Weightlifting was introduced in the then British Guiana by the Bacchus family who resided in Queenstown, Georgetown, in 1936. The elder Mr. Bacchus, along with his two brothers Etteem and Osman operated a provision store in the City trading under the name of Won-de-War. The three brothers, along with Joe's three sons Joe Jr., Dean and Lance completed the Weightlifting family. Eteem, who was known as the "Chief" because of his extensive knowledge of the sport, was instrumental in teaching the finer points of Weightlifting to any youngster interested in taking up the sport.
Up to the 1970s, the sport consisted of three competition lifts . . . the Press, the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch, and "Chief" taught any youngster willing to listen just how to achieve best results. Every Sunday morning the young enthusiastic 'lifters gathered at the Milo Gym to work out under the watchful eye of Chief using a 500 pound York Barbell set. The young weightlifters were exposed to their first competition in a contest at the Thomas Lands YMCA, where they experienced at first-hand the rules that govern the Sport.
Later in 1940 the Sport became really organized with the election of an Executive Committee to run the sport. The first President was Dr Cephus Whitney, an expatriate Englishman who was a dentist. The British Guiana Weightlifting Association made such rapid progress that by 1944 there were ten gyms affiliated to the association. Some of those early gyms were Milo run by Chief, Saxon operated by Mendonca, Victory by Henry, Sandow by Sydney Paul, Cairo by Shurland, King's Row by Smith-Green, Unity by Ming, Ajax by Hassan, John Davis by K. Gerrard and Hoffman's by Ronald Blackman.
In 1944, the Association introduced Body-Building as a Sport when the contest was staged at the Empire Cinema for the Mr. British Guiana title, but because of the popularity of Weightlifting, only two Weightlifting contests were held per year. These were the Junior and Senior until 1948 when the Novice class was introduced.
Because of the growing number of young lifters taking up the Sport competitively, qualifying standards were introduced. By 1950, there were 260 active 'lifters on the scene. After World War 2, the first Worlds' Championships were staged in Philadelphia in the USA in September 1947. At these championships, B.G was represented by a Three-man team in Keevil Daly, who was based in Canada, Frankie Vieira and Ernest Spellen. Unfortunately, only Daly was successful in the quest for world honours. In his weight division (middle-weight), he copped a Silver medal behind John Terpak, the US champion thus earning B.G third ranking in the world in the division.
The quest for world recognition as a Weightlifting country was launched with that performance, but as a young Association funds were not always available to push the Sport. But then came the 1948 Olympics in London, England, where we were represented by Alphonso Correia and Anthony Chaves who was resident in England. We won no medals but after the Games we attended the then Empire Games where special mention was made of Correia's ability. These outings though not gaining medals, were invaluable for the knowledge and experience gained.
At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics we were represented by C. Moore, a Middleweight. We got no medals, but at the sports Congress held immediately after the Games a decision was taken to stage the Empire Games once every four years.
In the early fifties we had about twenty 'lifters who could have won medals at International games. We had Daly the first Guyanese to Clean & Jerk double his body-weight. Then Willie Chinn did it as a Featherweight as did Correia in the Bantamweight division, plus several other outstanding 'lifters'.
The Association's first President, Dr Whitney, died in office at the ripe old age of ninety two (92) and was succeeded by Justice Percival A. Cummings who also served as President of the Guyana Olympic Association, He was succeeded by Hugh Barrington Massay as President in 1957, and held that post until his death in 1987.
Weightlifting in the then British Guiana, got its first major recognition back in 1954 when the country's Middleweight champion Jim Parks copped a Bronze medal at that year's Commonwealth Games hosted by Canada at Vancouver. This significant event proved to be the watershed for the Sport in Guyana as our lifters became convinced that they had the talent to compete on equal terms with the best. Our lifters at that time also benefited from the dedication of the country's two leading Coaches Sidney Paul and Ronald Blackman, for whom no sacrifice was to great for them to make in the interest of the Sport and the Lifters. As a result, we were able to produce such outstanding "Iron Men" as Alphonso Correia, Roy Cox, Roy MacArthur, Marvel Williams, Mike Swain an Joey France. Such was the chances of success in the Sport.
At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics hosted by Australia, Guyana with generous help from the Government, was represented by Swain in the Bantamweight class and MacArthur as a Middleweight. Despite failing to get among the medals we garnered a wealth of experience and knowledge about what Weightlifting at big International competitions was all about. This excursion into big-time lifting also pointed to the fact that to be successful at this level a Coach was a vital necessity.
