Weighlifting: Anything but a Breeze as Michaela battles the pain

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The Independent Online

The sound generated by weightlifters at work brings to mind of a house of correction. But even in the domain of excruciated cries here at the BUAA Gymnasium yesterday, what the only British weighlifter at the Games went through was above and beyond the call of duty.

As Michaela Breeze moved forwards, tentatively, for her final effort in the women's 63kg qualifying competition her face was drawn with the pain of a back injury which had prevented her taking her third and final attempt in the snatch. Having briefly wondered whether she could carry on, the 29-year-old PE teacher from Ivybridge, Devon had managed two clean and jerks - where the bar, bowed with weight, rests momentarily on the heaving chest - and now faced her final challenge of 100kg with a look of utter trepidation.

Up came the bar, and with it a roar of approval from a Chinese crowd that had witnessed her earlier tribulations backstage via the ubiquitous television screens. Now for the final effort - face contorted, she raised the bar above her head, staggering, steadying, until the judge's buzzer finally signalled she could lay her burden down. This she gladly did, looking briefly as if she might fall sobbing onto it before rising, ever so carefully, and hobbling off with an expression that was a confluence of emotions.

"The Olympic Games are only once every four years and you've got to do what you can," she said. "And I did that. But I've never pushed through pain like that before. If it had been any competition other than the Olympics I would have withdrawn."

Breeze, who is the current Commonwealth champion, became Britain's first female weightlifter to reach the Games when she competed in Athens four years ago, finishing ninth. But having received a late wild card entry three weeks before these Games began, she knew that her Olympic ambitions would be severely limited just a week later when she began to suffer muscle spasms in her back so severe that it was preventing her training.

Breeze's coach, Andrew Davies, admitted that even though his athlete was keenly aware of her position as the nation's sole Olympic representative in her sport, she had doubted her ability to carry out that function.

"At one point, before we came out here, Michaela did say to me 'I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can do the clean and jerk'," recalled Davies, who set her the target of earning a total - which requires a minimum of one scoring effort in each discipline.

For a while during the break between competitions, as the screens made clear, Breeze looked unlikely to achieve that goal. She lay on the floor with her arm over her face while a physiotherapist appeared to be trying to remove one of her legs by pulling it across her body - no doubt in an effort to help. She squatted on her haunches. No good. She leant back against a wall with a handrail pressed to the small of her back. Still no good....

Breeze, whose pupils at Ivybridge Community College have been following her progress closely, has bests of 101kg in the snatch and 122kg in the clean and jerk, but here she had to settle for equivalent weights of 80 and 100kg as she eventually finished 15th out of the 20 lifters. That, however, was not the point.

"It was about pride today," she said. "I was under no illusions it was going to be an easy competition, and position was kind of irrelevant.

"If I'd come out for my last snatch I probably wouldn't have been able to make it through the clean and jerk. The pain has really limited my ability to clean and jerk in training. So that was really just a case of saving something.

"I've gone through a whole rollercoaster of thinking I wasn't going to go, then getting a place, then getting the problem with my back. So I'm disappointed, but chuffed at the same time. Now I'd like to defend my Commonwealth title in 2010 and then aim for London 2012."

Her planning for those two events may be adversely affected, however, if her Lottery funding drops as a result of her position here. "I've got funding at the moment, but I might not have after this," she said,

"I hope it doesn't go against me because if they cut it I'm going to be in trouble."

* Memo to UK Sport: Don't shoot the Breeze.