World of Sport

Lazy? Overweight? Unfeminine? Commonwealth champ Zoe Smith silences the critics

World of Sport

View photo

Three and a half years ago, a 16-year-old weightlifter from London had her funding cut by her sport's governing body, who explained their decision with the rather callous words that she had arrived at a training camp "overweight and with no training programme".

It was a bitter blow. She had already had a record-breaking career in junior competition, carefully balanced with her schoolwork, but happily admitted possessing a tendency towards laziness (as if that could possibly be unusual for a teenager).

Eighteen months later, she featured on a TV documentary prior to the London Olympics, entitled 'Going For Gold'.

She'd just come fourth in the European Weightlifting Championships, and was looking forward to her first Olympic Games, although, in competition with much more experienced athletes, was realistic about her chances of winning a medal.

After the programme aired, she was targeted with all kinds of horrendous online abuse. Messages - from men and women - told her that it was 'unfeminine' to be so strong and to show off her muscles; they suggested she wasn't really a woman if she enjoyed such physical activity, and warned her that men wouldn't find her attractive.

But this young woman's psychological strength was equivalent to her physical strength. She dismissed her detractors in a powerful blog post, saying:

"Why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive?"

She promptly broke the British clean-and-jerk record at the Olympics, finishing 11th overall.

And two years on, Zoe Smith is the Commonwealth champion - and finally getting the kind of public acclaim she deserves.

That's not just from new mum Jessica Ennis-Hill, who made a point of finding time to watch her young Team GB colleague compete...

...not just from sporting legends, including Dame Kelly Holmes...

...not just from the media...

...but from viewers as well.

The nice thing is, of course, that Smith isn't a machine. She's an incredibly impressive, incredibly dedicated athlete who's achieved an awesome amount at an astonishingly young age.

That gold medal she picked up for England this weekend is a just reward - and should signal the first of many successes in major competition.

Carrie Dunn | Follow on Twitter @carriesparkle

View comments (82)