With growing confidence, our next foray at an International event was the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff ,Wales, managed by the indefatigable Brindsley (B.L) Crombie. We sent five 'lifters with Coach Sydney Paul to seek honours among the best in the Commonwealth. The five carrying Guyana's colours were Swain (bantam), MacArthur (middleweight) and "Blue" Baker, (lightheavy). As was to be expected, the competition at his level was extremely keen, and we narrowly missed out on a Gold medal, MacArthur having to settle for the Silver after tying with his rival but being heavier. Swain's performance was again creditable, placing fourth from a field of eleven competitors. With the other minor placing, we recorded eleven points,. the best by any Caribbean country at the Games.
Fortified by this success, there was tremendous enthusiasm as we looked forward to the South American Championships slated for neighbouring Venezuela the next year. These were the most successful Games to date. Parks copped the Gold in the Middleweight Division, while Williams snatched the Silver as a Heavyweight. The team returned home "on a cloud" to a red carpet and steel band welcome. We were finally a force to be reckoned with in the sport.
Come 1959 we sent a four-man team consisting of Ernest "Marvel" Williams, Roy Cox, Roy McArthur with Charles Shurland as manager to carry the flag at Pan American Games in Chicago, USA. While Cox and McArthur failed to impress, "Marvel" Williams was outstanding lifting as a Mid-Heavyweight and left the stage with a Bronze Medal after totalling 387.5 kilograms. And then . . . the lifter who is perhaps the best lifter we have ever produced burst onto the scene like a comet. He was Martin Dias. Coached by Ronald Blackman, the "Mighty Midget" carried all before him. He first took the National title from Swain, and from 1960 Guyana was assured of a medal at any Games in which he participated. Starting with the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 1962 where he won a Bronze medal, this "pocket battleship" went on to win more medals for Guyana than any other athlete. In 1963 he powered himself to Gold at both the Central American and Pan American Games, beating every other Bantamweight out of sight. And then it was off to Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics in search of the ultimate Gold. Arriving at the Games Village the day before competing and after an exhausting plane ride via New York, San Francisco, Honolulu and finally Tokyo, Dais was forced to lift without the benefit of a Coach until the final round. At that stage the Barbadian lifter had been eliminated, and his Coach agreed to coach Dias in the medal race. In a Herculean effort against the odds, the "Midget" totaled 740 pounds to just miss the Bronze medal. But he had the satisfaction of being singled out by the Games officials for his magnificent effort, which also placed him sixth in the world standings.
The next 'giant step forward" came in 1965, when, through the hard work and dedication of the Association's Secretary Ronald Blackman, ably assisted by a committee that included Sydney Paul, then Coach to the country's most successful gym, and Cecil Ramsingh the Association's Organising secretary, Guyana played host to the Regional Weightlifting Championships. These championships took place at the Queen's College Auditorium and turned out to be the best-organized Championships of any Sport hosted by Guyana. Invitations went out to The Netherlands Antilles, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. But for one reason or another only the Bajans and the Dutchmen found it possible to participate. In the event, the Dutchmen won the Championship, mainly due to their wider experience through more International exposure. The Bajans copped the runner-up spot. Despite this seeming setback, Dias was again the man of the moment . . . snatching the Gold in his weight class. At the same time, Joey France finally came into his own as a world class Middleweight . . he too taking Gold. At this point Dias was at the top of his form. At the 1966 Central American Games he gave Guyana a Silver medal for Independence and later the same year was again the Silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica. He added another Silver to his trophy case with the second spot at the Winnipeg Pan American Games in 1967.
The sport continued to hold its own in the International arena, until for one reason or another the stalwarts started migrating to greener pastures "up north." Dias and his Coach (Ronald Blackman) both took up residence in Canada, while names like Randolph James a Light Heavyweight and a potential world-beater, Swain, Sheppard, Khan, Lewis and Joey France all left for North America. The Sport then literally threw away the weights in the early 1980s and was just a pleasant memory until 1989.
It was then that diehard enthusiasts of the Sport - Cecil Ramsingh and Sydney Paul decided that the Sport that had brought so much glory to the country should not remain dormant. As a result of their hard work the Guyana Amateur Weightlifting Association was resuscitated in 1989. All outstanding affiliation fees (US$1,200) to the world governing body was paid up and competitive 'lifting resumed in 1990. Since then, this new crop of lifters, under the watchful eye of Paul who is the National coach, have competed in some thirty nine National competitions and four International competitions.
At the 1996 I.W.F. World Masters Championships in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada, Winston Bentham copped a Silver medal in the 70kg class age group 60-64 years, and Stanley Braithwaite copped a Bronze medal in to 70kg class age group 55-59 years. This was our first International outgoing in almost two decades and our first venture into the World Masters event. Hoping to emulate the feats of Dias, France and company and to revive the "Golden Age" of the sport on the local science are such names as Aubrey Smith. Clifton Moore, Colin McKoy, Deion Nurse, Sean Cozier, and among the ladies Subrina Pestano and Constance Fraser among others.
