To mark International Women’s Day, trailblazing American weightlifter Morghan King talks about being a woman in a sport that has been historically dominated by men, and about how she wants to promote body positivity to the next generation of female athletes.
- Morghan King didn’t take up weightlifting until she was 26, but four years later she broke a national record in the 48kg event at Rio 2016
- The five-foot-tall American is now chasing a medal at Tokyo 2020 and hopes to inspire the next generation of female lifters
- Morghan wants to use her sport to promote body awareness and body positivity for women
I did gymnastics until I was about nine years old, then started playing football around the age of 11 and followed that all the way through college – and I also did athletics. So I’ve got these power sports in my background.
After college, I reached a point where I knew I still wanted to be competitive, but I just didn’t know what that was. I was tired of football by that point – I’d been doing it my whole life – so I got into marathons and triathlons for a little bit, but I got bored again!
Then a friend of mine said, “You should try CrossFit”, and straight away I loved it. I felt that competitive side of me coming back out, and when I competed at regional level I got the feeling that I really wanted to perfect something.
I wanted to get stronger, but I knew that was my weakness because I was so much smaller than the girls I competed against. So I said: “OK, I’m going to get a good base, a good foundation”. And the first time I tried weightlifting… That was it for me. I loved the perfection of it, loved that it was always me against the bar.
My first goal was to go to the national championships in 2013 and place higher than fifth, but I won my first nationals, made the international team and it just kind of soared from there. It was the most magical four years that you could ever imagine, leading up to Rio 2016.
Becoming a role model to girls
After I broke the US national record and finished sixth in the world in Rio, my friend Holley Mangold, who is also an Olympian, said to me: “I hope you realise that because of social media and because of the reach that we now have in weightlifting, how many young girls that you’ve inspired”. Before that, it hadn’t really occurred to me, but afterwards I wanted to share the excitement of the Olympic Games.
So in October 2018, I travelled to Buenos Aires as an Athlete Role Model for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). While I was there, my volunteer – who translated everything for me! – asked a Peruvian competitor how she got into weightlifting. She said that she had found me on Instagram, and that she was so inspired by what I was doing that she wanted to start working hard to get to the YOG. I think that’s so powerful, because as athletes we get so focused on ourselves that we forget how inspiring we are to other people.
Being significantly older than the girls at the YOG I had all this life experience to share, so to be able to help them on their journey and be a role model for them was really exciting for me. I hope that I can take that through the rest of my life and after I’m done being competitive.
Promoting the benefits of lifting weights
In particular, I think it’s really powerful and inspiring to promote positive body images to women.
Strength sports have kind of got a bad reputation, like: “We’re bodybuilders, and we’re going to get really big”. But it’s not like that, and I think with the reach that we’re starting to get we’re going to be able to inspire so many more young girls.
You can also use weightlifting with any sport; it doesn’t just have to be the sport of weightlifting. I think it’s really important to make sure women know not to be scared of the bar, or scared of the weights. It’s going to make you stronger and more powerful.
For me, there’s something about touching that iron. When you touch it there’s this incredible power that you feel; not only the one you’re projecting on the outside, but on the inside you feel like you can do anything. I think that is just an incredible feeling, and I hope that women will start to see that.
We’ve got so many women that are already involved that I’m hoping the sport will just continue to grow and grow, and become more normalised rather than something to be scared of.
Using social media as a positive platform
Weightlifting is such an individual sport, but social media takes away from that feeling of being alone.
I’ve always wanted to be able to inspire young girls and their mothers, so that was really important for me when I started getting into the public eye. I do want to be that role model and I want people from all ages to look up to me.
There’s this pressure of trying to be someone else all the time on social media, but I’ve always said that hard work comes first, and I just want to come off as genuine.
At the end of the day you’re with yourself, and if you’re projecting somebody else on social media then you’re going to start fighting that. I think that’s the most important thing: be yourself, enjoy your journey and share it with people.
Tokyo 2020 and beyond
An Olympic medal is my dream, but it’s every athlete’s dream.
No matter what happens, though, I will retire after Tokyo. Weightlifting is very stressful on relationships, and on life in general. It’s a full-time job – I train nine sessions a week in the gym, and then I’m doing recovery after – so you have to make sure you love it.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re constantly banging your head against a wall, because you’re doing the same movements over and over, but that’s why it’s important to have that support system and somebody behind you. I think in the first four years it was more happy-go-lucky, but now I’m growing into the person and the athlete I wanted to be, and so that’s why I wanted to do another four years after Rio.
For me, it’s like this: you’ve been constantly working towards something, and you feel it in your gut that you’re made for something bigger, something great, that recognition – not just from the world but to yourself – that all the hard work and everything that you’ve sacrificed is worth it.
To prepare for my transition, I’ve been slowly going back to school to study sport psychology, because I’ve noticed that it’s a really big thing that’s not talked about that much in sport. But I think that’s the extra ten per cent: learning how to cope with losing and winning. It’s learning how to keep yourself even, and how to deal with life pressures and sport pressures.
If, just like Morghan, you’re starting to think about your career transition, then check out Athlete365’s Career+ resources here