“This year, going into next year, we could really see a big boom in powerlifting in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Twenty two year old Junior Powerlifting world record holder Rondel Hunte, for one, is excited about 2019, as he aims to lift his sport to the forefront of the local sport industry.
Earlier this month, the articulate, ex-Hillview College student was unveiled as the brand ambassador for NP Ultra Lubricants—the slogan for the pair is: ‘We do the heavy lifting at the highest world class level’.
Hunte was buzzing at the new possibilities.
“[The partnership with NP is] really something that I’m excited about and I feel as if, now, I really have the opportunity to achieve my true potential,” Hunte told Wired868. “Being homegrown and also being able to hold [my] ground on the international stage and being able to represent well on the international stage, I think is the main tie in.
“I really feel like now I have the opportunity to achieve my true potential because as most of the funding we had would have come from the government, I would have only been limited to basically one international competition per year.
“But this year, I’m looking to do the World Championships, the Pan American Championships and the Commonwealth Championships. And hopefully I can represent well at all three of them.”
If Hunte’s overflowing trophy cabinet is any indicator, he is well worth the faith put in him by NP. The Cunupia native has already accumulated 10 international gold medals and is the number one ranked athlete and world champion in the Junior 105 kg weight class.
At the International Powerlifting Federation’s 6th World Men’s Classic Championship in June 2018, Hunte eclipsed the previous world records by setting monstrous totals of 213.5kg in the bench press and 883.5 kg in the total/overall category.
To put those figures into perspective, his total in the overall category is the equivalent of lifting a black rhinoceros.
At Hunte’s side, as always, was his longtime coach, mentor and former schoolmate Sangeev Teelucksingh. Teelucksingh, who also represented Trinidad and Tobago in powerlifting, was in lower six form when Hunte entered Hillview in third form but the pair really connected after school when they met in a gym.
“He saw the potential and said you can’t pass up this opportunity; you can’t waste that talent,” said Hunte. “Without that push, I wouldn’t be in the sport. I honestly feel I am forever indebted to Sanjeev because without him I would not be where I am now in the sport of powerlifting. He is the one who really saw that potential in me.
“He is a coach and charges people for his services but because he saw that talent in me and as I was a student and not working, I couldn’t afford to pay a coach, he actually trained me for free for two plus years, working late nights doing research on what would be best for me moving forward.
“I’m really, really grateful to him [for his time and dedication] and I can’t [imagine] having a better coach.”
Hunte’s introduction to powerlifting coincided with the sudden interest in the sport here, roughly a decade ago. Trinidad and Tobago’s relationship with its older cousin, weightlifting, runs far deeper.
Powerlifting is separated into three main components—squat, bench press and deadlift—where the athlete has three attempts to complete the lift at maximum weight. Each component involves the athlete attempting to lift a barbell loaded with weight plates. There is no overhead movement.
Weightlifting on the other hand involves lifting vertically overhead using the snatch and the clean and jerk.
It was weightlifting that first announced the twin island republic to the international sport world when Rodney Gilkes became T&T’s first ever Olympic medalist with silver in the featherweight category at the London 1948 Games.
Four years later in Helsinki, Wilkes was back on the Olympic podium for bronze with compatriot Lennox Kilgour also finishing third in the middle heavyweight division.
Hunte did have the chance to do weightlifting as a teenager but felt powerlifting was a better fit.
“Weightlifting is a much more technical sport and powerlifting is more of a power based sport, so weightlifters tend to be more technical and flexible and powerlifters tend to be more strength oriented and rigid,” he said. “I decided to go with powerlifting because my body […] and my strengths were more geared towards it. I’m not a very flexible person.
“Also people who tend to do weightlifting and rise to the highest ranks of it, generally tend to train from ages five to ten—especially in places like China and Japan. So I would have been at an extreme disadvantage coming in as a late teenager.
“One of the other things was that the weightlifting community and federation here in Trinidad is extremely underdeveloped and extremely small. Powerlifting is still a small sport but you have near 100 athletes and a somewhat [better] federation as well.”
At present, the international powerlifting body is trying to gain entrance to the Olympic Games—although that will not happen before the 2024 Olympics at the earliest. Still, Hunte is turning heads in his field and beginning to get recognition locally too.
“I think people are seeing the success that I have achieved on the world stage [and] the sport is really poised for growth,” he said. “Since I came back from Worlds, I had a lot of people message me and new faces enrolled into the Federation. The sport is already growing.
“The International Powerlifting Federation is working on having powerlifting included in the 2024 or 2028 Olympics, so once I am still competing and still able, Olympics is a goal.”
Weights apart, Hunte must also come to grips with his new job as a NP Ultra Lubricants brand ambassador, which now means balancing training with his public and promotional appearances—including advertising campaigns and motivational speeches. He is already enjoying the latter.
“To be able to really speak to [students] and impact on them and have them come up to me and ask for advice on certain things,” said Hunte, “and to really go from somebody who is looking for mentorship, to now being able to share my story to help mentor and guide these students, is something surreal.
“I still consider myself really young but it’s something I’m excited about. You know I didn’t always see myself as a world champion or somebody who could achieve greatness but I guess here I am.
“So if I can tell my story to inspire others, then I don’t mind saying it over and over.”
For now at least, the de-facto champion advocate of local powerlifting has his eyes set on testing himself in the Open category at his next competitions. He is relishing that challenge too.
As the saying goes, no pain, no gain.