With three Olympic medals and many more outstanding victories under her belt, Spain’s Lydia Valentin has proven that weightlifting is not a matter of gender.
Nine years ago, there were barely 375 female weightlifters officially recognised in Spain but today, that number has risen to over 1,000. It is partly due to Olympic champion Lydia Valentin.
“I don’t know if it’s because of me, but it’s true that nowadays weightlifting is more widely known. And maybe due to my achievements it has gained visibility,” said Valentin in an interview with the Olympic Channel Podcast (in Spanish).
Despite her modesty, the impact she has had on the new generation of female weightlifters is something she noticed on social media.
“Many people message me on social media, mothers whose daughters practise weightlifting, who have seen me and liked it and want to be like me when they grow up. It makes me feel really good."
However, Valentin never aimed to be a role model.
“I’ve always wanted to achieve my goals, but because of your results and the hours you put in, you become an inspiration without knowing it and it surprises you because you weren’t ever really looking for it."
“I personally didn’t [aim to be a role mode], but it gives you hope and pride because other people – other young girls – want to be like you and they are thrilled by what you do. It’s very nice. One of the nicest things sport has given me,” she added.
A matter of talent, not gender
The success that Valentin has had in her career has helped deconstruct the myth that weightlifting is a men’s sport.
“I believe sport is sport, period. It’s true that more boys than girls take part in sport. I’m happy to be the first person – especially as a woman – to win an Olympic medal, a World Championships title. I think it has changed how people see weightlifting as a sport, and now more girls are involved. There are a lot of girls weightlifting, so we must realise it’s not a matter of gender, but talent,” she said.
Having always been passionate about weightlifting, Valentin has never listened to negative comments about the sport – particularly as she has always believed that sport is for everyone. Her love for weightlifting took her straight to the top and has opened the door for future generations.
“I think now it will be a little easier for female weightlifters than it was for me. When someone paves the way it is much easier. But I am proud to have made it easier. Someone had to,” she laughed.
People pigeonhole others due to ignorance.
Beauty standards and stereotypes
Valentin acknowledges the fact that people are still ignorant about weightlifting – even confusing it with bodybuilding – and that leads to stereotypes and prejudice.
“I may have made it personal, that’s just me, and I may stand out in this ‘manly’ world. I like to stand out. I also like it when people notice that there are many normal girls who practise weightlifting, there isn’t just one normal body prototype. The sport has weight classes and you can find a very tall girl, or a short one… it depends. At the end of the day, it’s variety. But people pigeonhole others due to ignorance.”
“[Beauty standards] have little to do with reality. Personally, it doesn’t affect me, because I know how I am and how I’ve always liked to be. I think it does affect a lot of girls, particularly the young ones, because they want to be fully accepted and society doesn’t accept you if you’re not perfect. So, in the end it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being yourself. I support strong women… I think a girl should feel strong and doesn’t have to be misguided by society, which is distorted and only benefits a few people,” she added.
Valentin was originally deprived of her first moments of Olympic glory, due to losing out to an athlete who was later found guilty of doping. She received her Olympic medals years afterwards.
Yet, still she is able to find positives in the situation.
“In the end, I have the medals. I am the real London 2012 Olympic champion and Beijing 2008 silver medallist. What matters most is that I have a clear conscience. That peace of mind that comes with knowing you have achieved it through hours of dedication, without cheating, and in the cleanest way – no medal can buy that.”
I try not to obsess about the future at all, nor look back.
It doesn’t do any good.
Far from retirement
At age 36, Valentin isn’t thinking about retirement yet. She is focused on Tokyo 2020.
“I try not to obsess about the future at all, nor look back. It doesn’t do any good. It’s getting ahead of myself, and feeling anguish or stress is like saying, 'God, this is going to be my last competition'. When it happens, it happens. It’ll be the last one and I’ll be happy because I gave all I have to Spanish weightlifting."
But when Valentin does retire, it won’t be the end of her journey with the sport she loves.
“I can’t imagine retiring, I don’t know how to picture it. I see it happening while competing, at home in Spain or internationally. And it will be done how it usually is in weightlifting, taking the boots off and leaving them there, like ‘now I’m finally taking my boots off’... although, I’ll always keep them on as I’m going to always practise and train at weightlifting. Because I quite like it!”