Big Interview: Preston's weightlifting Olympian Sarah Davies
Craig Salmon talks to Preston weightlifting star Sarah Davies who finished fifth in the 64kg category at the Tokyo Olympics
Sarah Davies had to give herself the proverbial slap around the face as her long-held ambition of competing at an Olympics appeared to be slipping from her grasp.
The Preston weightlifter was for many years heralded as a genuine podium prospect for Great Britain at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
A Commonwealth Games silver medal winner from 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia, Davies’ strides towards the very top of her sport were gathering pace.
But with the trip to the Far East on the not-too -distant horizon, Davies’ world was plunged into uncertainty.
One half of a powerlifting golden couple in this country, the former beauty queen split from boyfriend and fellow lifter Jack Oliver, who had competed for Team GB at the London Olympics.
It was Oliver who had originally encouraged Davies to take up the sport more than a decade ago when she had become bored of watching him train.
A gymnast, a county-level golfer and talented latin dancer, Davies has over the years worked her way into a position where she is among the world’s elite in the 64kg category.
However, just as she was preparing herself both physically and mentally to qualify for the greatest sporting stage on Earth, her equilibrium was thrown into a state of disarray.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that she considered walking away from the sport as she came to terms with the emotional turmoil she was facing.
“I basically needed somebody to slap me around the face and say, ‘Sort your life out’,” said Davies, who is a qualified PE teacher.
“It was my friends and family who supported me through that time and without them I don’t think I would have made it to the Olympic Games or even carried on with my weightlifting career.
“They would say, ‘You’re incredibly talented at what you do’.
“I am very grateful to those people.
“In 2019 I split from a relationship with the person who introduced me to weightlifting.
“It was that thing of I didn’t know who I was in weightlifting on my own.
“I was always the girlfriend of the person who was weightlifting.
“It was kind of about finding my own identity as a weightlifter.
“I think everybody goes through those sort of times in life where you think, ‘Is everything really worth it?
“As an athlete you ask yourself whether it is just easier to get a nine to five job and just take the stress out of it.
“But at the end of the day, weightlifting is my passion and sometimes you just need somebody to remind you of that.”
As it was, the delaying of the Tokyo Olympics by one year, due to the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, to some extent actually worked in Davies’ favour mentally, although physically it may have had a detrimental effect.
She agonisingly missed out on a medal by 3kg in Tokyo – eventually having to settle for fifth place.
Initially, she was hugely disappoint, but in the months since, she has had time to reflect and believes the experience will stand her in good stead for the future.
“The same people who helped me before the Olympics were there again to help me afterwards,” said Davies, who attended Garstang High School.
“When I was in a fuzz about my performance and missing out on a medal, I had got in that same mindset of ‘What’s the point?’
“But they put me back on track and reminded me of why I do it.
“One performance does not define me.
“I was initially very disappointed – to be so close to a medal, especially as the medal weights were ones I had been lifting in training.
“But to be in that position at my first Olympic Games was, looking back, a bit surreal.
“I think the reality of that extra year in terms of having to keep my body weight down certainly played its part.
“To maintain that weight, to stay that lean for that amount of time was difficult.
“I didn’t quite have the leg strength on the day.
“But the more time I have been away from it, the more time I have had chance to reflect.
“I think two years ago, with what was going on, if somebody would have said to me that it would go down to the last weight on the bar to win a medal, then I would have taken that.
“There is a bitter-sweet feeling.
“I am disappointed to miss out on a medal but at the same time pleased that I came so close.
“I think it does stand me in good stead going forward.”
Weightlifting is split into two disciplines where athletes get three attempts in the ‘snatch’ category, before a further three goes at the ‘clean and jerk’
After the snatch round in Tokyo, Davies found herself in joint seventh spot after lifting 100kg.
In her favoured clean and jerk, she lifted 127kg which was only bettered by two other athletes – gold medal winner Maude Charron, of Canada, and Italy’s Giorgia Bordignon who won silver.
She failed at her attempt at 133kg which would have lifted her above Bordignon and bronze medal winner Chen Wen-huei, of Chinese Taipei, into silver spot.
“The clean and jerk is my favourite in the sense that it is less technical,” she said. “You can get away with a few more errors.
“I only got two attempts on the snatch and I really needed that third attempt to give me that boost going into the clean and jerk.
“If you look at the results at half-time after the snatch, it was pretty hard to call where the medals would go to.
“It was just about who could keep it together for the clean and jerk.
“I definitely went into the Games feeling confident that I could win a medal.
“I wouldn’t say it was a given but there was a good chance.
“If you looked at all the date leading in, you would probably have said that the Canadian girl was the favourite and she pretty much had the gold medal sewn up.
“But the girls who came second and third, you probably wouldn’t have picked based on the data and the qualification results.
“It’s one of those things, they were able to pull it all together on the day.”
While Davies has taken some time out since the Olympics, her thoughts have turned to what lies ahead.
Next year she has the thrill of a home Commonwealth Games, which are being staged in Birmingham, to look forward to.
Having won silver in 2018, she is certainly targeting going one better next year.
“I definitely feel there is much more to come, but it will only come when it’s ready,” she said.
“I am looking forward to competing in Birmingham and have the support of the home crowd.
“The there’s the next Olympic in Paris in 2024.
“There is definitely more to come from me so watch this space...
Weightlifter Sarah Davies believes more care and understanding should be given to athletes’ mental health following a major championships such as the Olympic Games.
Not everybody can enjoy the jubilation of winning gold, silver and bronze and so many athletes do suffer from post-competition blues.
“If you think that Olympic qualification for me started in 2018, it is a long hard slog," she said. "Obviously you’re not competing all the time, but mentally you are always focused.
"I have taken some time off just to physically and mentally regroup. I think you need to spend some time to find your own identity again rather than just being ‘Sarah Davies the Olympic weightlifter’.
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