The power duo are ready to be bold, brave and brilliant in Birmingham.
An Aussie surging up the world rankings and a Commonwealth Games veteran carry the nation’s hopes in Para-powerlifting at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next month.
Brisbane’s Hani Watson, 39, has been in outstanding form on the international stage over the past 12 months after only being classified for their Para-powerlifting discipline in 2021. She set a new Oceania record at the World Para-powerlifting Championships in Georgia last October when finishing eighth.
Watson’s effort to lift 120kg in the 86kg+ class, on their first trip away from Australia, was considered outstanding given their relative inexperience in powerlifting. Watson, whose father Charlie encouraged them to focus on their “superpower” when they trained together before his death, improved again in a competition in February.
With the rate of Waton’s progress, she has dreams of claiming gold for Australia at the Commonwealth Games to be held between July 28 and August 8.
It is 16 years since Darren Gardiner claimed Australia’s last Commonwealth Games medal in Para-powerlifting when winning a bronze in Melbourne.
But Watson, whose first name means to be at one with water in Niuean Polynesian, is a serious contender to break the drought in Birmingham.
“I just want to keep competing and lifting my ranking until the rest of the world knows that there’s this female Aussie they should watch out for,” a confident Hani says.
“I’ve been competing for less than 12 months and to be ranked as high as I am in such a short time is the biggest highlight and pat on the back for me.”
Watson’s rise through the powerlifting ranks is a reward for the resilience she has shown after being born with bilateral metaphyseal dysplasia, which bowed her tibia and femur bones.
She underwent several surgeries in a bid to correct the problem and turned to weightlifting with the encouragement of their father, who was a bodybuilder, to build up their strength. But the condition eventually stopped Watson from being able to complete squats.
She was then approached by Australian Para-Powerlifting coach Simon Bergner, who steered Watson towards a new goal.
“My Dad always told me, ‘Focus on your superpower’,” she said. “Bench pressing has made me feel empowered, especially as a woman.”
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Watson’s teammate, Perth’s Ben Wright, 35, the Oceania record holder in two divisions, will become just the second Australian after Leigh Skinner to compete in Para-powerlifting at three Commonwealth Games when he goes to Birmingham.
Born with spina bifida, Wright made his debut for Australia at the Glasgow Games in 2014.
He showed immense courage to compete again on the Gold Coast four years ago after breaking his back just ten weeks before the competition, following a seizure.
Diagnosed with compression fractures in four vertebrae, the grit shown by Wright to recover and represent Australia on home soil was an inspiration and a remarkable career highlight for the three-time national champion.
Wright is determined to post a podium finish at Birmingham and join Darren Gardiner and Richard Nicholson, a silver medallist at Manchester in 2002, as medal winners in Para-Powerlifting for Australia.
He follows an uncomplicated approach towards excelling in Birmingham.
“Follow the process and the results will look after themselves,” says Wright simply.
Commonwealth Games Australia Team Chef de Mission Petria Thomas OAM praised these two athletes blessed with such resilience and talent for winning selection for Birmingham.
“Congratulations to Hani and Ben on being selected for the Australian Team for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games,” Thomas said.
“Ben is heading to his third Commonwealth Games, while Hani is heading to her debut Games. They make for an exciting duo, which I’m sure will be a motivating factor in Birmingham.
“All the best to them both, I can’t wait to see them competing at the Games.”
Paralympics Australia’s Senior Manager Para-sport Tim Matthews was thrilled for the two selections and wished them all the best in Birmingham.
“Ben has competed before at the Commonwealth Games but this will be Hani’s first time. Both athletes have been performing really well in the lead-up,” Matthews said.
“Hani’s results continue to improve and we’re hopeful both athletes can compete very strongly against the rest of the Commonwealth.
“Paralympics Australia would like to recognise the hard work Para-powerlifting head coach Simon Bergner has done to prepare and train Hani and Ben in the lead up to Birmingham.
“Para-powerlifting is a sport we’d like to grow in Australia, particularly with the home Games in 2026 and are hopeful more athletes can compete and qualify for those Games.”
Australian Para-Powerlifting Team – Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games:
|3rd Games (2014 – 10th: Heavyweight; 2018 – 6th: Heavyweight)
Para-powerlifting is the ultimate test of upper-body strength where men and women battle to lift the heaviest weight, exercising incredible strength and control. Many powerlifters bench press two to three times their bodyweight.
Men’s Para-powerlifting made its Commonwealth Games debut in Manchester in 2002, joined by the women’s competition at the Delhi 2010 Games.
Nigeria has won all 12 gold medals since the sport was first contested.
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from Thursday 28 July to Monday 8 August with the Para-powerlifting competition to be conducted on Thursday 4 August at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).