Cao Lei of China tries a lift during women's 75kg group A competition of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games weightlifting event in Beijing, China, Aug. 15, 2008. Cao Lei set the new Olympic record of women's 75kg snatch with 128 kg. [Yang Lei/Xinhua Photo]
Few girls want to put on weight, neither does Cao Lei, who is renowned for her beauty consciousness in China's national weightlifting team.
However, she has to do that in order to become an Olympic champion.
Cao, 1.68 meters tall, made debut in the national championships in 1999, only finishing eighth in the women's 63kg. Two years later, she claimed the title at the Asian championships when she was 16 years old.
In the same year, she took part in the ninth National Games, getting another eighth place in the women's 63kg, which upset her and made her to upgrade to the 69kg class.
In 2005, Cao won in the 69kg class at the National Games, which entered her into the national weightlifting team. At that time, Cao has already got the nickname of "weightlifting beauty".
Sydney Olympic champion Yang Xia said that when she first met Cao when they were trained together in 1999, Cao didn't look like a weightlifter at all.
"She was slim and tall, really pretty," Yang said.
Born in north China's Hebei Province and growing up in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, Cao was a born beauty.
She practiced track and field in childhood and won golds in some city games. When she was nine years old, a local weightlifting coach picked her up. She thought weightlifting interesting as her father, who was a part-time weightlifter and wrestler, had taught her to do weightlifting with mops at home.
She never thought that his coach Ma Wenhui would discuss with her on upgrading into the 75kg category. If the 69kg category is acceptable, 75kg is not the same thing.
"I never expected to be in 75kg. It is too heavy and I don't want to look fat," she said.
However, She had no other choices but putting on weight for a better future in the highly competitive national team. Her teammate, Olympic champion Liu Chunhong, was unbeatable in the 69kg class. Cao had no chance to win over her.
She thought it over and over during the vacation she took after getting hurt during the training sessions in February 2006, and finally began to eat, a lot.
"It's a difficult decision for me to make, but now everything goes smoothly," she said.
She won two golds, clean and jerk and total, in 75kg category at 2006 world championships, gold at Asian Games late 2006, and again gained two golds at 2007 world championships.
"The only thing which makes me upset is that I can't wear the clothes I bought last year," she said.
That's why she keeps a lighter bodyweight in the 75kg category, usually around 73kg. During a pre-Games training session, all her female teammates took sauna or went jogging in order to lose weight. Cao ran for a little while and stood there looking at them.
"I don't need to lose weight," she told curious reporters, kind of proudly.
In Friday's event, Cao was the lightest athlete, weighing 73.16kg, among the total 12 strongwomen. However, the 24-year-old lifted the heaviest weight of 282kg in total, breaking three world records.
It's the first time Chinese lifter won gold in this category.
She had her eyebrows delicately shaped before the Games and wore a pair of earstuds during the competition. Cao said she didn't want to wear all the clothes she currently has. Instead, she would fit herself for clothes of smaller sizes if one day she retired from weightlifting.
"The most beautiful moment in my life is standing on the podium to collect the Olympic gold," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency August 15, 2008)