Famed for its beautiful beaches, idyllic coastlines, and peaceful atmosphere, the Orkney Islands are also home to some of the UK’s very best weightlifting talent.
Trying out the sport first in 2019 and continuing to train throughout lockdown in his house, garage, and on the beach, 16-year-old Angus Robertson has taken the British weightlifting scene by storm. Angus currently holds Scottish records in 89 and 96-kilo categories for u16s and last year set u17 British records in the snatch, clean jerk & total.
We spoke to Angus about how his journey with weightlifting began.
“I started going along to strength and conditioning sessions at my local sports centre, and through that, I found out about weightlifting sessions that were happening at another local gym,” he told us.
Angus then went along to the weightlifting sessions in October 2019, just a few short months before lockdown. But for Angus, a global pandemic would not stand in the way of his newfound love for weight training.
From Zoom calls to beaches: training amidst a pandemic
Luckily for Angus, the individual nature of the sport meant that he was able to train throughout the pandemic. He told us that with the help of some home equipment and Zoom sessions from his coach, weightlifting soon became the centre of his every day.
Angus’ mum Pamela expressed that his coach, Matthew Byers, was integral to keeping Angus motivated during this time:
“Matthew really went the extra mile to maintain contact with his athletes and keep them interested by doing online sessions. When they were then allowed to meet up outside, they would do sessions on the beach using sandbags.”
Reflecting on that period, Angus told us that his training kept him focussed throughout lockdown by giving him something to do each day:
“It was a great way to spend my time.”
Pamela added that she was amazed at the then 13-year-old Angus’ eagerness to get up for his 9 am mobility sessions each Sunday, joking that:
“I don’t think it would’ve been the same story if it had been me asking him to get up!”
Following a successful 2022 British Championships, Angus was invited to train with the British Squads and has been attending quarterly sessions down in Nottingham since. The British Squads training takes place over two weekends where Angus has access to top-quality coaching and a range of lifestyle and forward-planning sessions.
The training has been a huge commitment for Angus and means an almost 1200-mile round trip every three months – without his parents!
Pamela explained to us:
“Angus has to be in Nottingham for Saturday morning, so he leaves Orkney on a Thursday night and then arrives back up on a Monday morning and is straight back to school, so it is quite a full-on few days of travelling for him.”
On top of British Squads training, Angus travelled off the island to both competitions and Scottish National training a further 10 times in 2023!
Angus is thankful that some of his travel costs are covered by the sportscotland Athlete Travel Award Scheme (ATAS). ATAS supports travel costs for Highland and island competitors to help talented athletes from the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland and Highland to gain better access to competitive and developmental opportunities available on the mainland. The scheme in Orkney runs in partnership with Orkney Islands Council and Stagecoach. Successful applicants benefit from up to £1,500 to support travel and accommodation costs in attending training and competitions. He said:
“It’s been a massive help and allows me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Remote training and self-motivation
Not only does Angus commit to extensive travelling to train and compete but with his coach now living off the island, his Orkney-based training is entirely remote. Pamela noted how proud she and Angus’ dad are at how he continues to motivate himself.
Reflecting on what he loves about the sport and what makes it all worth it, Angus told us:
“I guess for me it’s getting to go away and compete. When I first started, I was nervous but once I’d done it a few times, I started to really enjoy it.
“In weightlifting, it's easy to see your progression through the weights you’re lifting whereas in other sports I’ve done I guess it's harder to see that improvement so clearly. That aspect really motivates me to keep getting better.”
Although Angus now finds himself off the island so often, he told us that the support he receives from his parents and the community in Orkney is second to none.
“The local support has been great. I think in a place like Orkney when you’re doing well you really feel like people rally behind you and want to celebrate that with you,” Angus said.
Pamela added: “When I’m in work, folk will come in and ask how Angus is getting on and I always make sure I pass that on to him, so he knows folk are thinking about him.”
International opportunity: looking ahead to 2024
2024 is set to be Angus’ biggest year so far with European and World Championships in his sights. He told us:
“I’ve got fairly big goals this year. It’s my last year in under 17s and the opportunities have really opened up for me internationally. For me, 2024 is about making sure I get to the European and World Championships in May and June.
“Because I’m hitting Commonwealth standard, they are very much within my reach. If I can hit Olympic Pathway standards, I will be guaranteed a spot at both competitions so that is the goal for my next couple of months.”
Find out more
- To find out more about the ATAS fund across the Highlands and Islands, visit: Athlete Travel Award Scheme (ATAS) - sportscotland the national agency for sport in Scotland