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Zoe Smith: The super strong Olympian


WHEN YOU think about professional weightlifters, you tend to conjure up images of competitors with a bulging muscle mass similar to someone like action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But those preconceived notions have been made redundant by the feats and frame of the diminutive 5ft 2in Zoe Smith.

The south Londoner first rose to prominence after capturing a bronze medal as a 16-year-old in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and is currently training for the World Junior Championships in Peru on May 3.

Since claiming that medal almost three years ago in India, Zoe has also won a silver at the World Youth Games in 2011 and represented Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games where she finished 12th, lifting a total of 211kgs, the equivalent of a newborn killer whale.

But even more impressive than Zoe’s medal collection is her incredibly long list of national records. The teenage Olympian has so many British records in weightlifting techniques - the clean and jerk and the snatch - that even she’s unsure how many she has broken.

“To be quite honest, because I’ve been breaking records since I was about 13, I think it adds up to quite a lot,” she says. “Maybe a few 100 but they’re all in different weight categories and age categories, so not quite as impressive as it seems.”

The 18-year-old adds: “Senior records are the ones that really matter to me. In the 58 kilo category, I’ve still got a few more records to go. I’ve got the British clean and jerk record, but I’ve still got the snatch record and the total record to go, so they’re the big aims and I’m really excited to start breaking them soon.”

BREAKING RECORDS: Zoe represented Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games where she finished 12th, lifting a total of 211kgs, the equivalent of a newborn killer whale

During last year’s Games, weightlifting was one of the first competitions of the Olympic schedule and was held at the ExCel Arena. Reminiscing about her experience on the grandest stage in all of sport, Zoe said: “It was really good. I had a really great time. The competition bit was really nerve-racking. It was the biggest stage I’ve ever competed on because usually I’d compete in front of 100 people at most, like I did at the British Championships. And that would primarily be mums, dads and friends of other lifters.

“So competing in front of 6,000 was ridiculous. It felt like being a rock star!” she laughs.

“I really enjoyed that. All the partying we did afterwards, I think we’ll be taking some of those stories to our grave. It was an absolutely amazing experience and I can’t wait until the next one.”

Once a keen gymnast, Zoe first got involved in the sport after coaches discovered her hidden talent as a 12-year-old. Realising that the gym can be a daunting place, Zoe was still full of encouragement for the next generation of female UK weightlifters.

“A lot of girls have contacted me through social media and said ‘how do I get involved in weightlifting?’ or ‘I’m now involved in weightlifting because you and the guys inspired me to try it out after the Games’. It’s still really, really unpopular as far as sports go, but the popularity has increased massively I’d say.”

She went on: “It’s quite a male dominated sport of course so to go in as a woman, or at 12 like I did, is quite a terrifying experience. I’d say if you really want to get involved don’t be shy. Just find out where your local club is and maybe take a friend who is also interested, just to make it a little bit less scary. All the coaches I know are more than happy to take on new lifters.

“Sometimes when I go into new gyms people are a little bit surprised. Some of them know who I am from the Olympics and stuff, but then other people who don’t can be a bit more surprised. I think a lot of people still expect weightlifters to be absolutely huge but we’re actually quite little people.”

Like Zoe, six-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt should be in action at the 2016 Rio Games in Brazil. Zoe says she is a “massive” fan of the world’s fastest man.

On spotting the charismatic Jamaican sprinter during last summer’s Games, she recalls: “I didn’t see Usain Bolt out, but we did see quite a lot of the international athletes so that was quite cool. I walked passed Bolt once and I got really excited. I would’ve been a proper fan if I had I seen him out. It would’ve been really embarrassing for everyone around me to watch it! He’s a cool guy!”

To keep up to date with Zoe’s progress, follow her on Twitter @ZoePabloSmith

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