Weightlifting: 'I feel like such a div' says Team GB's Zoe Smith after setting new British record


They do make it a show at the weightlifting, with the countdown, the moody music, the competitors appearing through a dark side door and, in the case of the immeasurably engaging Zoe Smith, the participant’s mother being interviewed at half time.

This effort takes its effect, transporting the fundamental act of lifting an iron bar with weights attached into one of the most exhilarating pieces of sporting theatre at these Olympics, in which you wept at lunchtime today with Hidilyn Diaz, a Phillipina, and adored Christin Ulrich, a German who squealed and smiled her way to hauling weights beyond her experience. For Smith, an 18-year-old whose determination to take this unusual course in life, has seen her contend with unedifying lectures on what defines femininity, the ExCel theatricalities played a very unscripted part in her achieving a new British record.     

It was while Smith was in the competitors’ area, coping with serious self-doubt after she had failed to push beyond her personal best in the snatch section of the women’s 58kg, that she heard the interview being conducted with her mother, Niki, booming out from front of house. “She will come back out. I feel so proud,” her mother said, at which her daughter dissolved into tears. "I feel like such a div because my coach says ‘never cry on TV’; never cry in a competition,” she reflected later. “But I did that, when I heard her, because I felt pretty rubbish at that point and I was hearing people say how proud they are of me. I felt I'd let them down. I thought 'I hope no-one can see this'. But I'm only human."

Smith’s nerves hadn’t quite finished with her. The 18-year-old’s desperation to lock on to the British record 121kg, which she heaved from the mat 15 minutes later, caused her to rush into a recovery position and drop it. “I was thinking “Oh Gosh this is so heavy” and it was going backwards. I just wanted to get it done and put it down,” said Smith, with her refreshing knack of demystifying a sport which is alien to many. It was then that her coach Andrew Callard, the one who doesn’t let her cry, and psychologist Dave Readle embarked on what seems to have been a good cop, bad cop routine, behind the scenes. "Dave tells me to calm myself down, do what you know best. And then Andy says 'come on', 'let's have it'. He says stuff I know to do anyway, but it does help having him there in my ear.”

The sport’s narrow lines were in evidence even as Smith discussed her new record. The Philippine coaching team threw a towel over Diaz’s head to prevent her weeping being broadcast around the world, when she had failed in three attempts at 118kg. She was still crying in the mixed zone 20 minutes later. Ulrich, the epitome of positive mental energy, was filmed being slapped around the face by her coach after surpassing expectations.

Smith, who finished 12th overall today in a competition won by Chinese favourite Li Xueying, has seen the sport from both sides too.  She turned to Readle two years ago when she her “brain melted” at the Commonwealth Games and she literally couldn’t lift a weight, for a time. “Next time I want an Olympic record,” she said, displaying more of the spirit which promises to make this beautiful, effervescent individual a part of the national sporting landscape, if her progress can only continue. Smith also revealed how, after her first 121kg lift had failed, some rapid decisions had been required on whether she should attempt to beat the British record with her final lift – or smash it. “The plan was to go 116, 121, 125 but I had to work with what I had after failing at 121,” she said. “Andy said: ‘Do you want this again or 123? Part of me was thinking “Yeah. let’s put 123 on. But I wanted the record. I would have been so disappointed if I’d finished on 116 in the clean and jerk.”

This was nowhere near enough to clinch a medal - always the remotest possibility - but many will follow her progress, and perhaps her sport, from now. Her audience was sent off with the interview - in the arena, post-competition - in which Smith was asked about her mother. “Don’t make me cry!" she said, welling again. "She’s just a lovely, wonderful, supportive woman and I love her so much. Thank you mum!” Goodness knows how she will deal with a place on the podium some day.

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable