USA weightlifter Morghan King is a pioneer for powerful women – and, after a magical Rio 2016, is hoping her attempts to qualify for Tokyo 2020 will inspire more girls to increase their strength, inside and out.
Morghan King is on a mission. The US weightlifter, who finished sixth in the women’s 48kg at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, is demolishing stereotypes about her sport, one day at a time. Her messages? That it’s not just a man’s game. That girls being strong doesn’t mean they’re not feminine. And that nobody should be afraid of picking up a barbell.
“It’s really powerful and inspiring to promote positive body images to women, and strength sports has gotten kind of a bad rap of, ‘Oh, we’re bodybuilders, we're going to get really big’,” said King, 33. “It’s not like that. And with the reach we’re starting to get, we’re going to be able to inspire so many more younger girls.”
King acted as an Athlete Role Model at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 and has thoroughly enjoyed showcasing the delights of her sport to children of all ages around the world.
“We were working with the kids in a demonstration and there was a three-year-old girl,” she said. “She was loving it, and she started pulling on the bar. For me, weightlifting [is something] you can use with any sport. It can benefit you in all athletic events, and that’s really important to make sure women know.
“Don’t be scared of the bar, don’t be scared of the weights. It’s going to make you more powerful, more strong and, for me, there’s something about touching that iron. You feel this incredible power, not only that you’re projecting… just inside: ‘I can do anything’.
“That is an incredible feeling, and I hope women will start to see it. We’ve got so many women that are already involved, it’ll just continue to grow, and it’ll become more of a normalised sport, like it’s not something to be scared of.”
Once I tried weightlifting, it was over. I loved the perfection of it, I loved that it was always me against the barMorghan King United States of America
King is fully aware of parents who might be wary of guiding their daughters towards weightlifting, and the pressures on young girls from social media to act in a certain way. “There is a perception of, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re putting so much weight on their body’,” she said. “After the Olympics, I've felt more social pressure or internal pressure. It’s, ‘She should be doing these numbers’, or ‘She did these numbers last year, so why isn't she doing it this year?’. I can imagine being a 15-year-old kid now, with social media. Nobody wants you to fail, but everybody kind of waits for it because that’s the drama of the sport, and I think that’s in all sports. There’s this push and pull of the social and internal pressures that you feel, that you’re constantly fighting.”
King does see social media as part of the solution as well as part of the problem, however. Her excellently curated Instagram account promotes body positivity for women by example. “I want to come off genuine, and I’ve always said hard work comes first,” she said. “There’s this pressure of trying to be someone else all the time on social media, and for me it was just ‘be you’, enjoy your journey and share it with people.
“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 want people to look up to me, all ages. I wanted that easy crossover of, ‘This is me, be a good person’.”
King participated in gymnastics, football and CrossFit before settling on weightlifting as her sport. “Once I tried weightlifting, it was over. I loved the perfection of it, I loved that it was always me against the bar,” she said – and reflects on Rio 2016 as a magical time.
“I’m probably going to start crying again,” she said, casting her mind back. “I wanted to be a gymnast when I grew up, and I watched the 1996 girls [USA’s women won team all-around Olympic gold in Atlanta] and I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’.
“I got to know Melanie Roach, our 2008 [weightlifting] Olympian, and the thing she said is: ‘You’ve got to make sure that you slow down and enjoy the moment’. You walk in front of the platform [to lift], and I just remember that feeling of, ‘Oh my gosh, I made it’. It was so freaking magical, I’m just replaying it right now in my head. And I broke an American record there, [which] I’d been chasing.
“To do it in front of the world is incredible. It was the most amazing experience that I could’ve ever asked for, and I was just so thankful to be there and be able to represent my country. And the venue was just stunning, it was gorgeous.”
King will be 34 by the time Tokyo 2020 comes around – and although she initially thought that Rio would be her first and last Games, she is now keen to qualify for another. “[Pre-Rio] I thought, if I make the Olympics, I’m done,” she admitted. “And then you get that itch again: ‘Wait a second, I never lifted to my potential’. My fiancé was the one that said: ‘You've got to keep going’. So we made the decision together. Having that support is just huge.”
Qualify or not, King will continue spreading the word for weightlifting. A whole generation of strong girls will follow in her footsteps.