David O’Callaghan Q&A: Two or three minutes in, you’re thinking: ‘Why am I doing this?’

David O’Callaghan is a recently-crowned world champion kettlebell lifter. The Glanmire native lifted two 24kg kettlebells over his head 99 times in 10 minutes to add the long-cycle world title to his European gold medal.

Team Ireland secured a hefty supply of medals at the World Kettlebell Championships to finish sixth in the team rankings. As well as O’Callaghan, there were golds for Olivia Cahalan, Morgan Claffey, Jamie Davis, and Maria Moran. Overall, the nine-person team finished behind eastern European superpowers Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Lithuania, and hosts South Korea, but ahead of the likes of Canada, the USA and England.

Q: Tell me about your World Championship win.

A: My lift is long cycle, so it’s a clean and jerk. I ended up doing 99 reps, which was a record in my category. It was actually the most in all weight divisions. It was an amazing thing because my goal for the last two-and-a-half years in the sport was to win that, so to finally do it after winning gold at the Europeans was pretty epic.

Q: To get the most reps in any weight division must’ve been a huge bonus...

A: Yeah, my weight class is 85kg and, overall, it goes from 63kg up to 110+kg. So, to get more than the big dudes was pretty cool.

Q: Were you disappointed not to get the 100th rep, though, when you were so close?

A: That’s the thing. My goal leading up to it was to do the 100 because that’d never been done but my last repetition... I actually did 100 reps but the buzzer went just before I got the last one counted, so I just missed out on that.

Q: Was there a moment when you were lifting and you knew you’d already won?

A: Coming into minute nine, I’d already done 87 reps and I knew that I’d be a good bit out in front. I got a feeling that I’d probably already won but at that stage it was all about driving on for the record, the 100. That last minute is usually torturous. Even two or three minutes in you’re thinking ‘Why am I doing this?’. The pain is horrible but that last minute gave me a real drive because I felt the record was there to be broken. That was some buzz.

Q: Is that the big battle — fighting the ‘why am I doing this’ question in your mind?

A: It’s an extreme thing to lift weights non-stop for 10 minutes without putting them down. It’s a real mental battle. Usually in kettlebell sport, minute six, minute seven are the hardest minutes because you’ve been lifting for so long, your heart rate is so high, you’re finding it hard to breathe and there are 300 people watching you as you do this. It’s a high-pressure thing.

Q: Do you have a gameplan to manage that?

A: To reach the goal of 100 reps, I’d break that down into a little mind-game where I’d do five reps every 30 seconds. Once that 30 seconds is done, I’d forget about that five reps and move on to the next five. Those mental games break down the overall task into achievable little chunks. It’d mess with your mind to look at the 10 minutes and 100 reps as a whole.

Q: How did you get started in the sport?

A: In the gym that I work out of, Rive Fitness in Glanmire, I met a friend who told me about kettlebell classes. In the past, I did stuff like bodybuilding and crossfit, but when I went along and found out that you could compete internationally in a weightlifting sport like that, I was instantly drawn to it. I started to go to classes, enter competitions and, pretty early, set the goal to win the world championships.

Q: Just to get the timeline, when did you take up kettlebell lifting?

A: Next March, it’ll be three years.

Q: And when did you set the goal to win the world championships?

A: After the first six months… In my first year, 2015, the world championships were held in Ireland. My clubmates were competing but I didn’t qualify because I was so new to the sport. I remember seeing them lift that day in DCU and I made a promise to myself that I’d get there and win... within three years (laughs). To do that was pretty cool.

Q: How often do you train?

A: I’d be at a high level in the sport so I’d train six days a week. I’d do a mix of kettlebell sport training three times a week, cardiovascular training, rowing, or swimming, three times a week, and I’d get in a few sessions in the gym and a lot of yoga.

Q: It sounds like being a good lifter isn’t all in the arms so...

A: Funnily enough, even though we’re jerking the bells overhead, it’s very little arm. It’s your whole body working as one, so you need to generate a lot of force through your legs, up through your hips and then jerk them up as fast as you can. It wouldn’t be a bodybuilding type of thing, it’s more about strength. It’s a crazy sport, in that you need to train for everything. You need to skilled with the kettlebell, you need good technique, you need to be strong, flexible, you need to have great cardio and great mental strength to actually last 10 minutes.

Q: Are there many categories?

A: There’s different categories and different types of lift. There’s my one, the long cycle. There’s the snatch, which involves swinging the kettlebell over your head, and the jerk, which is just jerking the bell overhead. There’s different weights of kettlebell as well. My category is 24kg, so two 24kg kettlebells is 48kg in total. Professional level, then, would be two 32kg kettlebells.

Q: What’s your next target?

A: My goal for next year is to move on to a professional level and compete there. That would be the highest you can go in the sport — you can’t go heavier than that.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

A: Ten years down the line, I’d be 37. I’ll definitely still be lifting but I don’t know if I’ll be winning world championships — I’ll be trying to anyway. I’m a personal trainer by trade and coaching is a thing that I love. I really want to get more people involved in the sport. I’d love for some of my own students to go on and win the world championships — that’d be a great goal to achieve. We’re doing beginner kettlebell classes in the gym actually, every Tuesday and Thursday, for anyone who’d like to start.

Q: So, the sell is ‘You can be trained by the world champion...’

A: That’s it — trained by the champ!


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