Monday, August 4, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) - It is Julia Rohde's first time in China, but the 19-year-old German weightlifter will not be strolling across Tiananmen Square.

In fact, she is not even allowed to walk down the road. A strict energy-saving regime controls her every meal and move in the run-up to her first Olympic competition.

At the same time, she has turned from weightlifter to weight-watcher, having to shed a couple of pounds before fitting into her category for women weighing up to 53 kg.

"It would be nice to see Tiananmen Square and all that, but it's just not possible," said her coach, Thomas Faselt, before a training session in Beijing on Sunday.

"In the days before the competition, they move between their rooms and the canteen, and anything else would be unnecessarily exhausting."

To alleviate the boredom, the weightlifters bring stacks of DVDs to the Olympic Village, killing time between training sessions by watching movies or surfing the Internet.

Then there is the diet. Since every extra kilogram can be converted into physical strength, taking the athlete closer to a gold medal, weightlifters tend to be enthusiastic eaters.

Before a competition, they lose the pounds to be allowed to start in a lower weight category -- but they must not shed it too quickly, or they will lose valuable muscle mass.

"Her normal weight is 55 kg, it's what I call the little feel-good bolster. But if she had to start in the 58 kg category, she wouldn't even be here. It's a huge difference in performance," Faselt said.


And so Rohde, who has been lifting weights since the age of 12, is tightening her belt before her competition on Sunday.

In the world of weightlifting, where women with bulging biceps and massive shoulders hoist up 100 kg or more, a crash diet does not mean living on carrot sticks.

Sitting outside the training hall, Rohde lists her typical meal plan: bread, cold meat, muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, salad with a lot of meat followed by fresh fruit for lunch, more meat for dinner.

"And if I notice that my weight is going down quite quickly, I'll have some chocolate as well," she said.

Other weightlifters take a less scientific approach to eating. Paul Coffa, who coaches weightlifters from 10 different Pacific Islands such as Nauru and Samoa at a training centre in New Caledonia, said nutrition plans were useless in the region.

"You can try to tell them what to eat, but you'll never succeed, because whenever they go back home they just eat breadfruit, rice and fish," he told Reuters at the training centre on Monday.

Coffa's protegees include Ele Opeloge from Samoa, who starts in the heaviest category, for women weighing more than 75 kg.

"They carry excess weight, but it's just fat so they can lose 3-4 kg just like that. If they've got to come down before a competition, they just come down," Coffa said.

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