Over the past few years of Emily Campbell’s life, as it has transformed beyond recognition, she has spent her time methodically expanding her list of triumphs. She is already the only British woman to win an Olympic weightlifting medal, snatching an unforgettable silver in Tokyo last year.
Campbell is a world championships bronze medallist and a two-time European champion. As the Commonwealth Games began, she entered Alexander Stadium as England’s flag bearer, a face of the games.
And now she is one of its champions. In a show of spectacular dominance, she became the Commonwealth Games gold medallist for the first time in the women’s 87kg+ division. Campbell produced a faultless performance under immense pressure, moving through her six lifts with skill and power, producing personal bests across the board.
“Some would say it was a perfect Games,” she said. “To walk out the crowd in the opening ceremony was immense for a start. To lead out the home nation in a home Games is a very, very special privilege. The reason why we come here was to perform on the stage. To get that perfect performance on the stage? Yeah, you could call that a perfect Games.”
As Campbell strode into the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham with her arms outstretched, her hair braided in red and white buns, the tightly packed Birmingham crowd roared her name. Her biggest competition was the defending champion Feagaiga Stowers, who at 17 years old in 2018 had outperformed Campbell in Gold Coast to win gold for Samoa in the previous Commonwealth Games.
After the rest of the field competed for the minor positions in the snatch competition, the duel began. Campbell tore off her headphones, which had been blaring out bashment and soca, then she walked into the arena for her opening snatch lift. After initially electing her first lift as 115kg, she increased her opening weight to 117kg. She was ready.
She lifted her first attempt cleanly, which Stowers swiftly matched. At 121kg, Campbell punctuated her successful attempt by sticking her tongue out to the crowd with the weight above her head. Stowers, however, initially faltered at 121kg before lifting it in her final attempt. Campbell marched on, shattering her personal best with a lift of 124kg, pumping both of her fists and yelling.
They returned later for the clean and jerk, with Stowers first labouring through a difficult opening lift of 147kg and then failing both of her subsequent attempts at 154kg. While Stowers struggled, Campbell soared. She cleared 152kg with ease, which was enough for her victory after Stowers’ failed lifts.
But she kept on going. She easily completed 157k. Then she signalled for 162kg, one kilo above her silver medal lift in Tokyo, her personal best. She began her routine: After pressing down her palms to calm herself and rolling her shoulders backwards, she gripped the bar, drove her legs and extended her arms, driving home a personal best for an overall Commonwealth Games record of 286kg.
Over these past few years, as her success has endured, life has changed immensely for Campbell. She had famously arrived at the Olympics still splitting her time between weightlifting and self-funding her career as a receptionist. Now she is a full-time athlete with lottery funding, finally able to devote everything to her craft. The gains are plain to see and they have enabled her to envision even loftier successes.
“It means that I can move closer to the gym now, I’ve got a real plan in place, a real team around me now,” she said. “Pushing forward towards Paris because we’ve got eyes on another medal in Paris. We want to do everything we can to make sure we’re there in the best shape possible. It’s not gonna be an easy ride.”
Before the competition, Precious McKenzie, the legendary former weightlifter, was ushered on to the stage where he was saluted by the audience. Campbell said that he had also visited her before the competition, giving her some clear words of advice: “His words to me before I came out today: ‘Everyone’s expecting to win. You go out and win.’” she said. And she did.