The Association's current Executive is headed by Cecil Ramsingh as President with Aubrey Smith as General Secretary. With Smith's assumption to office he introduced the Masters Class into the local lifting calendar with the hope of encouraging some of the lifters of "yesteryear" to return to the Sport and at the same time give of their knowledge and experience to the aspiring young brigade.
As the Association entered 1997 guided by the indefatigable Aubrey Smith, the Novices Championships were staged at Uitvlugt on the West Demerara. The event was an unqualified success as the 'lifters from that area, some twelve in all, made a clean sweep of the various categories'. These ambitious lifters carried their form forward to the Juniors and Intermediate contests where they were outstanding. The final event of the year, the Senior Nationals, produced some outstanding performances. 1997 also saw the Association being represented at the International Weightlifting Federation's (IWF) North America Central American & Caribbean Islands (NACACI) Masters Championships in Puerto Rico. At these Championships staged in July of that year the Association was represented by a two-man team of Colin McKoy and Deion Nurse competing in the 35 to 39 age group who won Gold and Bronze medals in the 59 kg and 76kg classes respectively.
In 1998, the sport saw an influx of ladies who, in no small way helped to boost Weightlifting and promote its image as not being an entirely male-dominated sport. In May a one-day conference was held to promote the sport and sensitize the public to the benefits of Weightlifting as one of the ways of ensuring a healthy life style. This conference was attended by Mr. K. Juman Yassin, President of the Guyana Olympic Association (GOA) and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Gail Teixeira who expressed satisfaction and approval with the achievements of Weightlifting over the years and promised their unstinted support for the Association's promotional programmes.
The GAWA sent a team to the Central American and Caribbean Championships that were hosted by Venezuela and staged in the western city of Maracaibo from August 8 to 22. The two person team of Subrina Pestano (69kg class) and Sean Cozier (85kg) was prepared by National Coach Sydney Paul. Pestano was good enough to place sixth in her class while Cozier copped a fifth place. The Senior Nationals followed this Venezuela visit and fresh from his success there Cozier improved his total by 15kg to post a total of 270kgs giving hopes for a great future for this 'lifter'. It was also in 1998 that the dedicated Sydney Paul was awarded the International Olympic Committee Prize of "Sport for All" for his outstanding contribution for over half a century to the Sport of Weightlifting in Guyana.
1999 was the Association's most successful year for the decade with some notable achievements being recorded. Though a tough year in many respects, the Association under the guidance of its General Secretary, Aubrey Smith who was re-elected for his fifth term in the post, was still able to send a team to participate in the International Weightlifting Federation's World's Masters Weightlifting Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. The six-member team that included two ladies copped two Gold Medals earned by Subrina Pestano (40-44 age group) and Stanley Braithwaite (55-59 age group) in the 69kg class. And Jennifer Hall, lifting in the 63 kg class (40-44 age group) was good enough for a Bronze Medal. Winston Bentham was most unfortunate to suffer an injury while warming up for the clean and jerk when seemingly on course for Gold in his division. Pestano who had an outstanding competition set two world records with lifts of 80kg in the clean and jerk on the way to posting a total of 135kgs. Also Braithwaite was adjudged Best Lifter in his age group. In addition Guyana's lifters set seven I.W.F. Commonwealth Masters records three by Braithwaite (55-59 age group), one by Bentham (65-69 age group), and three by Aubrey Smith (35-39 age group).
After receiving good press reviews in the Scottish Press, congratulatory messages from the Guyana High Commission and the Guyanese Community in London, and congratulations from other competitors, the team returned home more determined than even to push the Sport to the top of the ladder at home. To this end the Association was offered the proposal by the President of the Guyana Olympic Association to construct a facility that would be able to accommodate both Weightlifting and Amateur Boxing. This proposal has the support of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. We hope to be able to access financial help from overseas organisations including the Pan American Weightlifting Confederation, the International Weightlifting Federation and Olympic Solidarity. The Minister of Sport, Ms Gail Teixeira has also promised financial assistance to make theproject a reality.
The successful completion of this project would be the realisation of a dream of such pillars of strength in this country's Weightlifting as the late Barrington "Barry" Massay a one time President of the GAWA, Sydney Paul the incumbent National Coach and current President of the Association Cecil "Weasel" Ramsingh, among a host of others who have always cherished this dream. The plans for this arena when completed is to have it equipped to an International standard so as to allow our 'lifters to compete and a level playing field. It is envisaged that financing for this equipment will come from the efforts of the GOA and the GAWA, and it is hoped that the facility can be opened by June 2000. 1999 was also a memorable year for Sydney Paul. In December, at a prize-giving ceremony hosted jointly by the GOA and GAWA he was awarded the United Nations International Volunteer Prize for his efforts at promoting Sport over more than fifty years.
