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Tokyo 2020: Team GB Emily Campbell previews Tokyo

As we countdown the days until European Gold Medallist Emily Campbell takes to the platform at the Olympic Games here is an interview with the Team GB athlete from just before she flew out to Tokyo where she shares insight into her training, her amazing rise through the ranks, and her approach to the Games.

Tokyo 2020: Team GB Emily Campbell previews Tokyo

Image Credit: Getty Images

Emily congratulations on your selection by Team GB and qualifying for an Olympic Games. What is it like to call yourself an Olympian after so much hard work?

Thank you. I don’t want to quite call myself an Olympian just yet until I have got there, got on that stage and lifted, but to be going to the Olympics is an absolute honour.

I was just a girl who picked up a bar 5 years ago just to have a bit of fun because I thought it looked cool and I wanted to improve my previous sport in track and field. To now be representing my country on the biggest stage in the world is massive.

You have had a meteoric rise in recent years, since the 2017 English Championships where you did really well picking up that title. How have you seen your own development going through the sport?

Yeah, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for me, you know. Obviously like I said I’ve only been in the sport probably five and a half years and it’s all gone very fast.

It went from winning national titles to representing England to then representing GB internationally winning titles internationally and it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind.

 I couldn’t have done it without the team around me, Cyril (Martin) and Dave (Sawyer), the physio and massage support.

The list is as long as my arm of people who have helped me get where I am. It’s been a lot of hard work and graft but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

You mentioned Cyril and Dave there. What is it like working with them two individuals down at Atlas because they have a reputation for producing top-class lifters and you are next in line for that?

It’s fantastic. Cyril has over 45 years’ experience in the game.

It’s not just him being in the game, but the amount of research he has done programming how to train athletes and how to train athletes differently as well.

He is in the gym with me every single day. He is 81 years old, and he comes to every single session. He’s on it and making sure that I’m at my best all the time which is phenomenal

I don’t see Dave much in training because Dave works a full-time job, but Dave is paramount when it comes to competition.  

I can’t remember the last time I did a competition without Dave in my corner. He’s a wizard on the board. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he just fills you with confidence every time you go out there.

You know if Dave puts a weight on the bar for you in competitions, he believes you can do it and sometimes he believes in you more than you believe in yourself.

Having them two around me is phenomenal. You speak to a lot of lifters who come down to Atlas just to see Cyril and Dave to improve their technique or improve their weightlifting.

I am very very blessed to have both of them.

That composure at competitions from the coaches really reflected at the European Championships where you and the rest of the team did fantastically well. Looking at the warmup room from the cameras they just seemed so cool when other coaches from other countries were making mistakes so what is it like to have that confidence in the coaches for you to do your best? 

Yeah, you have to. Within weightlifting, especially high-level weightlifting your responsibility is to pick the bar up and put it back down basically. The coaches do everything else around you.

Dave (Sawyer), Andy (Callard) and Stu (Martin) are the dream team because they make sure you are ready no matter what.

 Even if other lifters are playing games or other countries hardball on the board it doesn’t shake them, it doesn’t knock them.

They know exactly what they are doing. They know exactly how to get you ready, and they make brilliant calls every single time and it’s tough.

I have coached in the backroom at the British and I get stressed so imagine coaching the backroom at a World Championships or European Championships when you have got medals on the line.

But them guys they all know their positions. They all know their places.

 They all know what to do and they all communicate really well together, and we are very blessed to have them three fantastic coaches in our corner.

You talk about the dream team as well. You have the same coaches from the Europeans and the same teammates as well. In terms of continuity, what is it like to move from Russia to Tokyo and have that same set-up?

Yeah, fantastic. For a start congratulations to all the other ladies because for us to qualify a full female team is absolutely phenomenal.

 I hope that this now inspires all the young girls to show that we can do it. We are not just here to make up numbers.

We are here to go and compete and are serious because our team is phenomenally strong.

We are going to Tokyo with people watching us, anticipating what we are going to do, and then to have the coaching set-up behind us again.

