Joy proved short-lived for triple gold medallist
Many sports fans will instantly remember the name Darren Liddel after the Te Atatu weightlifter shot to national prominence with three gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Fred Woodcock caught up with him as part of Fairfax Media's ‘where are they now?' series on former Games medallists.
Thrilling highs of 1998 were in stark contrast to the brutally cruel lows of 1999 for Commonwealth Games gold medallist Darren Liddel.
The heavyweight weightlifter from west Auckland returned home from the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur to a hero's welcome; there was a ticker-tape parade down Te Atatu's main street, no less, after he snatched and clean-and-jerked his way to three gold medals in Malaysia.
He took pride of place in a red convertible Mustang before speaking to his fans from a podium on his return to Auckland, having won the snatch, clean and jerk and combined titles all on the same day in KL.
But his life was turned on its head the following year when first his father, Ian, died then, five months later, coach Doug McConnell also died.
He hoped to continue lifting weights but add a wrist injury into the mix and, less than two years after his Games success, Liddel had stopped competing.
Tell us about that difficult time for you after the Games?
It was such a massive high of the Games in '98 followed by the ultimate low, really, the following year. It was tough. I tried to carry on but with my father and then Doug, my coach, passing close to each other, and then my wrist injury compounded things. That made me decide that perhaps the time was right to call it quits.
Have you maintained some involvement in weightlifting?
I tried the coaching when I retired and, to be honest, it wasn't really me. I was more of a competitor than a coach. The distance I'd need to travel, it just wouldn't work really.
You're 43 now, married and living up north somewhere, is that right?
Yes we have two nearly-three-year-olds twin boys, they're a handful. We're approximately 10km north of Puhoi, out in the countryside. We love it. I lived out west Auckland in Te Atatu for most of my life. I work for Fisher & Paykel and between that and the boys, that's most of my week consumed.
How vivid are those memories from KL and sweeping the medals in the heavyweight division?
Pretty vivid. You don't forget that time and every now and then I am reminded of it by other people.
New Zealand wouldn't have had too many ticker-tape parades for weightlifters . . . it must have been pretty special?
Yes, I wasn't expecting that. It was supposed to be a surprise but someone let it slip and I heard of it at the airport from someone in the media. But I wasn't really expecting that type of fanfare.
Were you recognised in the street, and do you still get the odd glance?
Immediately, yes. It's faded now but every now and then, once people realise what I used to do, you can see a light bulb go on in their head. I can walk down the street now with a bit more anonymity and it's not until people ask a few questions and start to click that they then bring up the weightlifting.
It's one of the good things about the Commonwealth Games, isn't it, the fact that second-tier sports can have their day in the sun and create those sorts of moments?
Absolutely. Weightlifting is such a minority sport in New Zealand so to compete at that level is the pinnacle for us. There's a big gap between the level of weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games and Olympics for countries like New Zealand.
Will you be following the weightlifters in Glasgow and tuning into the coverage?
There are a lot of names I don't recognise but there are a couple I know and have heard about in the media. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for them in the papers. I'll be watching some of it, definitely. I'll be up early with the boys anyway, though the Commonwealth Games will be competing with Jake and The Never Land Pirates for airtime in our house!