Commonwealth medalists take a break

After 35 hours on a plane, Whitehorse’s Jeane Lassen and Emily Quarton have arrived home for a little rest and relaxation.

After 35 hours on a plane, Whitehorse’s Jeane Lassen and Emily Quarton have arrived home for a little rest and relaxation.

It was a successful trip for the pair; Lassen brought back a gold medal, and Quarton won silver from the women’s weightlifting competition at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, which wrapped up on Sunday.

Lassen not only won the women’s 69-kilogram weight class, she set a new Commonwealth Games record with a 132-kilogram clean and jerk.

She also snatched 97 kilograms for a combined score of 229 kilograms, beating the second-place finisher by seven kilograms.

“I think Commonwealth records fall pretty easily, I don’t want to downplay it, but there was only one previous Games for women,” said Lassen on Wednesday. “I only had to do better than the last winner.”

Although Lassen has been lifting competitively for 10 years, this was her first Commonwealth event. The last time she was in a qualifying position was in 1998, and the event wasn’t offered (women’s weightlifting isn’t one of the mandatory events of the Games.)

“It was the biggest multi-sport event for me, I would say, but not the toughest competition,” she said. “The world championships have a lot more depth, many countries don’t compete at the Commonwealth Games.”

Quarton found her first Games experience a little more overwhelming.

“It was the biggest audience ever, like 3,000 people,” said Quarton. “I was thinking ‘I’m at the Commonwealth Games!’ which should not have been going through my head, but it was.”

Competing in the women’s 58-kilogram class, she snatched 77 kilograms and clean and jerked 101 kilograms for a combined 178-kilogram score. She missed the gold by seven kilograms to Chanu Yumnam of India.

“I was aiming for higher numbers, but I’m happy with the result,” she said.

It wasn’t all tense competition, however. After winning the gold, Lassen lunched with Queen Elizabeth. She also turned down Prince Edward’s dinner invitation, opting to try her hand at surfing instead. 

Weightlifting isn’t a high-profile event; there was only enough funding to send four men and four women to the Games. Lassen qualified as one of the eight, but Quarton had to pay her own way to Melbourne.

Quarton works two jobs in Montreal to pay for her training, and recently got ‘carded’ to receive federal funding; unfortunately, that money hasn’t kicked in yet.

Being from the Yukon has its advantages, though, and Quarton found enough financial support in Whitehorse to get her to the Games.

“It was a matter of a few weeks, and anywhere else it wouldn’t have happened,” she said. “A lot of people here, especially Scott McCarthy helped hugely; I couldn’t have gone without them.”

McCarthy, also a weightlifter, won a bronze at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

 They won’t get much time to rest on the laurels they’ve earned, however. It’s back to Montreal tomorrow for the pair, where they will start training for nationals.

Weightlifting on the international level has no real season to speak of; events happen year round. “My season’s lasted 10 years,” joked Lassen.

Olympics are the constant goal for weightlifters, but qualifying is based on team performance.

That means all seven members of the Canadian women’s team need to do well over then next two years to secure one or two spots for Beijing in 2008, hopefully one of those spots will belong to Lassen.

“It’s hard to know where the Canadian team stands right now,” said Lassen. “The Commonwealth Games teams aren’t really the ones were trying to knock out.”

The real test comes at the World Championships in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in September. It’s there that they will face non-Commonwealth teams like Russia and China.

“They’re untouchable for us, their women are really strong,” said Lassen. “The USA, and the Pan-Am countries are the ones we’re trying to surpass, and Britain and Western Europe.”

While Beijing is a real possibility for Lassen, Quarton (four years younger) has her sights set further down the road. “For me it’s more long term: 2012 in London. In the near future, there’s the Pan Am Games in 2007.”

A career in the sport can be long-lived, according to Lassen. “It depends if you can stay injury free; there was an athlete that just retired at the Commonwealth Games, he was 45, and had been competing since the ‘70s.”

Lassen doesn’t know how long she will stick with weightlifting. Staying healthy is the main goal, and as long as she’s enjoying it, she’ll keep training.

The sport has opened up the world for these Yukoners, and they appreciate it, but the jet-setting lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“It’s not a novelty anymore … I wish all the competitions were in Canada now,” Lassen said with a laugh.