In recent years, Singaporean powerlifters have increasingly been putting our country's name on the map.
And the trend is continuing with an emerging young talent, 20-year-old Nanyang Polytechnic nursing student Thor Qian Qi.
At this year's World Classic Powerlifting Championships held in Helsingborg, Sweden last month, Thor bagged an all-around silver medal in the U-52 Junior category.
And yes, that means she came in second in the world in her category, a truly impressive and also historic achievement.
The only female powerlifter on the Singapore team — there were nine other male competitors — who went for the competition, she was just 2.5kg shy of the amount lifted by the world champion for her weight class.
You can see her executing a squat, a bench press and a deadlift at the competition here:
View this post on Instagram
|2019 IPF Worlds Meet Recap| 🥇Squat 🥇Deadlift 🥈Overall * 2nd in the World Honestly, I’ve been pretty disappointed with my results this meet especially because of my squats. I was aiming for a WR at 141, which seem pretty possible if not for my depth during the first squat. I’m sure this cost me my first place position. Regardless, I think I’ve done pretty well, placing 2nd overall. All there is to do is to stop whining and work harder for next year. Squat: 125 ❌ 125 ⭕️ 135 ⭕️ (Jr & O NR) Bench: 57.5 ⭕️ 65 ⭕️ 70 ❌ Deadlift: 140 ⭕️ 147.5 ⭕️ 157.5 ⭕️ (Jr NR & AR) Total: 357.5kg @ 51.55kg (Jr AR,NR & O NR) (+17kg PR) Wilks/IPF points: 445.67/683.64 • @daniolbro @primeathleticus #powerliftingsingapore #powerliftinggirls #IPF #APF #powerlifting #girlswholift #primeathleticus #ipfworlds2019 #sweden
And as you might have noticed from the caption on her Instagram post, she doesn't sound all that pleased with her achievement, awesome as it was.
Disappointed with her win at first
And sure enough, Thor, as Singaporean as she can be, tells Mothership she was disappointed with how she did because she went to the competition with the aim of clinching the world championship title.
"I had a chance to become the world champion, but because I didn't hit squat depth during my first squat attempt, I didn't win."
It was only after the weight of her frustration at her arguably overachieving self had lifted from her shoulders that the magnitude of what she had achieved at her maiden effort really occurred to her.
"When I calmed down and reflected, I realised that to be nominated for Worlds, and to be second in the world, it was a pretty huge feat by itself. It motivated me to work even harder especially when I was so close."
Took up powerlifting just 2.5 years ago
Considering how she only took up powerlifting two and a half years ago at the start of 2017, Thor's achievements are no less than incredible — what one might describe a few years ago as "level Asian".
Thor, who previously spent seven years as a competitive figure skater, told Mothership she first got into powerlifting when she started going to the gym in a bid to lose weight.
The gym-goers around her then started to notice that she was quite strong, and recommended her to try out powerlifting.
That was when she started training.
Barely three months later in April that year, she entered her first local competition, and hasn't looked back since.
A year on, she went on to beat her personal best, bagging four gold medals at last year's Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship.
At that meet, she also managed to pull a 145.5kg deadlift for an Asian Record in the Women’s Under-52kg Junior category, and completed a squat of 130kg and a bench press of 65kg to beat the Junior and Open National Records in Singapore.
"Powerlifting is truly a team sport"
Thor credits her achievement to many people in her life, such as her coaches and her fellow teammates who helped her improve her technique and manage her diet.
View this post on Instagram
Throughout this prep, so many people rallied behind me and gave me the support that I’ll forever be grateful for. Thank you! 1. @daniolbro: my #1 coach and boyfriend. The guy who wrote my program. This massive PR can be credited to him. Thank you for pulling me up from the shams, fixing my horrible technique and giving me this title. Thanks for tolerating my bullshit again lol. 2. @joncsw: This guy’s my bro and the MVP man. Thank you for helping me with my nutrition and analysing my technique so selflessly. Also, thank you for giving me a wake up call when I needed it. In my opinion, he’s the most knowledgeable coach in SG, for both nutrition and training. 3. @jasontsg : Thank you for the bench programming, for handling me, as well as the words of wisdom! 4. @benesgro: Though I didn’t really know you well previously, thank you for handling me! I really appreciate it. Also, thanks @alfredtsg , @kedrictsg , @lift_ng , @clintoncratus_atp , @adam.tbm for loading my plates for me, offering words of support, offering help, asking if I needed anything etc. Powerlifting is truly a team sport.
