Member of the national weightlifting team of Mongolia, athlete of the Sambuu San Sports Club and 12th grader of Buyant Ukhaa School O.Tugs-Erdene talked about her sports journey in the following interview.
O.Tugs-Erdene, who broke the national record for the snatch lift 15 times, delighted the fans of weightlifting sports by winning a gold medal at the Asian Youth and Junior Weightlifting Championships, held last spring in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It is said that she got inspired by the success of her cousin, 2021 World Champion M.Ankhtsetseg, and started lifting weights thanks to her. State Honored Coach Ts.Khosbayar also had a great influence on her success. O.Tugs-Erdene became the national youth champion four times and won a bronze medal at the Asian Championship in 2020. The following year, she took fourth place at the World Championship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The new academic year has already begun. Do you sometimes find it difficult to manage your studies, competitions and training?
I have been lifting weights for seven years. During this time, I got used to being busy. I will start competing in the junior category in January 2023. For me, 2023 will probably be a year in which I have to work harder than ever before to achieve more success. On top of that, I plan to successfully graduate from high school and enroll in my desired university. My teachers and classmates understand and support me during competitions. In particular, when I’m busy, my classmates look out for me.
Can you share how you felt when you became the Asian champion?
2022 has been a positive year for me, bringing me luck and success. I won the Youth National Championship held last spring in Khentii Province and qualified to compete in the Asian Championship in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. At the Asian Championships, I won a gold medal in the under-71 kilograms division by lifting 85 kilograms in the snatch event and 101 kilograms in clean and jerk. The Tashkent stage tends to bring luck to Mongolian athletes. I had competed in the Asian Championship in Tashkent twice before, so I was not nervous or scared in the last competition there. When I first participated in the under-48 kilograms division of the Asian Championship in 2018, I came in last place. I was young at the time, so I was excited when I first set foot in the city. Although I did not succeed back then, I set myself the goal of winning a medal. After two years of hard work, I won a bronze medal in snatch and this year, I achieved my goal by becoming the Asian champion. When I saw my cousin M.Ankhtsetseg win the World Championship in December last year, I thought, “When will I become a world champion like her?” The gold medal she brought from Tashkent inspired me and invigorated me to succeed.
What was the first thing that came to your mind when you became the Asian champion?
The best moment for me was when I won and shared the victory with my coach Ts.Khosbayar. At that time, I just wanted to go home quickly. Before the competition, he told me, “Don’t miss this opportunity. It’s time for you to succeed.” Among the athletes who competed in my weight division, the strongest were athletes from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. I thought about many things when I saw the spectators there cheering and supporting their national athletes. When Mongolia was called out and I received my medal, I was very proud of my country, my parents and my teachers. I couldn’t participate in the Youth World Championship before due to financial issues.
This time, my team and my family supported me in every way to help me compete in the Asian Championship. I shed tears of joy when I became the champion. I am proud to be the first athlete from Mongolia to win the Youth Asian Championship in weightlifting. I think I will be the youngest among the athletes competing in the junior category next year.
Few parents are interested in getting their daughters into strength sports, so most female weightlifters start their sports careers on their own. Why did you take up this sport?
I was not very interested in this sport at first. The more I trained and lifted the barbell, the more I was drawn to this sport. After a few days without training, I started wanting to go to the gym sooner. M.Ankhtsetseg is my cousin. I have seen her practice weightlifting since childhood, so I could see this sport’s training environment and the atmosphere of competitions. I was so eager to learn to lift like my senior athletes when I saw them training in the gym. After eight months of training, in the spring of 2016, I participated in the under-36 kilograms division of the Youth National Championship and won a silver medal. Since then, I have won many medals from national championships. I put this medal that started my success on top of my awards and medals. During competitions, I look at this medal and get motivated to do more.
Most people did not expect you, a girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor, would lift weights and succeed, right?
