With an extraordinary act of strength and challenge, Emily Campbell tore a 160lb bar from the ground, put it on her shoulders and began to squat. With another, she exploded upward to push the weight – over two beer kegs worth putting together – well above her head.
There was a little wobble of the knees. A reassuring smile. Then a beep. And, just like that, Britain had their very first Olympic weightlifting medalist – and surely their most powerful, heartwarming and life-changing story from these Games.
Team GB will never say it. But some medals are simply more inspiring than others. And watching Campbell, a tall, strong black woman from an underprivileged community, win a super-heavyweight silver medal over 87kg was a real This Girl Can moment.
Five years ago, Campbell was working full time with children with special educational needs and had never ripped or cleaned and rocked a bar in his life. She was hoping the iron game would turn her into a stronger shot putter and hammer thrower, having been the National Under-23 Champion. Instead, it threw her life on a wonderful new path.
And what made the 27-year-old’s journey even more remarkable is that, unlike almost every GB team medalist in Japan, she is not funded by a lottery. Instead, a few odd jobs and help from her local community helped her scratch herself and strive for impossible glory.
“It has not been easy,” she said. “I’ve worked pretty much my entire weightlifting career to fund it and make sure I’m in the best shape I can. But the spirit of my community is just amazing. Every time I go to the local market, they give me free fruits and vegetables. The shoemakers sort my boots and fundraise for me. And now this kid, who grew up in Bulwell, Nottingham, is an Olympic medalist.
A large contingent of media had arrived at the Tokyo Forum to write about Laurel Hubbard becoming the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympics. But when Hubbard, 43, failed in all three of his digging attempts, a half-closed door suddenly swung open.
A 122 kg snatch puts Campbell in fourth place. Then two clean and jerk, weighing 156 kg and 161 kg respectively, climbed to bronze – then silver – thanks to his combined total of 283 kg. Then came a cry, before she fell to the ground in tears of disbelief and joy.
“Winning the first UK weightlifting medal is something that will obviously be with me forever and I’m just grateful that I managed to put weightlifting on the map,” said Campbell, who had dyed his hair in red and blue five hours before the competition. .
“Because we women have worked so hard over the past few years to prove that we are not here to participate, we are here to compete with the rest of the world. And I hope you know that the country is supporting us and that we have other girls doing weightlifting.
This post was echoed by UK weightlifting team chief Stuart Martin, who said the astonishing number of drug bans in the sport gave women like Campbell a chance that was not there before. .
“Let’s not beat around the bush,” he said. “Sport has been in a difficult situation for several years. It’s great to see that the International Weightlifting Federation is making a difference and has really shown today the impact it has. So I hope that the International Olympic Committee will give sport this opportunity to go to Paris. “
When told she had overnight become a model for This Girl Can, Sport England’s campaign to persuade women and girls of all shapes and sizes to become more active, Campbell nodded. : “I hope so,” she replied. .
“I really hope so because my only goal in this life is to inspire someone to follow their dreams. And if I can help these little girls find their dream, even if it’s not weightlifting or some other sport, then I’m very happy.
“I had done weightlifting before but when I started I was basically at the bottom with a 45kg snatch and 60kg clean and jerk and progressed – like everyone else She explained. “I was very strong and powerful but my technique was very minimal. And without technique in this game you have nothing. So I started from the bottom and worked up. It was not easy and it did not happen overnight.
Not that Campbell hasn’t finished yet, of course. She is also trying to make an impact on women’s fashion by changing the perception of clothing sizes and urging brands to do more for women with fuller figures.
Meanwhile, far ahead of everyone else was 21-year-old Chinese Li Wenwen, who won gold with a combined overall lift of 320kg, an Olympic record. When asked why the Chinese are so good at the sport, Li replied, “This is Chinese power, this is Chinese strength. We are strong. “
It was hard to argue. But being the second strongest woman in the world is also a pretty cool reward. Just ask Emily Campbell.