Strength runs in the family: The record-breaking brothers raising the bar for Singapore

Strength runs in the family: The record-breaking brothers raising the bar for Singapore

Yap brothers powerlifting
Matthew (left), Marcus (centre) and Matthias have represented the country in numerous international powerlifting competitions. (Photos: Matthew Mohan)

SINGAPORE: Bitten by the gym bug as a 20-year-old, Marcus Yap was determined to drag his brothers along.

First, he convinced his younger brother Matthew to swap his keyboard and mouse for barbells and weights. 

"I just wanted to play my computer games and for him to leave me alone," recalled Matthew. "But I couldn't say no because he would keep pestering me."

Then a year later, Marcus, a former badminton player, coaxed their youngest brother Matthias into ditching his baking equipment for the bench press.

"He was always the kid interested in eating, baking and cooking," recalled Marcus, now 24. "We kind of forced him into it, like how I forced Matthew."

But Marcus' influence didn't end there.

His sessions at the gym turned into a love affair with a new sport - powerlifting; and unsurprisingly, his brothers followed suit.

The strength sport requires competitors to perform three lifts, the squat, bench press and deadlift. They have three attempts at each lift.

"My friend, who was an arm wrestler, told me that I was quite strong, so why not try out powerlifting," recalled Marcus. "I learned more from the Internet by watching YouTube videos."

Participating in his first competition in 2014, Marcus recalls going into the local event a "blank slate".

"I was completely new, completely raw," he recalled. "Surprisingly, I won. I didn't have a handler, I didn't know what I was doing ... From there, the Powerlifting Singapore president said: 'You're actually not bad' and he started training (me)."

Several months later, it was Matthew's turn to compete while Matthias stepped up to the platform a year later.

"Matthias was always known as the brother that doesn't compete," added Matthew. "It was shocking to people when he started."

Matthias Yap training
Matthias trains under the close supervision of his older brother Marcus. (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

FROM A LOCAL GYM TO THE WORLD STAGE

Four years on from Marcus' first competition, the trio are no longer fresh-faced gym enthusiasts. The Yap brothers are seasoned competitors and have left their mark on the international stage.

Matthew, 19, is the proud holder of two world records. Last December, he set a powerlifting squat world record (215.5kg) in the Under-66kg sub-junior category at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championships in Alappuzha, Kerala. He also holds the powerlifting world record in the Total category with a cumulative lift of 588kg, achieved at the same event.

Matthias, 18, also competed in Kerala, finishing with a silver in the Under-74kg sub-junior Total category. He also has three national records to his name.

Both Matthew and Matthias are coached by their older brother, Marcus, himself a former two-time world record holder.

In 2015, Marcus cracked the powerlifting deadlift world record in the Under-59kg junior category with a 223kg lift in the Classic World Men's Championships in Salo, Finland. A year later, he also broke the world record at the IPF Asian & Oceania Championships 2016 with a cumulative lift of 536kg.

"When Marcus started, I'd look to him for everything - from the training to the mental aspect," said Matthew. "I wanted to be an exact copy (of him) ... After he competed at the 2015 (World) Classic Championships and he broke the deadlift world record, it was very, very encouraging. 

"I was like: 'Wow, I want to do that one day'."

matthew yap powerlifting
Matthew is currently a student at Republic Polytechnic.  (Photo: Matthew Mohan)
 

WORKING PART-TIME TO MAKE THE BIG TIME 

Their path to success, however, has been littered with numerous difficulties, said the brothers.

While the trio are part of Powerlifting Singapore, it is not a recognised national sports association. As such, athletes who compete at overseas meets have to pay their own way.

The Yap brothers estimate that they have spent close to S$30,000 of their own money on international competitions.

Matthew, now a second-year student at Republic Polytechnic, recalls having to work part-time at electronics retailer Challenger.

Prior to the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Belarus last year, he also worked 10-hour shifts at a cafe during school holidays. "I worked almost every day," he said. "I told my manager that if you can put me (down for more shifts), just please do."

Making it to Belarus and competing was just half the battle. 

Both Matthew and Marcus were detained by officials in Minsk airport due to a visa mix-up and had to rebook new flights home. They could not afford to do so and only managed to find a way back after a crowdfunding campaign was set up by Powerlifting Singapore.  

Coming from a single-parent family, the trio are also mindful not to let their passion affect their family finances.

"We didn't want our hobby and interest to ultimately be a burden," said Matthew. 

The 19-year-old also recalls how Marcus once spent less than S$50 a month on food prior to the 2015 World Championships in Finland.

"I would prep all the food from home ... and if there was any fitness-related job out there, I would do it," said Marcus, who is now a coach and personal trainer.

Matthias Yap weightlifting
Matthias plans to follow in the footsteps of his brothers. (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

'GIFTED' IN BEING DISCIPLINED

Matthew has since been offered assistance from the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund, which provides him with financial support.

Their achievements aside, watching his siblings grow as individuals rather than athletes gives eldest brother Marcus a sense of satisfaction.

"One thing about being a coach is that you always want to see your athletes be better than you," said Marcus. "Not just knowing that they did well on the platform but what they do adds value to their life. That gives the greatest fulfilment.

"Seeing them do well and (seeing) us become more respected, it feels like everything was worth it. We worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to this point. It was not wasted."

Many don't see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, the brothers stressed.

Matthias and Matthew train five times a week, for approximately three and a half hours a day. Such was his dedication that Matthias remembers sacrificing sleep to wake up at four in the morning for his training sessions before heading for a six-month internship.

"The harder the adversity, the more fulfilling it is and the bigger the sense of achievement," said Matthew.

"When people look at us, there's a sense of possibility," added Marcus. "A lot of people say we're genetically gifted (for the sport) but I would say that we are gifted in being disciplined."

Marcus trains with Matthew regularly, and comes up with a regular training programme for Matthias. The latter also sends him videos of his lifts to look through and give constructive feedback on.

"It definitely helped me to train right, have the right techniques ... if they weren't here to help, I'd be all over the place," said Matthias.

"Whenever I feel not very confident in training, Marcus would reassure me that I just have to focus and calm my nerves, this helps a lot," said Matthew. "This reinforcement and me observing what he does - his techniques to calm himself down, focus and be in the zone, was what we (also) picked up."

"If one of us screws up, somebody will be there to say something," added Marcus. "We have each other's backs."

Powerlifting bar
Matthew prepares for a deadlift. (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

Next up for the trio will be this year's edition of the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championships in Mongolia. Matthew will be participating in the Under-74kg junior category, and Matthias in the Under-74kg sub-junior category.

Athletes aged between 19 and 23 participate in the junior category, while those between 14 and 18 compete in the sub-junior category.

Having moved up an age class and weight class, Matthew's focus will be to do his best against seasoned and older competitors.

When asked what his goal is, Matthias answered without hesitation: He wants a gold medal and the Asian record - he no longer is just the brother who "doesn't compete".

Source: CNA/mt(hm)

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