I gave up this dream and became interested in sports. Even after entering university, I don’t think I will leave my favorite sport. I was thin when I was young. At first, my teacher saw me and asked, “How can you lift that?” My senior athletes said to me that when I first arrived, I was tiny like G.Khandarmaa. I used to have a misconception that lifting weights would stop my growth. When I started practicing the right technique, I realized that public understanding is wrong. There are many athletes in Mongolia who compete in my weight division. Among them, athlete G.Enerel, who won a bronze medal at the Junior World Championship in Las Vegas, the USA in 2019, is the strongest competitor.
Did your seniors on the national team influence you to strive for success?
Yes. Among them, I look up to weightlifter G.Anujin because she is diligent, militant and hard working. Even if she stays alone in the gym, she trains. Teacher T.Sambuu once said, “There is no secret to training. It all comes down to effort and hard work.” The success of M.Ankhtsetseg paved our way to succeed and inspired us. Before, it seemed far for me to participate in the World Championships and the Olympics, but now it’s getting closer.
It is said that teacher Ts.Khosbayar is good at reading his students’ minds and feelings and understanding their state of mentality. Is it true?
He knows everything by looking at our eyes and movements. During training, he is very sensitive to the performance of his athletes. When we feel a little down, he asks, “How are you feeling? Did something happen at home?” He talks and consults with parents if necessary. Depending on the physical and psychological state of athletes, he decides whether to give them time to rest, recover or train harder.
Athletes cannot always win, so they have ups and downs during their sports journey. Do you sometimes feel down when you lose?
When I lose to my opponent, next year’s competitions seem far away. The most difficult thing is to lose a medal in major domestic and foreign competitions. This has happened to me too. I regretted losing a bronze medal at last year’s World Championships in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I felt sad considering how much effort, work and time I spent training for it. The mistakes and lessons of that tournament sometimes hurt me. This year, I won a gold medal in the Asian Championship and I felt relieved.
Could you share your childhood memories?
My childhood was busy with going to school, training and competing. I used to envy my peers who could watch their favorite movies during their spare time and celebrate holidays. I rarely went on trips with my classmates. At such times, I felt it was important to train and I thought about my goals and aspirations. I have many things planned. My biggest dream is to win a medal at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the USA. I will be 24 years old then and will be competing in the adult category.
Has your family become familiar with this sport since they watch you lift weights at competitions?
By watching my competitions, my family has gained a basic understanding of this sport. If I get sick during training, my mother gives me all the treatments she knows. At first, they didn’t understand much about this sport, but after seeing me train every day, they started to support me. During the Asian Championship, my relatives gathered at my house to watch me compete. Later, I found that my family expected me to become the champion. My mother and grandmother cannot watch me lift heavy weights in competitions because they get worried. Rest, recovery and nutrition are important for athletes to succeed. Sometimes I get tired of training. At that time, eating my mother’s cooking and relaxing at home becomes a good vacation for me. On the weekends, when training ends early, I like to talk with friends and watch interesting movies. An athlete tends to have few friends. When it comes to friendship, our sports teammates can be good friends who understand us better than anyone else. I feel a warm and friendly atmosphere from them – we’re like a family. If we don’t train for a few days, we miss each other.
Do you think taking up this sport was the right decision?
Standing on the podium at the Asian Championships, I knew I had made the right decision. In the past, I was proud to see successful athletes, but experiencing it in person is completely different. At that time, I realized that my dreams and goals, which seemed far away, were close to me. There is a time for athletes to succeed. Such a happy moment happened to me this year.
Sports help people develop the right attitude. How do you think weightlifting has changed you?
Before, I used to be casual with my peers. Becoming an athlete made me respect them. I have also paid attention to the small mistakes that I used to ignore. I have learned to manage my time well so that I don’t miss my training. The hall where we, athletes, train is our second home. We go through both ups and downs. We face the difficult decision of whether to quit or stay every now and then. For me, 2021 wasn’t the best year. I felt like I was not going to succeed and I was very depressed. At that time, my coach and my friend O.Bayantuul encouraged me and pushed me to keep moving forward. Even if athletes find it difficult and even want to give up, they should remember their goals. I want athletes not to be discouraged because success requires sacrifice.