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SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - South Korean weightlifting champion Jang Mi-ran battled with her size as a teenager, but now the world's strongest woman, as she is popularly known, has become a role model for heavy youngsters at home and abroad.
Jang won weightlifting gold at the Beijing Olympics in the super-heavyweight class with a series of record-setting lifts. Since then, the 125-kg (275 lb) athlete has become a national hero and an inspiration to other females.
Jang, who has a ready smile and a hearty laugh, spoke to Reuters about her life as an athlete and new-found celebrity.
Q: What is the best thing about being the world's strongest woman?
A: "I used to think that my size was a flaw before I started weightlifting. But after I started weightlifting, that has become my strongest point. Now I'm very pleased to be dubbed the world's strongest woman."
Q: What are the drawbacks? Do your friends ask you to help when they move or open jars?
A: "Well, not too often, fortunately. I think the strength I use for weightlifting is completely different than the strength needed for other tasks. I guess I'm not that exceptionally strong in doing everyday stuff."
Q: But still, can you easily open jars?
A: "Oh yeah, most of them."
Q: When did you discover that you are so good at weightlifting?
A: "My parents actually forced me to start weightlifting when I was 17, because they thought it would be good for me. At that time, I was already bigger than my friends. But you know, no matter how good shape you are in physically for weightlifting, you still wouldn't want to do it if you actually didn't like it. Fortunately, weightlifting fits me. It's fun."
Q: Can you describe your training routine?
A: "I train about six to seven hours a day on average. In the winter months, I concentrate on building up physical strength, which inevitably involves a lot of hard training that sometimes starts at dawn.
In summertime, I work primarily on challenging myself to get to a higher level, using accumulated physical strength. So although the absolute amount of time spent in training is reduced in summer, the intensity increases."
Q: You have developed a reputation in South Korea for spending a lot of time lifting books. What do you like to read?
A: "I'm not as much of an avid reader as the media have portrayed. I usually read religious books and I have relied a lot on them throughout my career. I like the kind of books that help me become stronger as a person and remind me to be humble."
Q: What do you think about right before your lifts? Something that fires you up, or something that relaxes you?
A: "It depends. I fight nervousness by repeatedly telling myself that I've got to have confidence in myself and that I can do it. It is part of a routine, or you can call it a scenario, in which the things I do before the competition are pre-arranged. I have set ways for things, like what I eat and how to behave on competition day. It eases the strain."
Q: What would you like to do after weightlifting?
A: "I guess I'll remain an athlete at least till 2012, but I don't know exactly. But I do hope to share my experiences with others as a professor in the future, whether in a sports-related field or as a psychologist."
Q: Do you think your students might be scared if they stepped out of line?
A: "Well, I scare lot of people, not just students, all the time. But they will realize that I am not threatening once they start talking with me."
Q: Is there any food you eat for strength?
A: "I don't rely on any particular food item. I eat almost everything, and I especially like red ginseng."
Q: What has been your happiest moment as an athlete?
A: "When I won the gold medal at Beijing Olympics -- I just couldn't believe it. When I did the lifting, I knew I just set a world record, but that was just about it. But then, precisely at the moment that I got to wear my gold medal on the podium, it was different. I had this solid, overwhelming sense of 'Oh, I actually did win the gold.' That was the happiest moment ever."
Editing by Miral Fahmy