrive.
“An important point I want to highlight is the quality of lifters there was in this competition.
“These championships had the best lifters from all over the world. We faced weightlifters who, despite being young, they are fully professional. So for us to win a gold medal, with an athlete who is an amateur makes it even more special and shows that if we have more support there could be much more to come.”
Looking back at her performance on the day, Thornton admitted that she felt really nervous when she stepped on the podium for her first attempt at 76kg which she failed. But then Caruana quickly used the right words to take away the early jitters.
“It’s normal that when you compete in a competition like these there is a bit of stress,” Thornton said
“Although I worked a lot with my coach on the mental aspect to try and stay calm I felt a lot of pressure as I knew that I had a chance to fight for a medal and that every kilogramme that I would lift would be crucial.
“But after failing on my first attempt, the coach took me aside and told me that although the result was important, what mattered most that I focused on every lift and if I did that everything would fall into place. And that what happened as once I lifted my first attempt I felt really calm and I never looked back.”
Turning his sights on the future commitments, Caruana said that this is just the start of what could be a great year for Thornton and the Malta Weightlifting Federation.
In fact, in the coming weeks, the young lifter will represent Malta in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as well as the European Youth Championships where she is hoping to fight for a place on the podium and the European Junior Championships with the big appointment coming in late November when the first Olympic qualifier is held in Bogota, Colombia.
“This year we are disappointed that the Youth Olympics have been postponed as with this result, Tenishia would have qualified for those Games and battled for a medal,” Caruana said.
“We have several competitions this year where we hope Tenishia continues to grow in confidence when competing in top competitions. Our goal is the end of November when we take part in the first Olympic qualifier in Bogota where she has to move up a category – from 55kg to 59kg – as in the next Olympics the number of classes has been reduced.
“Work will start immediately to help Tenishia to increase in weight by strengthening her muscularity so that she will be stronger to face bigger weights and be able to challenge her rivals in the category.”
Caruana said that he hopes that Thornton’s success will attract more support towards the sport.
“When you attain such a huge success you are always looking to receive more support,” Caruana said.
“The government has a huge project for our sport – the construction of a new training complex in Marsa – and we hope it will not be long before works will start as at the moment we find it hard to attract more youngsters as our premises have become too small.
“Athletes like Tenishia need to train but need additional resources to maximise her potential such as sports
massage, physiotherapists as well as mental trainers.
“The athlete is our main focus at our federation to try and maximise their potential but to reach higher levels you need more support.”
Thornton had one final message to young athletes who aspire for a successful career in sport.
“My message is clear – you should never lose faith,” Thornton said.
“When I started to practice weightlifting many people used to tell me that this sport was only for men.
“But I always listened to what my coach told me as he has always been very professional with me and always took good care of me. He thought me all the techniques needed without never hurting myself.
“If you are determined and committed the sky is the limit.”