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Garage Sessions: Charron’s ‘mini-gym’ training routine pays off with Olympic gold

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TOKYO – When the pandemic forced Canadian weightlifter Maude Charron to carve out a training area in the two-car garage of her father’s home, she tried her best to make it her own.

She put a Canada flag and posters on the wall alongside a calendar to chart her training sessions. Charron used a sticker system to keep herself motivated: a bronze star for a so-so effort, silver if she lifted her target weight, and gold if she went a kilo or two over that number.

“Usually when I have a bad training session, I’m very hard on myself … then I go back to my calendar and I see I have a few gold stars there,” she said Wednesday. “So it helped me to get through the year.”

Those training sessions — about 2 1/2 hours long, eight times a week — paid off Tuesday night at the Tokyo International Forum. Charron finished first in both the snatch and the clean and jerk to win gold in the women’s 64-kilogram category at the Summer Olympics.

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She celebrated by eating some pizza and cake with coach Jean-Patrick Millette, talking to her parents and then grabbing a few hours sleep. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave her a congratulatory call on Wednesday morning.

Charron, from Rimouski, Que., made a successful lift of 131 kilos on her third and final clean and jerk attempt. The snatch weight of 105 kilos gave her a total of 236 points for a four-point margin of victory.

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It was Canada’s second gold medal of the Games after swimmer Maggie Mac Neil won the women’s 100-metre butterfly on Monday.

Christine Girard, who won bronze in 2008 and gold in 2012, is the only other Canadian female weightlifter to reach the Olympic podium.

However, she didn’t receive her medals until 2018. An athlete who originally finished second in Beijing and the two competitors who finished ahead of Girard in London were disqualified for doping infractions.

“I wanted to do well for her (too),” said Charron, who calls Girard an idol. “For Canada, I think that medal was due for Canada for some time. And yes, there’s a little bit of her in that gold medal.”

Reached in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., Girard said she was touched that Charron acknowledged her following the victory.

“I found that generous on her part,“ she said. ”But we must not hide it, today is Maude’s day, even if it makes me feel good that she thought of me.”

Charron established herself as a medal contender earlier this year when she won gold at the Pan American Championships in April. The 28-year-old was joined on the Olympic podium by Italy’s Giorgia Bordignon and Wen-Huei Chen of Taiwan.

“It’s surreal and it is historic for Canada,” Millette said. “I want everybody to know that it’s possible to do it. We showed that it’s possible. Christine showed it (too) and I hope that in the future other people will also do it.”

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When gyms were closed during the pandemic, Charron set up her “mini-gym” in Sainte-Luce-sur-Mer, Que., allowing her to maintain her training routine and also spend more time with her father.

“It was a rough garage,” she said. “It wasn’t finished at all. It was cold. There was no (heat). It was very dusty and very dirty. But week by week it (would) get better and better.”

Reminders of her Tokyo mission were everywhere.

Her weightlifting platform included Japanese symbols that read ‘I’m Going To’ above Olympic rings she had painted on the surface. A stuffed animal of one of the Olympic mascots sits on her night table.

“Every time I’d wake up, I’d see my goal,” she said. “On my keychain, I also have the mascot. So every time I take my keys, I have a reminder of my goal.

“Just keeping that reminder of this dream, every day, all the time.”

Charron also posted sticky notes around the house with motivational quotes.

“It’s just a reminder,” she said. “Don’t forget: ‘You wanted it, you still want it. Just keep going.’”

Her rescue dog, ‘Murph,’ would sit down and watch her train in the garage. When the temperature dropped in the winter months, Own the Podium and domestic funding partners helped with insulation costs.

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“A weightlifter cannot take weeks off,” she said. “You just lose all the work you did in the past year. So we had to stay active.”

It has been a remarkable sporting journey for Charron, who previously excelled in gymnastics, acrobat work and CrossFit before turning to weightlifting in 2015.

“There’s no straight pathway,” she said. “There’s no fast way. You make your own way. You can choose to go right or to go left. You can choose to go back to an old dream.

“Just follow your dream. Don’t regret anything you try and believe in yourself.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2021.

With files from Canadian Press reporter Marc Delbès.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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