But she was most thankful, of course, to her boyfriend Daniel Tan, a fellow powerlifter who at the same meet also clinched an all-around silver, but in his U-59 Junior category.
Describing him as her No. 1 coach, she said, "He was my coach for the Worlds prep and I've done very well thanks to him!"
View this post on Instagram
Thank you so much coach! This is the guy who literally gave me a 70kg PR since I started working with him last June. Just ONE year and I improved by SEVENTY kg. Like WTF?! 😲 (Hit him up for coaching guys.) I love you so much! 💕 • #powerliftingsingapore #powerliftinggirls #IPF #APF #powerlifting #girlswholift #primeathleticus #ipfworlds2019 #sweden #helsingborg
Thor said it was thanks to Tan's encouragement and the training programme he drew up for her that she made a whopping 70kg improvement within one year.
But she is now being coached by The Strength Guys from Canada who coach powerlifters worldwide.
The switch, she explained, was because it became hard to "balance relationship with training".
"I will often whine about my training to my boyfriend, who is also my coach," she said. "It's even harder when we're both dieting as we'll be grumpy and feeling irritated from the caloric deficit."
Grateful for father's financial support
As powerlifting does not have a recognised national sports association in Singapore, local competitive powerlifters are not funded.
Thor says, therefore, that her father's support for her efforts and training have also helped her significantly.
While she uses her internship earnings from her nursing course attachments with different hospitals each semester for competition-related expenses such as flight tickets, her father often helped make up for the shortfall.
Took a break from competing to improve on her technique
But of course, no amount of external support is enough without Thor herself putting in the time and grit to get there.
She trains about four times a week, with each session lasting from two and a half to three hours.
So dedicated she was to improve her form and correct what she describes as her "bad technique" that she even took a year-long break from competing between December 2017 to December 2018 to focus on it.
But she admits that period certainly also had to do with the fact that she strained her back while preparing for her international debut at the 2017 Asian Classic Powerlifting Championships, from which she came home as the Asian Champion — she snagged three golds and a silver in the U-52 Sub Junior category.
As superhuman as she sounds, Thor also hits slumps once in a while.
When that happens, she turns her focus on why she started powerlifting in the first place.
"I know that this slump will pass eventually, so I'll just chill and cruise past it," she said.
Now in her final year of school, Thor is awaiting the outcome of her application to study dietetics at the Singapore Institute of Technology — a discipline consistent with her personal need to manage her nutrition closely as an athlete, which she currently does by counting her calories from time to time.
This, she says, of course contributes toward her progress, performance and recovery.
Powerlifters are not fat
When asked if there is anything she would like other Singaporeans to know about powerlifting, Thor said people often confused powerlifting with weightlifting.
Weightlifting, she explains, comprises of two lifts only, which are the snatch as well as the clean and jerk, but powerlifting consists of three: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.
Another common misconception she sees is that most powerlifters are the polar opposites of bodybuilders, in that the former are "fat, or don't really take care of [their] physiques".
Of course, she says, that isn't true as there are different weight classes in powerlifting, such as ones that range from 53kg to above 120kg for men, and 43kg to above 84kg for women.
Visualising wins at competitions
Thor plans to continue powerlifting for as long as she can.
Besides the physical benefits that come with powerlifting, she said the sport has helped improve her mental strength.
"When you have eight to 10 reps for a lift, it really tests your mental strength to complete the last few reps. You have to keep telling yourself not to give up and to just go on."
Thor said she even writes her Instagram caption of her winning a competition beforehand as part of her mental preparation.
"I like to visualise my lifts the night before, and me completing the lift successfully," she said.
She believes in the law of attraction, in that should she believe that she can win a particular competition, focus and work hard towards it, she will actually win it.
Powerlifting is also a tool Thor uses to keep working on herself.
"After hitting your goal numbers, you keep striving for more."
Powerlifting empowers her
It's clear Thor finds great power and strength in powerlifting — not just physically and mentally, but also psychologically, helping her to find her footing in an image-obsessed society.
"To focus on strength and not on just losing weight and looking nice all the time, especially as a female in this society where looks are emphasised a lot, is really empowering."
She added that she has not come across too many stereotypes facing girls in the local powerlifting scene.
"The powerlifting community has welcomed me with open arms right from the start, which was really encouraging to me when I first started," she said.
But most importantly, powerlifting has taught her the importance of hard work.
"I have coaches who programme my training for me, but without individual hard work, like putting in the hours and working on your technique, you will get nowhere."
Top image via Ashton Pang & Thor Qian Qi's Instagram