We are all very used to having Dave, Andy, and Stu, you know. Stu is the personal coach to Emily and Zoe. Cyril is personal coach to me and Sarah. It is phenomenal to have that set-up and know we will be in safe hands when we get there.

How are you approaching Tokyo and how has your training been going lately?

Fantastic really. I can’t really complain at all. Everything has been going to plan. I am definitely stronger than I was at the Europeans.

We have worked on all the technical things that we thought wasn’t quite right at the Europeans. They have all now been fixed.

I am about 4 weeks away from competing now so there is still a lot of hard work to go into preparation for Tokyo, but I am very happy with the way it is going, and Cyril is happy too, and if he is happy then we have done something right.

What are your thoughts on Tokyo itself? Have you ever been to Japan before by any chance? 

No, it’ll be my first time. It is always one of those places that has been on my bucket list, because the things you hear about Tokyo and Japan are fantastic and how futuristic they are.

I am really looking forward to getting there and seeing the country and competing there as well and to come back and say you competed at an Olympic Games there is pretty special.

While you haven’t gone to Japan, you have been and travelled to other countries around the world. Would you be able to take much from neighbouring countries like Thailand which is not too far away?

Yeah definitely. I think I am going to expect the same climate from Thailand which is very hot which you get used to. But these kinds of places are equipped for that. 

They always have aircon inside which is something we don’t have in the UK when we have hot weather so that’s why we all suffer (laughs), but it’s one of those where you have to take each place as it comes.

When you go to a new place it is always very exciting. That is the beauty of weightlifting. You get to travel to some weird and wonderful places.

We get to places where other countries don’t really see because of the nations who take on championships. I am very blessed I get to see a large portion of the world.

You had success at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and Russia recently. While the first was a little while ago now is it all just taking that on board and seeing where you can improve as an athlete?

You have to think about making sure you are in the best shape possible and then you go out there and execute your performance.

I have grown a lot as an athlete since the Commonwealth Games where I was 18 months into the sport. I was actually just very very happy to be there and to pick up a medal was a whirlwind for me.

I really had a good time at the Commonwealth Games, but then I have learnt moving on through the competitions as I have matured and gained more experience in the sport.

I have learnt how to enjoy myself, but be that really professional athlete that puts out clean and polished performances.

It is really nice to find that balance now. I hope I can do that in Tokyo as well.

Off the platform, you are a well-respected member of the weightlifting community, and recently been appointed as the BWL Athlete Rep on the Board is a great achievement. How are you going to use that voice to give weightlifters across the UK that opportunity to be heard and talk with the higher ups?

Yeah, I think it is about bridging that gap between the ‘higher ups’, as you call them, the hierarchies, and the members, because the members are what make British Weight Lifting.

Sometimes there is confusion about why people make certain decisions up on the Board so I hope I can be that person who bridges and helps people understand why the lifters feel a certain way and why certain decisions are made and be a voice for the people who need to be heard.

They all want the sport to get better and the bottom line is we need to move forward with this sport. We need to grow. There are young lifters coming through who are going to be our future and it is important for me to do as best I can to set that up for them.

You talk about that need to grow and there does seem to be changes internationally with the work Sarah Davies does with the IWF and also previously working with the BWL Board as well. Do you think you can take much inspiration from what she has done recently or other figures within the sport? 

Yeah definitely the whole IWF Athlete Commission is doing a fantastic job in trying to essentially save our sport which we need to do as the main focus is our future.

It is the people who are coming through and the people who are going to fill our shoes when we decide that we have had enough and want to move on.

There is also the wider community as well. We have a responsibility I believe as weightlifters to show younger people about physical literacy, keeping healthy, getting boys and girls to go to the gym and showing them that it is safe.

If we can do that in Britain and make them feel like it is acceptable to go into the gym and do these kinds of things then we would have done our job and if we can carry that through to the higher international boards then we are definitely making progress.

Looking at the wider sporting sector as well you have had this amazing campaign for women’s clothing sizes. How have you found that experience and also trying to challenge these stereotypes that are prevalent within the industry?

It has obviously been hard. You don’t always get the answer that you want to hear, or the reaction, but mostly the reaction has been positive.

