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Commonwealth Games 2010: What makes Zoe Smith special?

Zoe Smith

Behind the scenes of Smith's weightlifting bronze (UK only)

By Sonali Shah
BBC Sport in Delhi

Zoe Smith made history by becoming the first English woman to win a weightlifting medal at the Commonwealth Games - her first senior international competition.

But from what I have seen of Smith, that doesn't surprise me.

She's not only the first English woman to win a [weightlifting] medal, she's also only 16 years old, which makes it more special

Zoe's coach Andy Callard

I met her on her last day of training before her big day in Delhi and instantly saw she had all the ingredients to become a star. She is both articulate and unbelievably talented. It is easy to forget that she is only 16 years old.

Hearing Smith recall watching the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games in 1998 as a four-year-old, I began to fully comprehend how big a deal this week was for her.

But she was not letting the pressure get to her. Her rivals may be older and stronger than her but Zoe saw no reason why she could not "pull a huge total out of the bag".

With a combined lift of 188kg on Wednesday - including a personal best 85kg in the snatch - that is exactly what she did. And she has a bronze medal as her reward.

"She's not only the first English woman to win a [weightlifting] medal, she's also only 16 , which makes it more special," said her coach, Andy Callard. "I think I was probably more nervous than Zoe was."

It is clear that Smith's strength is as much mental as physical.

While I have tucked into the best daal and rice Delhi has to offer, she has been focused on keeping her weight under the 58kg limit.

Zoe Smith
Zoe Smith proudly wears her Commonwealth bronze medal

Over the last 10 weeks or so, she has had to lose 5kg, which means she has had to severely restrict carbohydrates. Just hearing that makes me crave a bowl of chips!

Smith says the best way of making sure she is under 58kg is to dehydrate, a process she does not find too tough. I can confirm that becoming dehydrated in the Delhi heat is not hard but it is not pleasant.

What is great about Smith is how normal she seems. Like any other teenager, she loves seeing her friends, spending time on the internet and listening to music. Blink 182's All the Small Things is her pre-event pumper.

What is delightfully unusual about her is she can beat the boys in her sixth form in an arm wrestle.

Smith did not choose weightlifting. Someone at her gymnastics club pointed out she was never going to make it to the Olympics if she carried on in that sport but might if she took up weightlifting.

How right that person was. London 2012 is Smith's next big challenge. Well, apart from getting through her A-levels, which come a few months before the Olympics.

"She has just finished her GCSEs and done incredibly well. Training five or six times a week and studying, she's shown she's able to do that by her performance," said Callard.

"It's huge. It's only two years away [but] two years from 16 to 18 is a lot of difference in performance, hopefully, and we hope she'll be among the best in the world.

I'm just so overwhelmed, I don't know whether to laugh or cry

Zoe Smith

"With a bit of luck, top five, you never know."

On the eve of her competition in Delhi, Smith revealed how supportive her family are of her and said she was hoping she could do them proud.

I spoke to her again immediately after she had collected her bronze medal and the win had not really sunk in.

''I can't feel anything. I'm just so overwhelmed, I don't know whether to laugh or cry," she said, before pointing out that the result might have been better if she had managed a couple more lifts.

Smith's boyfriend is heavyweight lifter Joe Musket, who is competing in the +105kg class on Monday.

A couple of minutes after speaking to her, I was talking to her coach about her achievement.

"I think I'm probably a bit less excited than Zoe but I hope she enjoys this. I hope she enjoys it so much that she comes back and gets a gold next time," he said.

Meanwhile, I spotted Smith jumping into Musket's arms for a big bear hug. I think her historic win must have begun to sink in.

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see also
Smith wins weightlifting bronze
06 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Teenage weightlifter set for Commonwealths
29 Jun 10 |  Weightlifting
Nigerian lifter wins opening gold
04 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Commonwealth Games photos
06 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games

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