Sarah Robles Reflects On Winning Historic Second Olympic Weightlifting Medal
by Karen Rosen
Sarah Robles poses with the bronze medal during the medal ceremony at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO – Sarah Robles’ philosophy is “Live to lift another day.”
She had no intentions of taking any “crazy risks” at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. In weightlifting, athletes and coaches make strategic decisions about how much the competitors should try to lift on each of their three attempts.
“I specifically told my coach, ‘I don’t care what medal we go for. I just want a medal,’” the three-time Olympian said. “I don’t want to get hurt doing something that I’m potentially not ready for.”
In the +87 kg. division, Robles was 3-for-3 in the snatch, with her final lift of 128 kg. tying the American record set by 2000 Olympic medalist Cheryl Haworth in 2003.
In the clean and jerk, Robles lifted 154 kg. on her second attempt. She missed her third and final try, at 157 kg., after a challenge.
“You’re supposed to receive the barbell with straight arms,” Robles said. “My arms weren’t straight fast enough for them. If I wanted that lift, I guess I should moved my elbows a little faster.”
She gave a little laugh. “Too bad for me.”
However, Robles did not leave Tokyo empty-handed. Her previous lift gave her a total of 282 kg. and secured her second straight Olympic bronze medal.
Robles became the first American woman to win two Olympic weightlifting medals and the first American lifter since 1964 – also in Tokyo – to win multiple medals.
“The important thing was to make history by getting that other medal, so I came in and did what I was supposed to,” said Robles, the 2017 world champion in snatch, clean and jerk and total.
She even did a happy dance on the stage of the Tokyo International Forum.
“When you’re excited about doing something monumental,” Robles posted on Instagram, “you can’t help but do some tippy tappies.”
Li Wenwen of China, who didn’t begin lifting until after Robles was finished, won the gold with a total of 320 kg., an Olympic record, while Emily Campbell of Great Britain took the silver with a total of 283 kg.
Robles, who turned 33 on August 1, one day before competing, is the oldest U.S. female weightlifter to medal at the Olympic Games.
Teammate Kate Nye won a silver at 76 kg., giving the United States a pair of weightlifting medals for the first time in 21 years.
“I hope I’m the first of many American women to be able to medal at consecutive Olympics,” Robles said.
And she lived to lift another day so she can go after Haworth’s record in the snatch.
“I don’t want to just keep looking at her record,” Robles said. “I want to beat her record, but strategically, it just hasn’t happened for me. We’re trying to do the right thing so far as what we need to do in the competition – not what Sarah wants to do for Sarah’s pride.”
She has every other American record. “Literally that’s the last thing I have to do,” said Robles.
Haworth, a friend and former roommate while they trained together in Colorado Springs, Colorado, congratulated Robles, telling her that she “crushed it again.”
And Haworth wasn’t the only person who thought so.
“I got like a million messages,” Robles said.
The native of Desert Hot Springs, California, was a shot putter and discus thrower at the University of Alabama before turning to weightlifting. She moved to League, Texas, to work with coach Tim Swords, where she trains either in his garage or her own.
“I’ve struggled a lot throughout my career,” Robles said. “It almost feels like I’ve been going uphill both ways with the wind against me. Going from the bottom in the sport, to the top in the sport, to making history in this sport means a lot to me.”
But she added, “I just somehow just keep plugging along and get creative and somehow I keep making it.”
The difference in circumstances between Robles’ first Olympic bronze medal in Rio five years ago – which was the first Team USA medal at the Games in 16 years – and this one couldn’t be more start.
The 2016 medal, Robles said, “meant a lot because there was a lot of mental anguish and heartache and hard work that was put in just to be back in a good position to be myself again on the platform. I had my comeback from my suspension, getting kicked out of my old gym and just making a fresh new start and having an uphill battle coming back into the sport.”
Prior to earning her Tokyo medal, she said, “I’m already well established again and have nothing to prove to anyone. I’m just out here truly able to enjoy myself and just keep adding to my legacy. I’ve done pretty much everything that I want to do in my career and now I’m just continuing to to add more cream and cherries to the top of the sundae.”
Robles is still weighing her options concerning Paris, which is three years away.
“I can’t predict the future,” she said, “but I’ve been thinking about it.”
In the meantime, Robles plans to work on her “Everybody Everywhere” project, in which she hopes to make the outdoors more accessible to everyone.
“I’m trying to collect data and learn more about what the needs are for people with various disabilities,” Robles said, “and I think there’s no better way to do that than just get out and experience it firsthand. I’m going to be doing a fair amount of traveling, hiking and camping.”
She said she became interested in the project, which also encompasses inclusivity and body positivity, after road-tripping and camping with her father while growing up. He was a wheelchair user and she saw the challenges he faced. She also had a Girl Scout leader who was blind and used a guide dog.
“Seeing how well she was doing and what kind of accommodations needed to be made in order for her to be able to do those things and do them safely was very interesting,” Robles said. “I see a need for people with disabilities and I know as someone who is a bigger person I have my own limitations, and so I do have empathy for people who need to have accommodations for them. Everybody deserves to have access to nature and to have personal fulfillment in that way.”
She hopes to collect information and create a data base showing trails that are paved or which campgrounds have ramps.
“Instead of getting there and being surprised or disappointed, like ‘Oh, dang it, I can’t really do anything here,’” she said, “you can you can use your category of disability, like the Paralympics, and look it up and see what areas around you are accessible.”
Robles hopes to do her research by accompanying people with disabilities on camping and hiking trips. Having one of the strongest women in the world as a companion definitely has advantages.
Robles recalled that when she was in the Girl Scouts, her leader’s guide dog was having a hard time on a camping trip. “She was getting her paws bloody on the rocks,” Robles said. “I was able to pick up her guide dog and carry her back to our campsite.
“None of the other girls were able to do stuff like that.”
Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.