Weightlifter Zoe Smith going for gold
11:20 26 July 2012
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Weightlifter Zoe Smith was dubbed ‘Britain’s strongest girl’ when she won Commonwealth Bronze in 2010 but the teenager is hoping to show she’s grown up at the Olympics. Smith, who competes in the 58kg division, is aware big things are expected of her and is relishing competing in a home Games.
She turned 18 in April and the former Bexleyheath pupil, who went to Townley Grammar School, only turned to weightlifting when her gymnastics coach Yvonne Arnold suggested she should give it a go as a 12-year-old.
Smith said: “Ideally at the end of the Olympics I’ll have a medal around my neck but the standard I’ll face this summer will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I’m a mixture between nervous and excited at the moment. Having the crowd behind me will hopefully push me to perform better and the Commonwealth Games experience will definitely help.It’s only a small hop over to the ExCel Arena to my home in Abbey Wood and it should be a great experience.”
She lifted a personal best at the European Championships in April this year, her overall score of 208kg enough to clinch fourth place and achieve the Olympic ‘A’ qualifying standard in the process.
Things may have been very different had it not been for Mrs Arnold, co-owner of the Europa Centre in Crayford where Smith will train after the Olympics, suggesting she represent Greenwich in weightlifting in the London Youth Games in 2006.
This took her away from her first love gymnastics.
Her former gymnastics coach said: “I can’t wait to see Zoe in action. I couldn’t be more proud.
“She’s obviously under a lot of pressure but the one bit of advice I’d give her would be to stay focused and don’t get distracted by everything going on around her!”
Her mother Niki did not try to hide her pride when questioned.
“She often complains that she thinks her dad Terry and I are too proud of her. Her dad and younger sister Yana never come to the competitions because they can’t bear the tension. Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away from her Olympic debut though!”
Smith said: “I was a bit reluctant at first because although I was quite a strong kid, lifting weights isn’t a natural fit for a teenage girl.
“But after a few teething problems it turned out I was quite good and I’ve never looked back.
Smith completed her GCSEs at Townley Grammar in heading to the British weightlifting HQ in Leeds to train full-time.
Despite measuring just 5ft and weighing 9st 12 lb, she wants to show that it is possible to be muscular and feminine and self-confidence is not something the teenager seems to suffer from.
“We are just normal people who lift heavy things. I think they expect me to be massive, with facial hair and muscles popping out everywhere!”
Smith has kept her feet on the ground despite the spotlight glaring on her at such a young age.
This has included regular visits to her former school to keep in touch with former classmates and teachers.
“Since I moved back to London I go to Townley on a regular basis - I’m always hanging around there!” Townley’s headmaster Desmond Deehan said: “We’re incredibly proud of Zoe, both as an athlete and a student. We’ve been following her career closely and love it when she comes back to visit.
“We agreed she should take some time for the Olympics but we’d welcome her back if she decides to come and finish her A-levels.”
While she is still a teenager, Smith is nothing if not dedicated and determined and has her eyes set on an Olympic medal.
It may be an outside shot, but with the 58kg final on Monday (July 30) she doesn’t have to wait long to try and realise her dreams.