There were questions about Matt Blankenship’s ability to return to weightlifting after his right bicep detached from his bone last year in the World Masters weightlifting competition.
Blankenship didn’t share that skepticism.
“A lot of people doubted I’d come back,” Blankenship said. “My coach told me to finish what I started — it will be a great story.”
Blankenship continues to exceed expectations. He placed first in the men’s age 40-45 division in the world championship despite suffering the injury in the middle of the competition, and he recently set three national records at the PanAm Masters in Orlando in snatch (120 kilograms), clean and jerk (140 kg) as well as total score (260). He was pound-for-pound the strongest in his age group.
Blankenship accomplished all that while having what he called “probably one of my worst meets I’ve had.”
“My nerves got the best of me,” Blankenship said. “I usually get a little stressed but after my first lift, I’m good. But I didn’t settle back down.”
That’s because Blankenship keeps setting the bar higher and higher for himself, and he feels the pressure to continue surpassing it. A former Maryville High School football standout and linebacker on the 1998 Tennessee team that won a national championship, he has always been a competitor.
Blankenship developed a love for weightlifting as an athlete in high school and college. After graduating from Tennessee, he got into CrossFit and eventually opened a gym in Maryville called 129 Athletics, where he works as a strength and conditioning coach.
He has been competing in weightlifting for about two years. Competitions involve two types of lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. Competitors have three opportunities with each lift, and their bests are combined for their total weight.
Blankenship quickly saw success. In September, he competed in his first competition — the 2017 Tennessee Open championship — where he placed first and set a state record of 140 kg in the clean and jerk.
He went on to place first in the American Masters competition in Savannah, Georgia, in November, qualifying him for the World Masters competition in Barcelona in August.
Blankenship’s detached bicep suffered during that competition didn’t cost him a gold medal, but it did require surgery and affected his peace of mind.
“I think it was just from being hurt and the worry of that happening again,” Blankenship said. “There were a lot of expectations going in, then I tend to build things up 10 times worse.”
Blankenship’s plan for the PanAm Masters on May 29 was simple. He wanted to come out of the gate hot, setting the records with his first lifts to relieve the pressure.
“I knew what I had to do so I told my coach, ‘My openers are going to be higher than these other guys’ finishers. I’m going to set the records with my openers so I’ll calm down,” Blankenship said. “I apparently did not calm down.”
Blankenship broke the national snatch record (108 kg) on the first attempt and the clean and jerk (138 kg) on his second.
He is now training for this year’s world championship in Montreal, which will be held Aug. 16-24. Blankenship will try and defend his title.
“I know where I’m at and what I’m capable of, and I know not to get all worked up about it,” Blankenship said. “Instead of trying to put unrealistic expectations on myself, I’m going to just go in and try to enjoy it again.
“I think this last one was more proof that I still have it.”