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Myrddin John
FtF / DyF Interview

My name is Myrddin John. I was born on the 20 December 1933. I live in Brenau which is a little village in Carmarthenshire, but I was born in Bettws near Ammanford, brought up in Glanamman and then I married a young lady from three miles from here and I’ve lived here since then.

I was always small in stature and I was always interested in sport, in physical education, and it’s been my whole life. It first started when I went to the Grammar school in Ammanford - Amman Valley Grammar - and I got involved in everything to do with sport, not so much academically perhaps but I developed a liking for weightlifting. Now I don’t know why a small person, because at that time there was no weightlifting around this area at all, but my uncles were always talking about strength feats and so on, and it kindled some spark within me.

I learnt how to do weightlifting on my own from pictures in sports magazines. All wrong, I know now, but at the same time I gradually developed and made some homemade weights, and that’s how it all started. Then, eventually, after going to the Grammar school, I went to the RAF and that was the first time that I ever saw weightlifting done properly. I entered the Welsh Championships and I competed there and that was the first time that I ever saw proper weightlifting and, as it happened, I won my event and it’s gone on from there. When I came out from the forces I went to Trinity College in Carmarthen where I studied physical education as an advanced subject and then I went to teach and then went to Cardiff Training College to do advanced physical education, and after that, in my spare time, I did a degree, again emphasising weightlifting, believe it or not. Then, my big day came. After winning a few Welsh Championships, I was selected to go to the Commonwealth Games in 1958 in Cardiff and I haven’t been out of weightlifting since, not so much in the sport as a performer but I’ve given my life to it, administratively.

why weightlifting?

I played for Amman United and the 1958 Commonwealth Games was looming and I made my decision. I wanted to go to the Commonwealth Games. The last game I ever played in rugby, it was against Swansea, the All Whites, and as I was coming away I was asked to Swansea for a trial, to play there, and I said, “Sorry, you’re too late. This is my last game”, and it was my last game and that’s how I went to do weightlifting. It’s a wonderful sport and I enjoyed it because I wasn’t competing against other people. I was competing against myself. I enjoyed that kind of work. I mean there is a sport for everybody in the world.


In the ’58 Games, what I wanted was to take part. I didn’t feature. I mean, I wasn’t a medal prospect at all. There are two kinds of people that take part in sport at that level: those that want to go to the Olympics, shall we say; and those right at the top who are going for medals and I was in the very bottom, I’m afraid.

all over the world

I enjoyed it and I decided that that’s what I wanted to do, in administration, refereeing, technical, and I developed from there. Eventually, I became the General Secretary of the Wales Weightlifting Federation and then I became, not so long ago, Chairman of the British Association and the General Secretary of the Commonwealth Weightlifting Federation, and then I really achieved my objective when I became Vice President of the World Weightlifting Federation. Now I’m in the throes of having to leave the sport due to old age I’m afraid.

I’ve been all over the world in the last twenty years, more away from Wales than in Wales, travelling all over, making courses for people, especially on the technical and the coaching side. As a matter of fact, two years before the Beijing Games I was out there. I had a class of over ninety people there for a week, advising them how to organise an event of that stature. That is the technical side of it and I enjoyed it very much. I’ve been to, India, Vietnam, all over the world, Malaysia, Australia, doing this kind of work and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve had a really happy life in weightlifting, doing what I want. All unpaid, voluntary, but giving me great happiness.


In one way, I suppose we are a small insignificant country, aren’t we? I think that is a kind of inferiority complex which we the Welsh have, since we live next to England through no fault of our own or theirs. The population of England is fifty-five million and ours is barely three million and, of course, we are then being measured against a big country, but we shouldn’t hide behind this and make that as an excuse, which quite often happens. We are not a small country. There are countries in the Olympic Games with populations less than Wales, many below a million. As a matter of fact, we should be fighting to get into the Olympic Games as a country because we are larger than most of the countries there. I would look forward to that idea but that will never happen, of course, because there are other things that you have to be before you’re allowed into the Olympics and the IOC.

You can only be a member of the IOC if you are what they count as a country and that would mean Wales being a nation on its own, with its own parliament and so on. We’re three quarters of the way there, perhaps. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. I have my own ideas on that but it is a political thing not a sporting. It’s not the sporting people that will decide on that but our politicians.

One of the greatest achievements I ever did for Wales was to get Wales to be able to compete in the World Championships and that happened in 2004 … as Wales. But that still doesn’t enable us to lift in the Olympics, of course. I think it will eventually happen but, unfortunately, not in my time.

What we need in Welsh sport are people with a vision not living for the moment and getting any little thrill out of something that you do at the moment. You’ve got to think of sport in a world context, in terms of the future as well as the present. It will come but, as I said, not in my time. There’s still a lot of work, but I do wish that we would have people in sport at the higher levels who have vision. At the moment, I can’t think of anybody and the same goes in politics of, course.

welsh successes

Welsh highlights within the history of weightlifting? It’s got a good history. It’s one of the best sports, especially at Commonwealth Games which was the highest Games that Wales could compete in. We’ve done very well, better than any other sport in Wales. We have won more gold medals and more medals altogether, first, second and thirds, than any other sport and weightlifting didn’t get into the Commonwealth Games until 1950.

