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Teenage weightlifter recovers after slow start and vows to get gold in Rio 2016

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It could not get much closer to a home Games for Greenwich’s Zoe Smith.

The 18-year-old could have taken a ride on the new cable car system spanning the River Thames to make her Olympic debut in the women’s weightlifting at ExCel today.

And it was very clear who the large crowd were rooting for when Smith took to the stage along with her fellow competitors in group B of the -58kg class.

Smith had admitted the 2012 Games were ‘a bit too soon’ for her to feature prominently, but she signed off with a British record 121kg in the clean and jerk after lifting 90kg in the snatch.

And she was left to look ahead to Rio, when she hopes to dominate and be among the frontrunners for medals.

“I’m very much looking towards Rio,” said Smith.

“I’ve finished second overall in the B group but I’ll be top in the A group next time!

“It’s been a real learning curve. To compete in an Olympics in my home town, I’m only 18. There are so many reasons why it’s a big thing for me.

“The experience was good. I got a record, next time I want an Olympic record.”

Smith’s first venture into weightlifting came for her home borough of Greenwich at the London Youth Games.

A keen gymnast as a child – who would be found by her mum climbing on doors – the 12-year-old Smith went along to ‘make up the numbers’.

But the former Townley Grammar School pupil showed some promise and, under the guidance of Europa club coach Andrew Callard – who she credits as her greatest influence ‘without doubt’ – blossomed into a British junior champion and a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in four short years.

There have been setbacks along the way, such as Smith losing her funding in 2011 when British Weightlifting claimed she was overweight and not sticking to her training programme.

A back injury, caused by a bulging disc, also hampered her progress for a while and Smith put her A-level studies – English Literature, French and Art – on hold to focus on her Olympics preparation.

But the self-confessed Starbucks-addicted shopaholic was the only British lifter to achieve the Olympic qualifying A standard (twice) before the Games and opened her account with a confident and untroubled lift of 90kg in the snatch.

A first attempt at 93kg was unsuccessful as Smith, who weighs around nine stone, got the bar to head height, but then dropped the bar and left shaking her head and looking at her fingers.

And a second attempt also resulted in a no-lift as Smith, who stands five feet two inches tall, wobbled to the front of the stage and was forced to put the bar down once more.

Ecuador’s Maria Alexandra Escobar Guerrero topped the list with a 100kg lift, with Hidilyn Diaz (Phillipines) managing 97kg and Germany’s vocal Chrstin Ulrich lifting 93kg.

And that left Smith with work to do in the second half of the competition to get herself into any kind of contention in the group.

“I was disappointed at the beginning but I couldn’t let it phase me,” added Smith.

“I had to psyche myself up and bounce back. When I heard my family talking during the break about how proud they were of me, I broke down into tears.

“Andy says never cry on TV or the platform but I could hear my mum’s voice and I just welled up.”

Smith looked to have put her earlier disappointment behind her, as she entered the clean & jerk at 116kg and completed a very professional lift with minimum fuss, to the delight of the big crowd.

She almost succeded with her first attempt at 121kg, but made sure the next time around to end on a high.

“The plan was to go 116, 121, 125,” said Smith.

“I was close (with the first attempt at 121kg), but rushed to recover. Part of me then thought ‘go for 123’, but I wanted the record and would’ve been disappointed with 116.”

And with her competition out of the way at last, Smith is looking forward to enjoying some home comforts.

“I don’t remember my last night out, but I know when my next one will be – I need it!” she added.

“I’ve had to give up food. I’ve not eaten many carbs the last few days and was in the sauna for 20 minutes this morning.

“It was all worth it in the end, but I want a Big Mac, nuggets, chips, a McFlurry and a muffin!”

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