 I feel like I have done a great job for people that don’t maybe have the voice to step up and make a change.

You know it has been hard because companies only want to react when they get a bit of bad publicity.

It is not that they want to do this because it is the right thing, but I will continue fighting and making a statement about it.

The unique thing is that we are all different. You know if I can get to a point where people in society can start looking at body image and body positivity in a different way then definitely I have achieved what I want to achieve.

It has gone onto the backburner a bit as I have got ready for the Olympics, but I hope when I come back from the Olympics I can start pushing a little bit more initiatives and a bit more on social media to help get this message out hopefully.

These clothing brands are the ones who can make the change and if they can make that change and make it for the positive then we will have definitely done a good job.

Tokyo is that big milestone in the road, but alongside picking up the campaign what else have you got planned after the Olympics. Have you got anything eyed up that you would like to achieve from a sporting or wider perspective? 

I’d love to go on to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and definitely win Gold in front of a home crowd.

Everyone knows it is the only colour I want. I have made that very clear and then hopefully if I can and my body will let me I would go on to another Olympics in Paris.

If the sport is still in Paris I would love to compete and represent Team GB again.

That would be fantastic and with all the little stepping stones that come in-between those two like World Championships, European Championships it would be great to rack up some more medals and more titles.

I do more work coaching young people at Atlas.

We are a talent academy now and that really is where my other focus is outside of my performances, and I am hoping we can build our academy really nicely and get some really good lifters coming through the system.

 That is what my focus will be for the next three-four years.

How are you finding the coaching by the way because we saw you coaching at the British, do you get to learn stuff from a different perspective watching someone on the platform and how you interact with them? Do you get to take any of that into your own lifting?

Yeah definitely. It is a whole different world. Coaching is very very hard. If anyone tells you it is easy they are lying. I would definitely rather be on the platform lifting.

It is nice because a lot of the stuff I learned from coaching was being coached myself and being in that competition environment so you try and translate that into coaching other people.

But I am very lucky again I have got people like Dave and Cyril to shadow and watch while they coach to learn these skills to help other people.

Hopefully something I can continue to do more into the future, but it would be more at a youth and development level rather than on an elite level if that makes sense.

Yeah, that’s brilliant. Going back to Tokyo, weightlifting is always in the news at the moment. You could say it is the most talked-about Olympic sport in some regards, and also your category as well for various reasons. How are you able to extract the positives from that and, also filter out any noise just to be able to focus on yourself and deliver what you want to do on the day?

Yeah. It is fantastic. Sometimes they say all publicity is good publicity. I’m not sure that does apply (laughs), but it is great because weightlifting as a sport does often get ignored.

We are not a sport that gets much coverage as athletics, cycling, gymnastics etc. So it is good we are getting some coverage.

I am hoping this time because of all this controversy and stuff that people will go ‘You know what I think I will switch on the weightlifting’ then we might get in some more fans.

 If one person in every household does that across the UK that is a lot of people who we could be enticing into our sport. It is not even just about getting people in to actually lift. We need fans.

We need people to watch. We need people to fill our arenas when we have our British Championships.

It would be really nice to start having people that don’t have any connections with any lifters go “You know what I am going to buy some tickets and watch the British Championships”.

Within sport, there are always going to be distractions, or things going on, but you have to learn to be very selfish in a way when it comes to weightlifting because you are the only person who can lift that bar.

 So you need to keep very focused, turn up in the right shape possible and give the best performance you can which I am working on at the moment and making sure I am very focussed on my aims and my goals.

And finally to those that will tune in across the UK, or the world, what you would you like to say to them? 

Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your support. Sit back and hopefully, I can give you a good show like I try and do all the time.

You can watch Emily compete live in the women’s 87kg+ A group on Monday 2 Aug 2021 at 11:50am UK time on Eurosport 2, or Discovery+.

Also, be sure to tune in the day before to watch Team GB’s Emily Muskett compete in the women’s 76kg B group on Sunday 1 Aug 2021, 5:50am on Discovery+. For more details on how to watch click here. 



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