Britain’s female weightlifters: Worth their weight in gold?

Lifters are out to earn recognition after winning funding appeal

Let’s face it: basketball has a better image than weightlifting.

You will be unlikely to see Rihanna, the singer, and her model friend Cara Delevingne – spectators at a recent LA Lakers game – in Kazakhstan this November for the weightlifting World Championships.

So the outcry over UK Sport’s decision this week to deny British Basketball  funding in favour of the country’s female weightlifters is perhaps understandable. Basketball is more visible and has star quality.

But that is not to say the widespread wailing on basketball’s behalf is right. UK Sport doesn’t do emotion – it cares about shiny medals. Hence the reason why British Weightlifting won an appeal to have £894,000 allocated to fund its drive for Olympic glory.

Rod Carr, the chairman of UK Sport, said British Weightlifting showed in its appeal a “compelling new strategy focused on developing their most talented female athletes with a view to challenging for medals by Tokyo 2020”. In other words, women who lift weights have more potential to win medals than people who play basketball, water polo or do synchronised swimming – the sports which failed in their appeals.

Emily Godley, the 23-year-old English weightlifting champion in the 63kg category, feels strongly that her sport deserves the funding. And she is determined to show the rest of the country that the cash injection is not merely because UK Sport was dazzled by impressive-looking numbers related to potential or post-London 2012 participation figures.

“It is a massive help,” Godley said. “We don’t want to take it just because GB Weightlifting has given UK Sport a bunch of projected figures. We want to say, ‘Yes, we can do it’, and produce some results to show it is worth their while.

“Even outside the elite lifters, there are clubs and smaller championships where more people are getting involved. UK Sport may have looked at that, but I think they see things more black and white: they want to achieve, they want progression and medals in Tokyo. So no pressure... it is still six years away but it will fly by.”

Godley is part of a group of female lifters in their late teens or early twenties who UK Sport believes have medal potential for the 2020 Olympics.

She has demonstrated a marked improvement since going part-time in her job at the Financial Ombudsman Service – by coincidence she reduced her hours at her day job in the week it was announced that weightlifting was getting its funding cut (“I had to laugh,” she said) – and she has a packed 2014 schedule. The British Championships are first up, in May, followed by the Commonwealth Games and the Worlds – which, in turn, will be the first step towards qualification for the 2016 Olympics.

“A lot of the female lifters are young and still developing,” she said. “I did OK at the World Championships [last November], but it was my first one – it was good experience for me.

“Then I improved at the English Championships so I could feel my progression. I think UK Sport has taken it into account the fact the female lifters are all young and developing. It is really great to have the support and have the funding reinstated, it is a massive deal for us. It has made a big difference to me.”

Godley does have sympathy for the sports which failed in their appeals against having their funding cut completely. Even within weightlifting there was disappointment, as the male lifters remain unfunded by UK Sport. But she hopes that the snub will motivate participants in other sports, as well as her male counterparts, to attain the required levels.

“You are always going to get disappointed people,” Godley said. “Even the male lifters, they have no funding and they are gutted right now. But that won’t stop them trying to compete. They will keep training and working hard.

“UK Sport want results and medals. Most sports are aware what the situation is and they are no doubt doing their best to improve so they can get their funding back.

“You don’t get into weightlifting because of the money, you get into it because you have a passion for it. So funding or not, I would still have been motivated. You can’t take funding for granted.”

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