Amna Al Haddad
Sports Pioneer from the Middle East

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Published on March 24th, 2013 | by Amna Al Haddad


Journey to the Olympics: First Weightlifting Competition Experience

There were too many firsts when it came to my leaving the UAE the second time for a competition. First time I traveled business. First time I went to the USA. First time I go in an underground train. First time I see snow. First time I had to worry about how much I weighed. First time I use a specific-scale for weightlifting. First time I experience what 0 degrees feels like. First time I train in a warm-up area in a weightlifting competition venue. First time I take the stage where everyone is looking at me attempting my lifts. First time I meet world-record holders and Olympians. First time I compete in an official international weightlifting event, the Arnold Weightlifting Championships where I’ve been the first Emirati to ever participate. First time I get an official total.


The experience pre-comp is always so surreal leading up to the actual day. It didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel like it was happening. Going to the airport was not was horrendous as it was last year when I traveled to compete in Crossfit in May. It was a whole different experience. I knew what to expect (sort of!). It felt weird entering the flight, leaving everything I know. Leaving my comfort zone, leaving home. I always never liked the idea of flying either, but the flight was very smooth, even more so what made it more enjoyable is they served me ice cream. We (by we, I mean my sister, my coach, and a friend from FAST) went straight from Dubai to Atlanta, USA, which was a total of 15 hours with a few hours layover then to Columbus, Ohio. So a total of 20 hours travel! But being in business class made the whole world difference on my body where my hip flexors didn’t freak out on me. It was a HUGE relief!

And there we reached…

We stayed at the Embassy Suites Hotel, the host hotel for the Arnold Weightlifting Championships where a lot of other weightlifters also stayed. The main goal of the first couple of days was to find food that is suitable for me to eat to fuel me up leading to the competition day – and luckily, that wasn’t an issue! For the most part I had a lot of seafood, and once I found halal chicken/meat and grabbed some and stored some meat for competition day.

One of the things that was worrying me a lot was my weight. I never really cared for how much I weigh, but in the sport of weightlifting how much you weigh makes a difference in which weight category you compete in and your results using a sinclair formula. I compete in the 53kg category, however, I was doing alright and didn’t have much to worry about as I was weighing below 52kgs, about a 1kg below since I left the UAE. On the same day, before competition day we went to the competition venue to train to get a small training session in and get acquainted with the organizers and meet some of the other athletes.

Later it was dinner and bedtime before the big day…

…not that I slept, not even for a bit!

Competition Day:

And here it was. The day I have put my body, mind, and emotions through hell for. The long hours in training, the recovery, the hour-long stretching and foam rolling every night, and the chiropractic treatment. I’ve made it. I barely slept the night before, thinking about how I will perform and feel when I am on that stage for the first time. Visualizing my lifts and my performance. As I woke up, the first thing I did was check my bodyweight and I weighed 51.5kgs (phew!) so that meant I could eat some food and not put on a lot of weight, so I had a bit of avocado and beef. Coach Kris and I then went to the competition venue as my official weigh-in was at 10a.m.

As we reached the venue, we went to grab our badges (my athlete badge and a 3-day entry to watch all the other events at the Arnold Sport Festival.) After that I went to do my official weigh-in and weighed exactly the same as I did pre-breakfast. After the official weigh in is taken, there is a 2-hour window before  session #2 (first women session) took place, enough for me to eat a bit more food and start warming up.

At the moment we started warming up, it started to feel real. I changed from my usual training clothes to my singlet. The time to compete was approaching. It was almost 12pm when the men’s first session was finishing up. Then Coach Kris approaches me and confirms to me what my gut told me will me happen…

That I will be the first woman to open in the first female session…(more firsts!)

Part I: Snatch

As I stood on the doorway before my name is called, I was confused at first with what was going on, the clock started ticking and I only had a minute to lift the weights. I had no time to worry or think or anything, I immediately chalked up and went up the stage and had about less than 15 seconds to lift the weight as I looked at the screen in front of me. I just grabbed the bar and lifted it whatever way it came up…at that moment, I felt a sense of shock, I caught the weight (which was a weight I have done many times in training), but I didn’t necessarily do it the way I always do…the nerves took over. The most important part was actually catching the weight. So I had to stand for 2 seconds to show control over the weight before I was buzzed to drop it.

First successful lift. Phew….Pressure was off.

As the other lifters took the stage working up to heavier weights. My turn came again when I and Coach Kris decided to go for 34kgs. I felt good and ready for it.