David Morgan, he’s the best performer ever in the Commonwealth Games in any sport, having won numerous gold medals, far more than anybody else and he’s competed in three Olympic Games as well. Ten people have competed for Wales in Olympic Games, David Morgan has competed in three and then we have John Byrnes from Swansea and Peter Arthur also from Swansea, and Terry Perdue, of course, the super heavy competed in two Olympic Games. Swansea has been the stronghold of Welsh weightlifting. I don’t know the exact reason but it’s a fact.

One of the reasons I went into weightlifting really seriously was because Iori Evans who lived in Haverfordwest. He was the first Welsh weightlifter that competed in the Olympic Games and I think he became eighteenth in the 67.5 kilo class and he didn’t live all that far. I didn’t know him until many years later and, as a matter of fact, he and I were together in the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. He was a wonderful, genuine person, a real athlete, and I tended to model a little bit on him.

The best performance that Wales has ever done in the Olympics was by David Morgan. He came fourth in Los Angeles and he came fourth as well in Seoul, and then he competed in Barcelona, so he is the greatest ever lifter that we’ve had, not only in the Olympics but also in the Commonwealth Games. He’s won far more gold medals, way in front of anybody else from any sport, and broken many many records as well. So, it was during that era that was the highlight of Welsh weightlifting and we had a very very strong team. Even in Munich we had three people there, when the team measured seven people at that time.

At the moment, we are not quite so strong, except in the junior part, where we have a very strong contingent in Anglesey trained by Ray Williams, our national coach. He won a gold in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

We, then, had a competition that we called the Silver Dragon Tournament in Cardiff and eighteen of those were held and people from all over the world came there, many world champions, world records were broken there. And by doing that we developed a strong administrative team as well. We were very good organisers because we did this competition every year. Then, we organised the junior and also the senior European Weightlifting Championships and people are always talking about them, even today.

the future?

It’s never going to be a big sport in Wales. In the world it is. There are 187 international countries affiliated to the International Federation which is way ahead of people like rugby, netball, squash. As a matter of fact, it’s the tenth highest federation in the world. Unfortunately, we a living in a country which concentrates more on team games. You have your football, rugby, in Wales, so it’s been very difficult and getting more difficult to have people interested. You get them interested, they telephone me, parents telephone me, where can we train? There isn’t anywhere. People are not, I’m afraid - and I’m sure that this will be echoed in many other sports - people don’t run clubs anymore, because there’s the insurance aspect, the dangers, something goes wrong, people are afraid to be sued. Then, there are so many certificates you must have. It’s getting very difficult and people are just not going to do this. On top of this, we are living in a country which is quite successful in the way we live. Why should a young man or a young lady want to go to a gym (if you can find one) to train on a sport on your own, when you have a nice home with fitted carpets, central heating, you’ve probably got a car now, whereas, in my day, you’d be lucky to see one or two cars on the road. So, this is a general thing that prevents any youngster really getting involved in any sport. Weightlifting is a hard sport but all sports, even rugby, in my time when I was in the Grammar school, we used to have a first team, a second team and junior teams, and parents were coming to watch them. You’re scraping the barrel now to get a team. Television, of course, gives other attractions. I’m not saying it’s bad. If that is the way the world goes, so be it. Why should I demand that people in a hundred years time do the things that I’m doing now? But I’m afraid it’s getting harder and harder to get people involved in the very hard sports.

I’m afraid I am pessimistic for Wales. We need people of vision to be able to think about these things and what can we do, because sport is a wonderful, wonderful thing for young children, to get them out of the house to do their sport and enjoy it. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to start a little child off in a sport and to be able to nurture him and help that person until they achieve greatness and a gold medal in the Olympics. What a wonderful thing to have been involved in that process, but it’s going to be very difficult for that to happen.

But it’s wonderful. I’ve had a wonderful life in weightlifting.

london 2012

I got up, stood up in the meeting of the International Weightlifting Federation at the Executive Board and I made a long speech about getting the Games to London. Now, I’m not so sure I did the right thing. The Olympic Games, it’s too large but it’s still a wonderful thing for people to aim at and it’s once every four years. Of course, we’re going to have a junior one as well now - there’s a junior Olympics starting in Singapore. Whether that is a good thing or not, I don’t know as far as countries like Wales are concerned.

I’m not sure what the future of the Olympic Games itself is going to be. It’s getting too commercial, I’m afraid. It’s getting too big and people no longer go to those Games to see the Olympics; they just go to see their own sport, so it’s lost that little bit of flavour. We’re going to concentrate on these top people and we’re going to have top-class well-paid coaches, coaching a few people, the aim being to get people to win medals for their country. You give one or two generations of that and who’s going to bring the young people up? There will be nobody. We don’t get small clubs any longer.

I’m afraid the Olympics is developing commercially so much that it’s going to eventually kill what it wants to do, to give sport for everybody.

interview conducted by Phil Cope on 14 September 2009

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