In May of 2000 Luxemboung hosted the Small Nations Cup tournament and Guyana was represented by London-based Julian McWatt who despite lifting reasonably well could only manage 5th place in the 85 kilo class. During the same month of May the GAWA celebrated its Diamond Jubilee - 60 years of working to promote Guyana's weight lifting. Sydney Paul who runs the Sandow's Gym and is the only living founder-member of the GAWA was recognised by the International Weightlifting Federation for his service and dedication to the sport and awarded the IWF's Gold Award.
In October 2000 we participated in the World Masters Championships in Orlando, Florida, USA where we were represented by five males and two females, and had a medal haul of three medals - two Bronze and a Silver. We accumulated enough points at this meet to be awarded Small Nations Championship Trophy. Our medal winners were Subrina Pestano who copped a silver in the 69 kilo class - 40 to 44 years age group, Jennifer Hall won a Bronze in the 63 kilo class - 40 to 44 years age group and Colin McKoy who walked away with a Bronze in the 62 kilo class - 35 to 39 years age group.
Right after the Senior National Championships, the General Secretary and our Publicity Secretary, Charle de Florimonte together formulated a plan to develop our lifters to be ready for the 2004 Olympics. That was the birth of the Four-Year Development Plan with the theme Athens 2004 or Bust!
During November we participated in the Criollo Invitational Tournament in Caguas, Puerto Rico represented by our London-based 85 kilo Julian McWatt. Sean Cozier (85 kilo) and William Langford (77 kilo). It was a disappointing encounter as none of the lifters managed to earn a medal, but considering the quality of the lifting at this meet, their performance was still creditable.
The IWF's Electoral Congress was held in Athens, Greece in December, and our General Secretary Aubrey Smith was our representative at this very important Congress. The General Secretary held very fruitful discussions with the IWF's then General Secretary, (now President) Dr Tamas Ajan where he outlined our four-year development plan. This plan is designed to get a competitive team prepared for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Ajan was very impressed with the plan and pledged his support for the plan and promised to assist in any way he can. The plan has also found favour with the Pan American Weightlifting Confederation's President Murray Levin, and USA Weightlifting who also promised any needed assistance. Dr Ajan, on behalf of the IWF donated two York 160 kilo barbell training sets to us.
There was however some sadness as we mourned to passing of one of more successful Masters lifters - Stanley Braithwaite. This outstanding lifter lost his life in a motor vehicle accident on May 31st.
The D-Plan kicked off in 2001 with the staging of the annual four local championships - Novices, Juniors, Intermediate and the Seniors. On the international scene we had three lifting engagements and attendance at the IWF's 2001 Congress.
At the Guatemala Cup in May we sent Julian McWatt, William Langford (both in the 85 kilo class) and the lone female Shondell King in the 75 kilo class. This Guatemala Cup was our most successful engagement in the recent past. McWatt earned three Bronze medals while King won one in the Snatch. Langford failed to get among the medals, placing fourth, but in totalling 252.5 kilos he surpassed his previous best. At the conclusion of this event, Murray Levin was so impressed with the quality and promise of our lifters that he donated a York Olympic-size 20 kilo barbell, the Pan Am President was among other officials who singled out King and McWatt as a world class lifters of the future.
The Pan American Masters were staged in Savannah, Georgia in the USA in June and five lifters, including two females carried Guyana's colours. This squad won four Golds and one Silver medals. US-based Howard Bovell, Colin McKoy, Subrina Pestano and Alethea Joseph all won Golds while the Silver went to Deion Nurse.
In July we were represented at the Pan American Championships in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic by a two-man team of Sean Cozier (85 kilos) and Irwin Williams (77 kilos). These two lifters found the standard of lifting very high and even though they only placed ninth and fifth respectively, specially mention was made of the potential of Williams. At these championships our General Secretary, Aubrey Smith, an IWF-recognised Class Two International Referee, became the first Guyanese since Sydney Paul to officiate as a referee at the IWF-recognised international Championships.
This year, despite the unsettled state of that area of the world, Turkey staged the World Championships after, for one reason or the other it was moved firstly from Nauru and then Guam. Again our General Secretary was our representative at the Annual Congress that preceded the championships. At the Congress, the General Secretary's presentation was well received and drew plaudits from Dr Ajan, Murray Levin, Myrddin John, General Secretary of the Commonwealth Weightlifing Federation among others.In terms of winning medals for Guyana in the International arena, the Guyana Amateur Weightlifting Association has a record that is yet to be surpassed. But the Association needs help and encouragement to climb back to the top of the Sports ladder. This is where corporate Guyana can and should help. The "Fitness Thing" is the "in thing" now. One does not have to aspire to competitive Weightlifting to become a member of a Weightlifting or fitness gym. Any fitness enthusiast is welcome to join. Join now and help put this Sport where it belongs… at the top.