I felt pretty calm going up the stage again. Although there were a lot of people just looking at me, with lights pointing at me, I somehow blocked everything out and did what I have conditioned my body to do. I grabbed the weight and it went up really fast, I didn’t even drop under the bar as I know I could do, I just went for power Snatch instead.

Second successful lift! I felt really good afterwards.

Then we discussed going for more weight than I have done in training by 1kg, thinking it’s time to beat my own personal record. So after a few lifters took the stage it was my turn again.

As I approached the stage, I was preparing myself mentally for the lift. As I grabbed the bar, I took a while at the bottom position and I lifted the weight, it went pretty much over my head, but I just wasn’t quick enough to drop under.

37kgs, missed lift…but it is was okay.

Part II: Clean and Jerk

After the Snatch part of the competition was over, I was backstage getting warmed up for my clean and jerk. In competition, it is pretty unpredictable, you never know when someone will change their weight (that they plan to lift) and that will either move you up or down. It is exciting, but also nerve-wrecking in some ways. That’s why weightlifting is such a mental sport, you need to learn to switch on and off in a matter of fractions of a second.

I opened my clean and jerk with 45kgs. A weight I can rep in training, and also know I can comfortably drop under without any hesitations and can jerk pretty easily.

…And it was a successful lift.

Getting your 1st Snatch and 1st clean and jerk is crucial in competition, why? If you don’t snatch the weight you choose at your three attempts, you don’t move on to clean and jerk, and if you do get it, but miss all your lifts in the clean and jerk, you don’ get a total.

So getting the first lifts meant I have my “total” secured, then it’s “competition-time” where you beat your own records or match up your training records to get a higher “total”.

As I moved to my second lift 48kgs, it was another great successful lift. It was pretty quick and powerful, caught in the power position – it is an inconsistency I have in training at the moment  (sometimes dropping, sometimes catching in power position).

Anywho…then came the final lift of the competition. 51kgs, my best that I have gotten in training. As I got up on the stage, I took a deep breath, telling myself – this is it! I approach the bar, stayed a while at the bottom position, and moved the weight up fast…but lost it.

I wasn’t quick enough to wrap my elbows around, but again…it is okay.

And that was it. Months of training, lifting, practicing, working on fixing my technique and more…were showcased in 6 attempts, each in less than 5 seconds. That’s the sport of weightlifting for you!

Here’s some pictures of the overall experience…. ( mostly taken by my sister)


I was quite emotional after the competition was over. It happened so quick, in a blink of an eye, but the memory and the way it felt still lingers clearly to me. Competing at the Arnold Weightlifting Championships was truly an amazing experience and it was great to put my preparedness to the test. I have only spent very few months really in the “sport of weightlifting”, as opposed to training previously which is not the same. I believe that I truly did my best in this competition, I showed good technique (not my best, though), showed that I am capable of competing in the sport, and importantly getting mt first official total and I got 4/6 lifts, totaling 82kgs.

It was great to meet high level athletes, Olympians (such as Holley Mangold who competed in the London 2012 Olympics), and seeing people I have watched online on youtube, in real life lifting big weights. It was a humbling experience, and it makes you realize how much it takes to be a competitive athlete.

I have overcome many challenges to reach this level today. Some physical challenges, but mostly emotional and mental, which are truly where I am learning how my emotions and mindset affect the outcome of my performance in this sport. It is a battle everyday between myself.. It is really a lot more than just lifting weights, and the more I immerse myself in the sport, the more I understand it.

What I am doing – in a nutshell – scares the shit out of me. But I know I didn’t reach this far for no reason, and I know that there is something deep inside me that keeps me going and pushing through all the hurdles, bumps, hiccups, walls, stereotypes, negativity, and challenges.

Getting on that plane. Going to the US. Just to stand on that stage for a total of 6 attempts, was – truly- worth it all.

…and here I’ll leave y’all with a video put together by FAST of the competition:


More about my experience have been covered in a Q&A interview in Sport360: Click HERE to read. I just wanted to again thank my first sponsor Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki, and my biggest supporters, FAST athletic training, California Chiropractic Center and Arab Youth Venture Foundation and the UAE weightlifting Federation.


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About the Author

Amna Al Haddad , born in 21 Oct 1989, is an Emirati who always had a passion for health and fitness. She made history by being the first Emirati and GCC national to ever to participate in the Reebok Crossfit Games Asia Regionals. Since then she embarked on Olympic Weightlifting with being an IWF Arab and West-Asian Champ -63. A NIKE sponsored athlete, a motivational speaker and published author.

  • Luke

    Nice Post!

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