In recent years of Emily Campbell’s life, which has been transformed beyond recognition, she has spent her time systematically expanding her list of triumphs. She is already the only British woman to have won an Olympic weightlifting medal, taking an unforgettable silver in Tokyo last year.
Campbell is a bronze medalist of the world championships and a two-time European champion. When the Commonwealth Games started, she entered Alexander Stadium as England’s flag bearer, a face of the Games.
And now she is one of the champions. In a show of spectacular dominance, she became the Commonwealth Games gold medalist for the first time in the women’s 87+kg division. Campbell produced a flawless performance under tremendous pressure, moving through her six lifts with skill and strength, producing personal bests across the board.
“Some would say it was a perfect Games,” she said. “For starters, it was immense to walk out of the crowd during the opening ceremony. It is a very, very special privilege to lead the home country in a home game. The reason we came here was to perform on stage. To get that perfect performance on stage? Yes, you could call that a perfect Games.”
As Campbell entered the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham with arms outstretched, her hair braided in red and white buns, the tightly packed crowd roared her name. Her closest rival was defending champion Feagaiga Stowers, who had outperformed Campbell in 2018 at the age of 17 to win gold for Samoa at the previous Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
After the rest of the field battled for the small positions in the snatch competition, the game began. Campbell ripped off her headphones, which had blasted bashment and soca, then walked into the arena for her opening grab. After initially choosing her first lift as 115 kg, she increased her opening weight to 117 kg. She was ready.
She neatly lifted her first attempt, which Stowers quickly matched. Weighing in at 121 kg, Campbell interrupted her successful attempt by sticking her tongue out at the crowd with the weight above her head. However, Stowers initially faltered at 121kg before lifting it on her final attempt. Campbell marched on and shattered her personal best weighing 124 kg, clenching both fists and screaming.
They later returned for the clean and jerk, with Stowers first struggling through a difficult 147kg opening lift and then failing both of her subsequent 154kg attempts. As Stowers struggled, Campbell soared. She easily lost 150lbs, which was enough for her win after Stowers’ failed lifts.
But she kept going. She easily completed 157 kg. Then she gave a mark for 162 kg, a kilo above her silver medal in Tokyo, her personal best. She started her routine: After pressing her palms to calm herself and rolling her shoulders back, she grabbed the bar, floated her legs and extended her arms, driving home a personal best for an overall record of the Commonwealth Games of 286 kg.
In recent years, as her success continued, life for Campbell has changed dramatically. She had famously arrived at the Olympics and still split her time between weightlifting and self-financing her career as a receptionist. Now she is a full-time athlete with lottery funding, finally able to dedicate everything to her craft. The gains are clearly visible and they have allowed her to envision even greater successes.
“It means I can get closer to the gym now. I have a real plan, a real team around me now,” she said. “Push forward towards Paris, because we have another medal in mind in Paris. We want to do everything we can to make sure we’re there in the best shape possible. It’s not going to be an easy ride.”
Prior to the match, Precious McKenzie, the legendary former weightlifter, was led to the podium where he was greeted by the crowd. Campbell said he also visited her before the match and gave her some clear words of advice. “His words to me before I came out today: ‘Everyone expects to win. You go out and win.’” And she did.