Dream finally comes true: South Elgin weightlifting legend is going to Tokyo, as a referee

When women's weightlifting became an Olympic sport in 2000, Corinne Grotenhuis had just torn the meniscus in her knee.

"I was also 35, so I was probably too old for the Olympics," Grotenhuis admitted. "But I really wanted to go."

If anyone deserved to go to that first Olympics, it was Grotenhuis, who lives in South Elgin.

She's a pioneer in women's weightlifting, getting her start in the sport in 1981 when she was 15, and the sport for women was only two years old.

Grotenhuis, who could power up a 158-pound snatch and a 202-pound clean-and-jerk in her prime, is a 10-time world champion and is still competing at the master's level.

And just recently, she finally earned a spot in the Olympics.

Not as a competitor though, as a referee. For the first time in her officiating career, Grotenhuis will serve as a technical official for the Olympic women's weightlifting events, and she will leave for Tokyo later this month.

"My thought process has been that if I can't compete in the Olympics, that I want to go as a referee," Grotenhuis said. "It will be just as rewarding because I'll be giving back to the sport, and that's all I care about."

Grotenhuis, who has been a part of weightlifting as either a competitor or a referee for 40 years, is like a lot of Olympic qualifiers right now. She's still in a bit of disbelief.

"It's been a dream to be able to go," Grotenhuis said. "Just like everyone else, to know that you'll actually be there, it's just a little surreal."

Grotenhuis has worked her way through the ranks of weightlifting officials by officiating dozens of national and international events, and she is now a Category 1 referee, the highest level and the only category of referees that is eligible to officiate at the Olympic level.

The officials are on hand in various capacities but mostly to judge that the technique of each lifter is correct. An incorrect technique results in a "no lift."

"There are three referees from different countries and then there are also five jurors, all from different countries. When there is any kind of question or a differing of opinion between the referees, the jury can come in and have a discussion about it and can overturn a decision," Grotenhuis said. "It's a highly subjective process and it is very much open to interpretation so that's why there are so many (officials) because it's kind of like (a checks and balance).

"It's always good to have another set of eyes."

Grotenhuis already has another knee, and another hip. She had a knee replacement in 2013 and a hip replacement in 2018, both stemming from injuries sustained from lifting.

There have been shoulder injuries and ankle injuries, too.

But Grotenhuis continues to lift, she just can't compete as much or at the level she once was accustomed.

"I try to compete, but it's mostly just for fun," Grotenhuis said. "I still love the sport, and I love training and practicing, and I wouldn't change a thing.

"My shoulder is still bothering me, but as soon as I recover and am healed, I think I'll start competing again. I just love it."

Grotenhuis is fine with officiating in the meantime. She says she has a lot to offer.

"I've been in the sport for so long that I have a history like no others have," Grotenhuis said. "As a referee, I can share my experiences with others in the sport."

Grotenhuis does a lot of sharing.

This weekend, she's in Detroit officiating a national tournament and as soon as she gets home from Tokyo, she'll be jetting off to an event in Orlando, Florida.

Luckily, Grotenhuis has a fairly flexible job. She works as a social worker at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield and will pick up extra shifts and work holidays to help accommodate all of her travel for weightlifting.

"When I get healthy and back to competing again, there will be events where I'll be able to compete and then also referee," Grotenhuis said. "And I would do that. I love what I do. It's who I am."

Corinne Grotenhuis is a 10-time world champion weightlifter who still competes at the master's level. Courtesy of Corinne Grotenhuis
Corinne Grotenhuis, here in this undated photo, got her start in weightlifting in 1981 at age 15. Courtesy of Corinne Grotenhuis
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