Emily Campbell strode onto the Olympic stage in Tokyo and delivered two lifts that landed Great Britain a first women’s weightlifting medal and set the kind of example she hopes will inspire countless young girls to have the courage to follow their dreams.
Having first picked up a bar-bell five years ago as a means to add strength for her athletics career, Campbell’s unconventional journey culminated in claiming silver in the women’s +87kg event behind China’s 21-year-old Li Wenwen, who won with a cumulative Olympic record total of 320kg.
Fourth after the snatch element of the event, Campbell seized her chance when South Korean rival Seon Mi Lee failed at 155kg in her last of three attempts at the clean-and-jerk.
Campbell responded by lifting 156kg to guarantee her historic medal, then repeated the feat with 161kg to move into silver after American Sarah Robles failed at 157kg, roaring her delight as she exited the stage.
Campbell, who won European gold in Moscow earlier this year, said: “I have definitely proved to anybody that if you put your mind to something you can achieve it.
“I first picked up a bar-bell five years ago and now I’m an Olympic medallist. It’s wild and surreal and it’ll probably take me a long time to get my head around it.
“My sole aim in this life is to inspire someone to follow their dreams and if I can help those little girls find their dream, even if it’s playing a musical instrument, if they can pick that up and follow their dreams then I’m very happy.”
Campbell’s remarkable performance came amid unprecedented media interest in the appearance of New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard, the first transgender athlete to appear in the Games, who exited prematurely after failing to register a lift in the snatch.
A failure by Campbell on her second lift of 122kg did not bode well but she lifted it at the second time of asking, and went on to excel in the clean-and-jerk with the second highest score behind Li, who won by 37kg and with seemingly plenty more to spare.
Campbell reserved special praise for the community in Bulwell, near Nottingham, where she has lived all her life and from which she has received unstinting support since she began to make a stir on the international stage.
“I can’t imagine what they will be doing right now – they will be going absolutely nuts,” laughed Campbell.
“Every time I go down to the local market they give me free fruit and veg, the cobbler sorts out my boots for me, they raise money for me – they do all sorts of events.
“I just want to say thank you. This kid who was born and raised in Bulwell is now an Olympic medallist. I’m the first female to win a medal for Great Britain and that’s something that is going to stay with me for ever.”