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For U.S. weightlifter Morghan King, being small is her biggest asset

King is one of four weightlifters the United States has sent to the Rio Games 

It would be easy to underestimate Team USA weightlifter’ Morghan King's jaw-dropping strength just by looking at her. 

King stands just a hair above 5-foot-0. Her slight frame always hovers around 48kg (approximately 105 lbs), the strict limit of her chosen weight class. The Olympian has a disarming smile that she wears often.

“[Coaches] told me I was too small to get to the top,” King told NBC Olympics. “That gave me the chip on my shoulder to always put in more work than anyone else … [Being small] has now become my greatest asset.” 

King is one of the strongest women in the United States. She’s able to hoist 100.0kg (220 lbs) in the clean and jerk, one of two Olympic lifts. (The “clean and jerk” lifts see athletes bring the weights to their breastplates, then overhead; the other Olympic lift, the “snatch”, sees the lifter hoist the weight from the ground to overhead in a single, clean motion. Together, these two lifts form a cumulative “total,” which determines rankings.) Her personal snatch record is 85.0kg (187 lbs), and her best performance total is 185.0kg (407 lbs), which she achieved at this year’s Pan Am Championships.

48kg lifter Morghan King performs lifts to earn Rio spot

Still, she says, strength can’t always be measured in numbers. 

“Strength comes from being physically and mentally strong,” King said. “You can be an incredible athlete who is as strong as an ox, but if you are not mentally strong, you’re going to have a tough time making it to the top in any sport.” 

The 2016 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team is comprised of three women – King, Jenny Arthur and Sarah Robles – and one male, Kendrick Farris. The number of women reflects a shift both in weightlifting and society: Women are embracing new ideas of strength.

“I could give you the typical answer of 'strong is sexy,' but I think it’s more than that,” King said. “I think [societal] views on women are changing. We are learning that we are capable of doing anything men can do, and weightlifting is no exception. Women have an attention to detail and a perfectionism that I think draws them to [the sport]. That’s what brought me to it.” 

King grew up in Redmond, Washington. She was an intense athlete as a youth, particularly in soccer; in high school, a game-winning goal put her team into the state championships. The squad ultimately emerged victorious. 

When she was younger, King would also watch the Olympics at her grandparents’ house. She recalls watching the Atlanta 1996 Games, particularly the soccer and gymnastics competitions: “I remember being so inspired by these incredible women,” King said. “I think those were the moments that sparked something inside of me.”

Currently, King resides near USA Weightlifting headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She took up weightlifting just after the London Games in 2012, when she was 26 years old. The Olympian admits she didn’t watch the most recent Olympic weightlifting competition until after it had ended. 

“I was literally just getting into weightlifting, so it was all so new,” King said. “I have a good friend who, when I visited in September, had saved the 53kg session from the Games and we watched it together.”

It didn’t take long for King to get deeply involved in the sport. After initially discovering Olympic weightlifting through a CrossFit gym, she began to follow a strict training regimen. Her coach (and boyfriend) Dean Kruse pushed her to hoist increasing amounts of weight. Three years of practice later, King faced a make-or-break moment at the Olympic Trials in May 2016.

“I knew going into Trials I was more prepared for this competition than I had ever been before,” King said. “I had an incredible calm about me. After making the 100.0kg that I knew basically secured my spot [in Rio] before anyone else had even gone, I absolutely freaked out and screamed … It was the most incredible feeling.” 

When asked, the weightlifter acknowledged that many who see her lift at the Games will consider her as a role model, regardless of whether she wins a medal. King hopes her lifts will inspire passion in others – after all, passion often manifests into strength. 

“My biggest thing was to learn that money comes and goes,” King said. “But if you wake up with a passion in your heart for what you’re doing every day, that’s worth more than anything money can buy."