A Co Armagh man, who only took up the sport of arm wrestling four years ago is aiming to right the wrongs of his near miss at the World Championships last year.
David Gibson, from Killylea, is one of two men from Northern Ireland set to compete at the IFA World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia next week.
David’s brother-in-law, Middletown man Stanley Hamilton – who he credits as the man responsible for introducing him to the sport – is aiming to improve on his silver medal for 2022.
And at 52-years-of-age, David is testament that age is only a number.
Speaking to Armagh I, ahead of flying 6,500 miles across the world this weekend, David said he picked up the sport just before the pandemic, and was hooked straightaway.
“My brother-in-law, Stanley, played 25 years of rugby and then decided to look for another sport,” David explained. “It was around 2017-18 he found a couple of guys to train with and in 2019, I went along to the Novice British Championships. I really enjoyed the whole thought process and the whole training regime behind arm wrestling, so I continued on from there.
“What I enjoy with the sport is the fact it doesn’t matter what age you are. Obviously, the earlier you come into it the better, but I only picked the sport up four years ago and lost a year through Covid. It’s important to stick with it because every year you get better. It’s a long process to get your arms conditioned to tendon pain and building the right muscles in the right areas to compete but it’s about staying patient with it.”
While David is a late starter, it’s that patience that has elevated him into a position that allows him to compete at the highest level.
“I know, next week, I will compete against men who have pulled and arm wrestled for maybe 20-30 years because of their age. I go in and compete and try to win but you’re up against somebody who’s a lot more experienced but it doesn’t mean you can’t compete at that level.”
David has performed in Irish and British Opens but David he is keen to make his mark on the world championships once again, having become the first man from Ireland to step on a World Arm Wrestling stage last year.
He will compete in the Minus 78kg Grand Masters category (Over 50s) while Stanley will compete in the Minus 86kg Masters (Over 40).
The training for arm wrestling isn’t simply a case of brute strength; it’s more tailored and precise, which is why looks can often be deceiving.
Said David: “We do get an odd guy who comes in, or messages us, and says, ‘;ook, I’ve never been beaten in arm wrestling’ and all the rest, so we invite him along and usually what my brother-in-law will say is, ‘David, give that man a pull there’.
“I’m a wee 78-80 kilo old man, and I just take the hand and they’re looking at me and I go right ‘away you go’ and they can’t move you because I’ve learned the techniques of how to arm wrestle with my hand, wrists and arms. It’s just a completely different sport to pub arm wrestling. We refer to it as a mini martial art, because there’s so much technical stuff within your hand and wrist. There’s different types of movements; there’s a press, there’s a top roll, hooks – so it is a very technical sport.”
For David, skipping leg day is the gym is not a problem either as the training all revolves around the top half of the body.
But aside from the training, there’s a great social element to training and competing. David has gone on to train with new people, people he now calls friends. Friends who are collectively trying to build the sport in Ireland from the ground up.
“We’re slowly trying to grow the sport here. In 2019 there were six of us at the Warehouse Gym in Portadown. Now there are 10-12 in Portadown and 10-12 in Bodyworks in Armagh. There are teams in Kilkenny, Cork, Dublin, Donegal. It’s a sport that is growing across the island of Ireland.”
And David is keen to get many more people involved – age is not a barrier.
“I would encourage so many people to get into the sport; it is it’s a great sport to be involved in. It’s a great social event as well; you’re meeting new people and making new friends. As we often say, ‘it’s a social occasion with a bit of arm wrestling’.
It’s also a sport with Olympic aspirations, with those at the top lobbying the International Olympic Committee to make it a fixture of the games in Los Angeles in 2028.
For now, David is concentrating on Malaysia, where, with a bit of luck on his side this time, he’ll be coming home with a medal tuck neatly away in his suitcase.
“Last year, I was so unlucky as I lost out in the bronze medal match. I felt I was hard done by on a refereeing decision but hopefully I can rectify it this time around.”