By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
When you’re as powerful as Keith Daniels is, you can make your own hours.
Four days a week, the Hilo powerlifter heads to the gym for 3:30 a.m. workouts — Spencer’s Health & Fitness Center opens just for him — and three spotters are required when he works the bench press.
On a recent morning, the 5-foot-6, 185-pound Daniels unofficially raised a personal best of 585.
The weight won’t change all that much this morning in Las Vegas, but the stakes will be much heavier as Daniels goes for his seventh world record at the Mr. Olympia Benchpress and Deadlift Invitational.
“When you get up there, it’s a whole different story,” Daniels said. “The adrenaline is flowing, the crowd is yelling.
“Thousands of people cheering you on and yelling your name. The spotlight’s on you.”
The 45-year-old doesn’t just want to set a another mark, he’s looking to really raise the bar and shatter the record of 518 pounds. He’ll start off at 551, and if things go according to plan at the Las Vegas Convention Center, he’ll add a new digit to the equation by the time he gets to his third and final lift.
“I would love to get 600, that’s my goal,” said Daniels, who in March set a world record of 531 at a lower weight class. “I’m trying to be the first man to bench three times my body weight at the age of 45.”
“The biggest thing is getting that first lift in, getting rid of the butterflies. If I get that first lift in, I’ll make sure I get that 600, if not to the top, than almost to the top.”
Originally from Oahu, Daniels has lived on the Big Island for 22 years. After he finishes his dead-of-night workouts, he does even more lifting on the job for Big Island Movers.
He competed in Motocross, boxing and bodybuilding when he was younger, then got his start in powerlifting under former Olympic champion Tommy Kono. He got serious about competing in 2002, and along with breaking many of his own world records, he’s also won four world titles.
Daniels will likely be the oldest competitor in his class in Las Vegas.
“Many people say that weightlifters peak between 40-50,” he said. “I’m definitely stronger than I was in my 20s and 30s.”
Bench press is the core exercise for the pectoral muscle, but Daniels relies more on his back and leg muscles. He says his technique, sound training from coaches and a strong mental focus are the keys to his success. However, he knows exactly what most people think when they hear of a 45-year-old — or anyone else for that matter — putting up that much weight.
“Their first question is, “What are you taking? The first word is steroids,” Daniels said. “I don’t take no steroids. I get tested. If I flunk the test I get suspended for two years, and I ain’t going to screw that up.”
For the record, competitors will be tested after the competition today.
The soft-spoken father of three isn’t much for self-promotion, but he would like to get the word out for his sport. Whether he sets another standard or not, his next goal is to try and help weightlifting grow on the Big Island. Daniels and one of his sponsors, Eddie Ancheta of All Tight Sports Nutrition, are among a group that is trying to bring a competition to Hilo.
Mindful of the proper tutelage he received when he was younger, Daniel winces at the gym when he watches youngsters utilize what he sees as poor technique. To that end, he says he’s always available to pop in at a gym to provide guidance.
“I want to help college and high school kids get into (weightlifting), like others used to help me save my body,” he said. “I’ve seen kids who can bench way more then they are. I’m surprised no one got hurt the way they lift.”
Competitively, he’ll reassess his career when he gets back to Hilo on Monday, but he feels he’s got another strong five years left in him.
The Olympics would be the pinnacle, but for now the only weightlifting competitions that are sponsored there are the snatch and the clean and jerk.
“They keep talking about it,” Daniels said. “I hope they do it soon, I don’t want to be in my 60s when it comes.”
Editor’s note: To follow Daniels’ quest live at 7 a.m. today, visit http://www.tvoop.com/channel/4141-uspa.