Rotorua's Anja Jennings burst on to the weightlifting scene in September last year when she broke national records for the snatch and clean and jerk in the under-15, under-53kg girls' division at Secondary Schools Nationals. Two weeks later she beat her own records at the New Zealand Junior Olympic Weightlifting Championships. More recently the 16-year-old represented Crossfit Rotorua at the North Island Weightlifting Championships with the main goal of qualifying for nationals again. Sports reporter David Beck spoke with her about how she went and what her hopes are for the rest of 2019.
Anja Jennings, 16, travelled to Auckland earlier this month to compete in the under-55kg division at the North Island Olympic Weightlifting Championships with one goal; qualify for the nationals in August.
Needing to achieve a total of 105kg to make the cut, the Crossfit Rotorua weightlifter lifted 58kg in the snatch and 67kg in the clean and jerk to smash that total and come away with a silver medal.
"I felt really nervous because I haven't competed since December but all my lifts felt really solid," she said.
The weight divisions for national events have changed this year, the under-53kg division no longer exists which means Anja has to compete in under-55kg - she was the lightest in her division by about 2kg.
She successfully lifted 50kg, 54kg and 58kg in the snatch and made 63kg and 67kg in the clean and jerk before failing at 70kg - which would have been a personal best by 3kg. Her record-breaking lifts for under-15 girls at last year's nationals were 53kg and 64kg.
"I just try to block out any noise and tell myself I've done this weight before, it's not difficult, I know what to do.
"[On the failed lift] I didn't have any doubt or anything, I knew I could do it. I pulled it off the ground but when I landed it slipped off.
"[At nationals] I want to make B Grade, which is a total of 130kg. I just need to keep training and getting stronger, you can never be too strong."
One of her coaches Nicole Pakau said Anja performed "really well" at the North Island Champs.
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"We went into it with no expectations and she just blew everyone out of the water again. Originally we went with the intention of just getting a total good enough to qualify. Then we got there, saw how well she was lifting and then the goal changed to a podium finish.
"She's really awesome to work with because she just does what she's told which is exactly what you need, not someone who will question everything, she trusts us and she's very dedicated and passionate. She has no issues putting in the work she does.
"Strength is the main work-on now, working on building up her legs muscle-wise, that's a big thing she lacks compared to other competitors. Her technique is perfect, all she needs to work on is building up that strength for getting out of squats."
Anja's talents are not restricted to simply lifting weights. She finished top in New Zealand in the Crossfit Open, in the 16-17 age group, which put her in the top 200 worldwide and gave her a shot at qualifying for the Crossfit Games.
Those athletes participated in an online qualifier from which the top 10 progressed to the Crossfit Games. Anja did not make the cut this time but has another year in the age group.
Her next goal is to qualify for the New Zealand Crossfit Championships in July.
"The online qualifier for that starts on June 4th, if I do well in that I can go to the finals in July in Cambridge. This is the first time they have opened up a teens division. It's pretty exciting."
Anja has worked hard, training six times a week, often twice a day, to be an allround threat in crossfit. Whether it be gymnastics, weightlifting or cardio, she excels. Her biggest work-on now is believing in herself.
"Sometimes I have really negative thoughts, I think to myself 'why am I even doing this?'. But once I'm real close to the end I push a bit more and it's all good. I try to tell myself that everyone else is feeling the same.
"I just enjoy lifting heavy, it's fun and in crossfit the workouts are never the same, there's always something new to work on."
As a crossfitter, Anja was "amazing", said Pakau.
"She's allround got everything, she doesn't really have a weakness other than that base strength. Her technique for lifts is perfect and she breezes through gymnastics.
"The other thing we're working on is her confidence, challenging what she is capable of," Pakau said.