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Weightlifting: Pair lift game for Rio spot

Fiercely competitive weightlifters with remarkably similar backgrounds are vying for Olympic selection.

A duel looms to determine which of New Zealand's top women weightlifters will realise her Olympic dream in Rio.

Tracey Lambrechs and Andrea Miller are in a seven-strong women's team to compete at the Oceania Championships in Suva on May 23-28. The event acts as the regional Rio qualifier.

New Zealand's women first have to earn a Games spot by finishing in the top four countries (the men need to be in the top five). If that's achieved, Lambrechs and Miller must face off to determine who is most likely perform best at Rio.

Once a nomination is made, the New Zealand Olympic Committee selectors must be convinced the athlete is capable of a top-16 finish.

The competition is often filled with drama and depth of character. On one hand, you're performing selfishly to gain an Olympic spot; on the other, you must deliver for your team-mates.

An example came before the last Olympics when Tevita Ngalu clean and jerked 157kg on a torn quadriceps muscle in the 105kg-plus class so Richie Patterson could get to London.

Patterson is also the current favourite to attend Rio.

On the International Weightlifting Federation's Olympic ranking lists, Lambrechs is 21st in the 75kg-plus class; Miller is 37th in the 69kg class, but has dropped into the 63kg bracket to better capitalise on her power.

The pair share similarities.

The 30-year-old Lambrechs was once a shot putter in the shadow of friend and occasional training partner Val Adams, so opted out and lifted her way to bronze at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The 34-year-old Miller earned bronze in the 100m hurdles at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, then an injury rehabilitation saw her adopt the Crossfit fitness mantra. That led to competitive lifting.

Neither of the women has contested an Olympics. Both know what it's like to miss out.

Lambrechs endured that pain before London.

"I'll never forget dealing with that feeling, I still get emotional. I cried for three or four days afterwards.

"Coming home to my family was hard, but my nieces made cards and reminded me they still loved me, which was sweet.

"A good friend helped me through, but it was a dark period."

The disappointment was exacerbated by criticism.

"People were telling me I hadn't done enough, when I'd put everything on the line. No one was at fault. Our team had done its best.

"It's still in the back of my mind, but I came home and broke all the New Zealand records, which proved I wasn't finished. That fuelled the fire for Glasgow, which became my 'London'."

Family and friends are major drivers for Lambrechs. Mates have even built wedding plans around her schedule and her nieces, 6-year-old Michelle and Ashleigh (4), keep her earthed.

"They pick up on the noises I sometimes make [on the stage] and often they'll get out a stick to do some 'lifts' when I'm competing on telly. My sister sends me the videos. I hope to inspire them."

Team-mates are also inspired, particularly by her calf muscles, which give the topographical impression of the Southern Alps running up her legs.

"They have always been a pain," Lambrechs says with a laugh.

"They're so big that wherever I go, I get complimented. I can't wear jeans because they won't go over them. Everyone seems to love them. One of the blokes in the team wants to have a measure-off, but I still think I'll win. I'm quite competitive."

Miller hardly lacks for competitiveness either. As a hurdler, she moved to the Gold Coast before the 2010 Commonwealth Games so she could train with Australia's future Olympic and world champion Sally Pearson.

It paid dividends with the podium finish in Delhi, New Zealand's first in the discipline, but her attempts to qualify for the London Olympics were thwarted by injury. As a physiotherapist, Miller knew the impact on her muscles and the time it would take to heal.

Crossfit's founding pillars of flexibility, strength and ballistic power appealed as a remedy. She became hooked.

"The reason for leaving [hurdling] was injury-based, but I wasn't done competing," says Miller. "Coming from an explosive [muscle-based] background, the power was there and it was something I enjoyed.

"However, there were subtle differences. For example, I hadn't spent a lot of time in the squat because the aim was always to remain tall and upright getting over hurdles."

Apart from the absence of seven other bodies in close proximity, Miller says hurdling and weightlifting are similar on the "start line".

"Once I tighten my left wristband, I'm in my zone. I'm quite quiet, I switch off and have one cue in my head. I don't micro-manage when I compete. When I hurdled, I was so focused on my plan that I could zone everything else out.

"It's similar with weightlifting - it's just me and the bar."

And, at least for now, Lambrechs.

- Herald on Sunday

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