Scotland's weightlifters continue push for Commonwealth places

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Feature: Scotland weightlifting team

Some athletes require a slap. For others, it's smelling salts. A third group prefer a quiet word in their ear.

Whatever the technique to sharpen a weightlifter's senses in the preceding seconds, it's what happens in the athlete's head while walking from the warm-up area to the platform that chiefly determines the outcome of the lift attempt.

So claims Jane Armour, representing Scotland at the Celtic Nations Weightlifting Championships in Cardiff at the weekend.

"It's how strong you are upstairs, how confident you are on the bar," she says.

"We go through mental rehearsals, imagining performing the lift well, trying to get your emotions in check. Your mental game is a large part of it."

Scotland weightlifter Jane Armour
Jane Armour is within 5kg of the weight required for Commonwealth Games selection

Strength and technique are assumed in Armour's assessment, of course. Ordinary humans wouldn't be taking those steps towards the cold steel of the bar and weights in any case.

The 28-year-old from Greenock travels for almost two-and-a-half hours, four times a week, to be coached by Chick Hamilton at his club in Kilmarnock. On the other days, she'll train at a local gym.

She may be the only full-time PE teacher who goes to work for a rest.

Another in the 12-strong team taking on the might of Wales and Ireland was Craig Carfray. Now 21, he has been lifting weights since he was 10, initially to make him stronger for football.

He is the antithesis of the preening narcissists found in trendy health clubs, but his is the sort of body for which Victorian physicians would have gathered to admire in mahogany-panelled rooms.

The upper half is like a wedge of marble, with the muscles so perfectly developed that one can see how the human body is assembled.

Below, his thighs rule out the purchase of skinny jeans yet there is no freakish bulk. He could be a scrum-half or a boxer. He is first and foremost a superb athlete.

Carfray has lifted 141kg above his head. That's hugely impressive.

When you consider he stands at 5ft 5in and weighs only 69kg, it borders on the Herculean.

The Scotland weightlifting team in Cardiff
The Scotland team in Cardiff: (back row) Amy Lui, Colette Will, Haris Ansari, Jane Armour, Dale Cree, Callum Downie, Sophie Smyth, Georgi Black, Jenny McIntyre, Andrew Benton, (front row) Zach Courtney, Craig Carfray

In fact, Carfray is the only Scot to have lifted more than twice his bodyweight this year. In old money, that's 10st 12lb Carfray lifting 22st 3lb and doing so in a technically proficient manner that satisfies the referees.

He and Armour, who is in the 63kg bodyweight class, are chasing a place in the Commonwealth Games team.

They have to meet the selection committee's target weights for the sport's two disciplines - the snatch and the clean and jerk.

The snatch, done in one explosive body-popping movement, requires greater technique.

Georgi Black, one of Scotland's top female lifters, highlights speed, strength, breathing, body movement and the positioning of the hands and body relative to the bar as essential elements to a successful lift.

Such is the swiftness of the execution of the snatch, it's as if the athletes have taken the weights by surprise, giving them no time to wreak revenge with the deadening effects of their gravitational forces.

With the clean and jerk, the bar is heaved to chest height. Lifters pause here to focus and prepare for the final assault - the sharp step forward, the upward thrust of the weight, the locking of the arms, all in a controlled fashion.

For Armour, the combined weight she must achieve for the two disciplines is 155kg, while for Carfray it's 100kg more.

Neither managed to improve on their personal bests in Wales, which leaves the former 5kg short of her target and Carfray a mere 2kg away.

However, neither is in a panic despite there being only two confirmed qualifying tournaments to go before names have to be submitted to Commonwealth Games Scotland.

"I'm just needing a bit of time to recuperate and then come back strong next year," said Armour, who confessed to being a touch weary after lifting 65kg in the snatch and 85kg in the clean and jerk at last week's Commonwealth Championships in Penang, Malaysia.

Scotland weightlifter Colette Will
Colette Will balances her time as a media student with weightlifting training

Carfray feels he is making good progress as he recovers from a patella tendon injury. He is encouraged by his 105kg lift in the snatch and 135kg in the clean and jerk at the Dragon CrossFit gym in Cardiff.

"That's the best total I've done since I came back from injury," he says.

"I cleaned the weight in and just missed the jerk [for a Scottish record-breaking 142kg]. It's good to get back to where I was."

Tantalisingly, both have lifted the stipulated Games weight, but not within the qualification timeframe.

Fellow athletes Peter Kirkbride and Louise Mather, from Ray Cavanagh's Glasgow club, were permitted to rest and did not travel to Cardiff. They have already made the qualifying standard for the Glasgow Games next year.

Black and Sophie Smyth, two more products of the Kilmarnock Weightlifting Club, have also lifted the weight required and they helped Scotland to second place, behind Wales and ahead of Ireland.

Victory for the hosts was helped by having in their ranks the tournament's two stand-out performers - Olympians Gareth Evans and Michaela Breeze.

Scotland did not have anyone to match their calibre, but with Colette Will, Jenny McIntyre and Amy Lui completing the women's team and Carfray backed by Dale Cree, Haris Ansari, Zach Courtney, Callum Downie and Andrew Benton, they are certainly not lacking in competitive spirit and young talent being developed by Hamilton and Cavanagh.

It's likely the team representing Scotland in Glasgow 2014 will feature more women than men.

Delhi Commonwealth silver medallist Kirkbride remains the best hope for a medal. But, with rousing home backing at the Armadillo venue and with the strength of bond in the squad, as witnessed in Cardiff, another podium finish might not be beyond their vice-like grasp.

You can follow Keir Murray on Twitter.

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