S’pore teen breaks world record, strikes gold at world powerlifting championships

S’pore teen breaks world record, strikes gold at world powerlifting championships
Matthew Yap standing on the podium after his world-record effort. Photo: International Powerlifting Federation
Polytechnic student Matthew Yap, 18, broke the world mark for the squat at his first-ever world tournament
Published: 10:15 PM, June 19, 2017
Updated: 10:44 PM, June 19, 2017

SINGAPORE – A Singapore teenager has set a new world record at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsk, Belarus, en route to winning gold in the squat in the men’s Under-66kg sub-junior division (for 14 to 18-year-olds).

Republic Polytechnic student Matthew Yap lifted 208kg on his last attempt to break the world mark of 207.5kg, set by Swede Eddie Berglund in Texas last year.

The 18-year-old had cleared 190kg in his first attempt, but was forced to sit out the second one at 202.5kg due to cramp.

That caused him to drop to fourth position and out of the medal positions, which meant that Yap had to make his last attempt count.

Despite feeling the pressure, Matthew decided to go for broke and aim for the world record mark of 208kg. What also spurred him on was the thought of not wasting all the hard work and sacrifices he had put into preparing for his World Championships debut.

“I would say I was nervous, but hopeful,” he told TODAY in a phone interview.

“I knew I could do it due to how my training had been going before the championships, but only if I did not cramp.

“I was mentally prepared to tolerate the cramps no matter how painful it got, as long as I got the lift.

“I told myself I flew all the way here just to compete and with all the hard work and sacrifices that I have put in, I must make it worthwhile.”

Admitting that breaking the world record was on his mind, Matthew tapped into that as a source of motivation.

“I used that to psych myself up to focus and to not fail the lift, no matter the circumstances,” he recounted.

“I felt really relieved (when I succeeded)… Of course I am proud of this achievement, but I felt that I (actually) had a little more in the tank (still)!”

His coach Marcus Yap, who is also his brother, explained that he made the call for Matthew to skip the second attempt to conserve energy.

“It was to give him more time to eat and recover,” the 23-year-old full-time national serviceman said.

“If we were to have gone for it... (it could) potentially make him cramp up (more) and feel worse, resulting in a bad third (attempt).”

Marcus, himself a powerlifter who has trained for five years, was also proud that his efforts to guide his sibling for the past three-and-a-half years paid off.

“I think it’s cool being a good athlete, but it’s harder to be a good coach, so being able to coach my little brother from scratch and to see what he has achieved really gives a lot more confidence with regards to my coaching abilities,” he said.

Referring to how powerlifters in Singapore are self-funded, Marcus added: “It’s a great milestone for our family because I think it’s hard to excel in a sport when you’re not born with a sliver spoon, and the fact that we have to (personally) bear the fees of the competition.”

Matthew, who trains five times a week for around three hours per session, added: “Powerlifting is an unrecognised sport but it is up and coming, no doubt. I believe it is more than a sport and it has definitely helped to build my character.”

His determination and diligence was praised by Tan Say Yong, vice-president of Powerlifting Singapore, the sport’s local governing body, which is not a recognised National Sports Association.

“Matthew’s powerlifting journey, much like his brother Marcus, parallels the growth of the sport in Singapore,” he told TODAY.

“In the last few years, our athletes have quietly worked hard out of the public eye to deliver results and show the world that Singapore can make an impact.

“Powerlifting is a sport without geographical bias and I believe that great things lie ahead for our athletes, as they accumulate competition experience and improve their training.”

Matthew’s success in the squat rounded off a stellar tournament, where he also earned a bronze in the bench press with a 130kg attempt.

Combined with a deadlift attempt of 212.5kg, his total of 550.5kg saw him take silver in the overall category. He will return home on Thursday.

Both brothers had also earned four gold medals each at last December’s Asia-Oceania Powerlifting Championships – which will be held in Singapore for the first time this December – and they hope to inspire others with their achievements.

“I hope with this little success, we are able to encourage people to pursue what they love, and believe that if we were to have heart, anything is possible,” Marcus said.