Zoe Smith - Weightlifing

Hometown: London
Sport: Weightlifting
Event: 58kg
Games: London 2012

Zoe was the first English woman to medal at the Commonwealth Games in weightlifting (Bronze). She has also won Silver at the Youth World Championships and Youth European Championships. Zoe finished 12th at the London 2012 Olympic Games, setting a new British clean and jerk record in the 58kg category, and a new personal best total.

Zoe is a leading name in the Team GB squad which heads to Australia this month for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) in Sydney from 16-20 January 2013. The following questions were prepared by students at Lealands High School, Luton, to support Zoe with her 'Athlete of the Month' appearance.

At what age did you start weightlifting and where did your inspiration for weightlifting come from?
I started lifting aged 12 whilst still training as a gymnast. Although I enjoyed gymnastics, I didn't have a huge amount of natural ability - I was very powerful but lacked any sort of elegance! It so happened that the weightlifting club which was situated downstairs from the gymnastics club was recruiting girls to compete in the London Youth Games that summer, so I was a prime candidate as I've always been quite strong. I gave lifting a go, and to my surprise not only was I sort of good at it - I really enjoyed it too!

What is your PB and what is your goal as an athlete?
My PBs are 95kg snatch, 122.5kg clean and jerk. My goal as an athlete is probably the same as anybody else's - to one day become Olympic champion.

How long do you train each week? How hard is it? How much can you bench?
I train 5 or 6 days a week in the gym for 2-3 hours per session. While that doesn't seem like much compared to most other sports, a large majority of our training is just in the gym doing weights! So you can imagine that at times it gets very hard, physically and mentally, as it's very repetitive and quite gruelling too. A common misconception about weightlifters is that we bench - when we really don't! My guess is that I could probably do about 60kg if I tried REALLY hard..

Does your strength make you feel safe when you are out at night? Do boys feel intimidated by your strength and ability?
Fortunately I've never been put in a dangerous situation so I haven't tested my theory! I think some boys do feel intimidated by the fact that I'm strong, but if they got to know me they'd realise how much of a wimp I truly am. I can lift over double my bodyweight but I cannot and will not deal with spiders.

Did your parents do any sports?
My parents loved sports - my dad did an assortment of different things, from football to cross country. My mum was very into kempo ju-jitsu and was apparently the first woman in the UK to get a green belt. Unfortunately she never made it to black belt status as she had me instead!

How does your coach support you when you find it hard to improve?
Everyone goes through stages where they plateau. It can be a frustrating experience and knocks your motivation. Andy is always there for me when this happens. He pushes me in the gym but is careful not to let it affect my life outside of training. His view on the matter is that at my age, while training is important, it shouldn't control your every waking moment. When it's not going well, you need to be able to switch off from 'athlete mode' or else you're just going to make yourself miserable thinking about it constantly.

For how long are you going to carry on weightlifting?
Weightlifters don't peak until their late 20's or early 30's. I've potentially got 3 more Olympics left in me.

Where do you find the time, tenacity and strength to be a world class weightlifter and at the same time be up to date with homework?
Keeping on top of both was always a huge problem for me, so just before the Games I decided to put school on hold and focus on training since I wasn't getting the most out of either at the time. I should be going back to school soon though to finish my A levels - I guess it's just a matter of gritting your teeth and getting your head down, as hard as it may be!

Have you always wanted to do weightlifting, did you have any other childhood dreams?
I'll be honest, as a kid I never dreamed of doing weightlifting! It's not really something that you're given the opportunity to do, especially as a young girl. It's lucky I found it though as before then, I really had no idea what it was that I wanted to do with my life!

Do you have a special diet or can you eat what you like?
I eat well most of the time, but I'm not particularly strict with myself. When I'm cutting to get under my weight category (-58kg), I have to be very strict. Hardly any carbs (my favourite food is pasta so this is AWFUL), lots of vegetables and meat.

What made you decide to become a weightlifter particularly when it is perceived as a male sport? How and where could I take up weightlifting?
Personally, I didn't particularly care that it was a male dominated sport. I did feel a bit intimidated being surrounded by so many huge men at first, but I soon got over that. It was something I enjoyed and was good at, why would I let other people's opinions stop me? There are very few weightlifting gyms across the UK, but they're easily found on British Weight Lifting's club finder application on their site. It's as simple as it sounds, just turn up and say "hi, I want to try weightlifting"!

How much money are you able to make doing weightlifting, have you got sponsors and do you get money for appearances?
The money in weightlifting isn't great, I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for fame and fortune. I'm quite lucky though, I'm sponsored by Maximuscle and Adidas who are both hugely generous. They give me all my kit and supplements which is massively helpful. I do get paid for appearances, but trust me, I'm definitely not rolling in it!

If you could choose another sport, what would it be?
At school I was the fastest in my year over 100m and always really enjoyed sprinting, so probably that. I also enjoyed badminton at school - I'm so competitive and I got really into it. Nobody else really showed the same level of enthusiasm though which was irritating for me!

Zoe's final thought:
Andy Callard, my coach, said something to me which has stuck in my mind, but only after I told him to wish me luck! He said 'You don't need luck, just the opportunity!' which is very true.