KU weightlifter challenges stereotypes as she aims for Rio

You would be forgiven for thinking that weightlifting is just a sport for huge, muscle bound, Eastern European men.

Marc Williams

But, Kingston student Shila Panjavi is challenging these stereotypes and winning a host of awards along the way.

The petite figure of nine stone, 5ft 3ins Shila shows that these preconceptions of one of the world’s oldest sports can be completely wrong.

Focus on building strength

“When you say weightlifting, people get it confused with bodybuilding or power lifting and when I say ‘I’m a weightlifter’ people say stuff like where are your muscles?

“We don’t have anything to do with bodybuilding, we don’t put on extensive muscle mass, we just focus on lifting weights and building strength,” Shila says.

Looking to Rio

At just 21-years-old, the Iranian born business administration student is the current British champion in the 58kg category and is now looking to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 for even more success.

“I could have been at the London 2012 games but I had a setback in training and I missed out for seven months. Because I started uni at that time, I found it so hard to maintain a high level of training.

“But I believe that everything happens for a reason, so as much as I would have loved to compete in London, I know that 2016 will be my year. I will definitely be at Rio 2016, 100 per cent.”

Not able to return to Iran

If Shila does compete in Rio, she will become the first Iranian female weightlifter to do so, something she describes as “a part of history”. Despite being born in Iran, she represents Britain at her international competitions.

“I don’t think that I would be able to go back to Iran because I have shown flesh on TV. They are very strict but I don’t mind that, I just want to be the best I can be,” she explains.

In the family

If Shila manages to get to the Olympic Games in Rio she will be following in the footsteps of her family. Her father, Kazen, weightlifted at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and her uncle, Kamran, in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“My dad got me into this historic sport and he is my inspiration to carry on because of what he has achieved. He and my uncle went to the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, so that’s why I love this sport, it was all from them,” she says.

Kazen didn’t win an Olympic medal of his own but Shila believes that if she can win one, then it will be just as momentous for her father.

“In a way, if I make it then that will be him succeeding too. When he went to the Olympics he couldn’t quite get a medal because of the different climates he had to compete in. So I know he wants me to get a medal and make a place in history for all of our family.”

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