England stars ready for lift off at Commonwealth Games

Zoe Smith

Zoe Smith competing at London 2012 (Credit: Action Images / Paul Childs)

Weightlifter Zoe Smith is looking to retain her title this month as she goes for gold at the Commonwealth Games, representing England in the 63kg class.

An eventful four years since Glasgow 2014 has seen the young athlete grapple with injury, funding cuts and making a return to full time education.

But the Olympic lifter reveals she’s feeling optimistic about finding a balance in her life, between both studying for her A levels and competing at the Gold Coast Games.

“My training’s where I had hoped it would be at this point so I’m feeling positive and on track,” she said. “There’s always pressure going into a major Games, but I believe there’s no pressure as great as what you put on yourself.”

“I don’t think that changes from the beginning of your career, competing in small, regional competitions, right through to an Olympic final. I treat every competition the same and go into it focused and hoping to do my best.”

Luckily for the young athlete and for Team England, Smith is back to full fitness and is also now benefitting from TASS support at local Delivery Site, Loughborough University.

“Being on TASS since September has been really great. The financial support is so valuable, especially being a student, as you can imagine,” she admits.

“I’ve recently started working the TASS S&C coaches, mainly to keep a monitor on how my training’s going – strength levels, power levels and things like that. I think it’s important so we’re now doing this at the beginning of every week.

“And for me, having a continuation of lifestyle support has been really beneficial, especially leading into an international competition and starting college again after about six or more years.”

The reality of going ‘back to school’ at the age of 23 following a spell as a full-time athlete is change Smith is learning to manage with a flexible approach.

“It’s been difficult at times – I think I’d forgotten how hard it was to study and train and work as well. It’s been a big adjustment for me really but I think in sport you get used to constantly adjusting to new things.

“I work at the student union selling bubble tea. I only do about ten hours a week but it’s a nice little job and helps to support my training and pay rent and bills. It’s very easy going compared to before.

“After London in 2012, I was working full time as a barista and I wasn’t getting enough sleep or recovery, so it’s good to be able to maintain a better work-life balance, especially when I’m gearing up to such a big competition.”

Smith will be joined at the Gold Coast by 17 weightlifting and para-powerlifting teammates, nine of whom have also received support from TASS during their careers.

Former TASS recipient Sarah Davies – a previous rival of Smith – recently moved up a weight in order to secure her spot at the Commonwealth Games and will be lifting in 69kg class.

It’s a move that hasn’t been without it’s challenges for the Leeds-based athlete, who trains alongside her weightlifter boyfriend, Jack Oliver.

“I’m having 400g of potatoes with every meal and 70g of oats for breakfast. It’s been a bit of a struggle to make sure I’m eating clean and I was a little bit worried about getting fat, but the weight has actually gone on really well.

“It just shows, if you’re eating and training right it is possible to get a lot stronger. My squats are mega compared to what they used to be! I’m getting there and hopefully it’ll all pay off.”

Davies placed sixth at the World Championships in December last year, which was the best British result for 15 years since Michaela Breeze came fifth in 2002.

“My performance at the Worlds has been a massive boost and at the Commonwealth Championships, I competed in the heavier class for the first time and came away with a bronze medal,” she said.

“The two girls ahead of me there are my two main competitors at the Games so I’ve got a good idea of where I need to be, for sure.”

Meanwhile, the England para-powerlifting team is made up of an experienced squad including double Olympic bronze medallist and TASS alumna, Zoe Newson.

“I’m going out there to hopefully get a PB. My family, friends and coaches give me so much support, I know no matter what I do they’re always proud of me and that thought always helps me to keep my concentration.”

However Newson, who regularly lifts more than double her own body weight, is not looking forward to the long flight out to Australia.

“In powerlifting, our competition only takes six minutes – so we’ll be travelling half way around the world for six minutes of action,” she joked.

Teammate Louise Sugden is a newcomer to powerlifting having taken up the sport just eight short months ago, but has actually already competed at two Paralympic Games and is now setting her sights on a third.

Sugden represented her country at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 as a member of the GB wheelchair basketball squad, during which time she was supported by TASS, latterly converting to powerlifting.

“Having been to two Paralympics, it means that I’m not overwhelmed by the experience,” she said. “Admittedly it was with 11 other teammates, but I’ve learnt to almost zone out as I’ve found that’s the best way of me dealing with it.

“I love my basketball and I still play and coach. I don’t think you can ever escape something that’s been so integral in your life. It’s really hard to compare the two but powerlifting is a different kind of fun – it’s more challenging mentally and physically, but in shorter bursts!”

Louise Sugden
Louise Sugden in action for Great Britain (Credit: Action Images / Craig Brough)