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Largely unrecognised for much of their careers, New Zealand weightlifters have a tradition of emerging from the background and into the limelight at the Commonwealth Games and in the past have been well represented in the medal count. For the size of the sport – there are less than 100 competitors across the country from secondary school to masters level – and without a strong national coaching base, it packs a powerful punch in the Commonwealth arena. National coach Richard Dryden is the driving force behind the handful of top lifters with Melbourne in their sights. He talks to Jane Hunt.
In the increasing glare of professional sport, Richard Dryden cuts an unusual figure. From his days as a shot put, discus and hammer thrower, Dryden has – through his own devices and largely self-taught – worked his way to the position of national weightlifting coach.
For much of his active athletics career, Dryden was ranked No 2 behind throwing great Robin Tait but did represent New Zealand in trans-Tasman throwing events in 1991.
Through these sports I obviously did a lot of weight training and from that entered some competitions, both in Olympic lifting and power lifting,” he said.
From there it was a natural progression into officiating which included refereeing, administration and coaching. Dryden has been coaching national teams since 1996 and became the official New Zealand coach in 1999.
He has no formal qualifications in terms of coaching, learning the intricacies of his craft purely by watching, reading and learning by experience.
Dryden’s services as a strength, power and conditioning trainer are not confined solely to weightlifting, his expertise as a technique consultant has been widely used by a host of Super 12 and NPC rugby teams. Other sports he has been employed as a strength and conditioning trainer include the Warriors NRL team, Team New Zealand (the grinders and mast men), Swimming New Zealand (Commonwealth Games athletes), Boxing New Zealand (Commonwealth Games athletes), New Zealand Canoeing (Olympic squad), Athletics New Zealand (sprints, throws, jumps), Paralympics New Zealand athletes (lifting), Bike New Zealand and Softball New Zealand.
Dryden also played provincial basketball, volleyball and rugby as well as coaching and playing squash, tennis and golf.
“I have learnt the art of coaching both by my own experience of lifting and experience from actually coaching people, learning from other coaches overseas and basically analysing the lifts myself, breaking them down into the various components and assessing what I believe are the best, most efficient and most economical methods of moving the body to be the most powerful, strongest lifter in a competition,” he said.
With the number of weightlifting participants growing, there are now positive moves afoot from the national body to formalise a coaching structure in New Zealand.
“There isn’t a big base of coaches and that is something Weightlifting New Zealand is targeting and developing – a coaching development pathway and coaching accreditation system,” Dryden said. “ That will be put in place within the next six to 12 months which is a very positive thing for New Zealand weightlifting.”
Dryden will be New Zealand’s official weightlifting coach at the Commonwealth Games as he is the personal coach of three of the country’s top lifters. At the top level of competition, New Zealand has only four lifters that could seriously be considered for Melbourne and Dryden’s involvement in the lead-up to meeting the selection criteria was intense and challenging.
In the space of seven weeks, his three charges Grant Cavit (94kg), Richard Patterson (77kg) and Mark Spooner (69kg) competed in the Oceania and Commonwealth championships, the New Zealand championships and the world championships between early October and mid-November.
“It’s a very difficult time having three competitions in seven weeks,” Dryden said. “It’s incredibly intense for a weightlifter because we tend to build up anywhere from 12-18 weeks towards a competition, peak and then look towards the next build-up but in this case we were looking at having to perform well in two competitions within a week of each other and maintain and build again for the world champs six weeks later,” he said.
While there was nothing that could be done about the scheduling of these events, Dryden added it was very important for the top lifters to get good quality international competition experience as it provided the necessary physical and mental preparation for the Commonwealth Games.
“We have certainly performed well at Commonwealth Games level and that’s the level we aim to achieve at,” he said. “We’re not at world class level but we’ve certainly had good lifters over the years come through every four years at the Commonwealth Games, the last two in particular with Darren Liddell and Nigel Avery.”
Cavert, Patterson and Spooner put their lives and personal careers on hold in an all-out bid for Commonwealth Games selection, training twice daily in two-hour sessions up to 10 times a week with their self-styled coach fitting his own business requirements around the training and support needs of his lifters.
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