On Saturday morning, December 22nd, the Warrior Nation paid a visit to one of Trinidad & Tobago's sporting heroes, Rodney Wilkes, at his home in San Fernando. The 82-year old, former national weightlifter, and Hall of Famer was the recipient of a Christmas food hamper that was filled with donations from Warrior Nation members and employees of the Ministry of Works, Arima office. The Mighty Midget as he is affectionately known, appreciated our gesture of goodwill, and wished our club well in our endeavours. For those of you who may not have heard of Mr. Wilkes or do not know of his achievements, we have included the bio that appears with his Hall of Fame entry. Just to give you an idea of his status, he is regarded as one of the top Olympic weightlifters of the 20th century.
The Atom in his golden years
T&T Olympic contingent for the 1948 games in London, England. Rodney Wilkes is standing furthest to the right.
Rodney Wilkes' Bio (courtesy firstsports.net)
This country's most successful weightlifter, he was the first Trinidad competitor to win an Olympic medal. Lifting in the featherweight class he first drew attention in 1942 when he placed 2nd to James Cabe. During his hey-day he was never to taste defeat at the hands of anyone in local competition. Later that year he established three local records for his division: 170 lb. for the press, 175 lb. for the snatch and 225 lb. clean and jerk. Although he remained unbeaten over the next year three years, his ability was unknown until 1946, when at the CAC games, Barranquilla; he captured the gold medal with record lifts of 205 lb. (press), 210 lb. (snatch) and 275 lb. (clean and Jerk). A year later he went to the World Weightlifting Championships at Philadelphia, but maybe his arrival just one day before the competition disoriented him and he was very disappointing.
Selected for the Olympic Games in London, 1948, he exceeded his efforts of two years earlier with a total of 317.5 Kilos (6993/4 lb.) but went under to the Egyptian Mahmoud Fayad whose aggregate was an incredible 332.5 kg (733 lb.), a new Olympic and World record. Nevertheless Rodney had clinched Trinidad's first ever Olympic medal at the country's first participation in those games. Following the games he was crowned British Empire champion with lifts of 2143/4 lb. each (Press and Snatch) and 270 lb. (clean and Jerk). His next big appearance was in 1950 at Guatemala, where, despite and injured wrist, he won with a total of 685 lb.
The following year the Pan Am Games were staged in Buenos Aries, Argentina and he took the gold medal with a total of 716 lb. This brought him a step away from the next Olympics, venue for which was Helsinki, Finland. In those games he met two Russians, one of whom, Nikolay Saksonov, equalled Fayad's 332.5 kg total but could only gain a silver medal. The winner, Rafael Chiminshkyan added 5 kg. (11 lb) to the world record for a 774 lb. aggregate, leaving Wilkes the loser by 33 lb. and with the bronze medal.
After a brief period of retirement in 1953, he decided to return and defend his B.E. title in Vancouver, August 1954. He was successful with lifts of 200 lb. (press), 251 lb. (snatch) and a record 275 lb. (clean and Jerk). In December that year at the local championships he set two records. He increased the clean and jerk to 280 lb., while the 705lb. total was also a local best. He was selected Sportsman of the Year 1954. The 1956 Olympics seemed an exciting prospect for him and in April that year he equalled his clean and jerk record. In July, at the Senior Weightlifting Championships he set a new British Empire press record of 222 lb. and equalled the 705 lb. total. This brought him an invitation to journey to Melbourne, Australia. Again the Olympics brought out the best in him. He grossed 7271/2 lb., his best ever, but could only place fourth, as the winner; Isaac Berger (USA) increased the Games record total to 777 lb.
Now a veteran at the sport, his career began its downward slide. He remained sufficiently in the limelight to be included in the Caribbean Weightlifting Championships in 1960, the year of the Rome Olympics. He suffered a rare defeat and failed to make, what on that occasion was a West Indies contingent. This time his retirement was final. South has always been proud of its heroes and one of its sons, who earned the sobriquet "mighty midget", has always been held dear to the region. In 1984 the Borough of San Fernando honoured him in his capacity as electrician.