Fresh off the back of representing Great Britain at the University World Championships, weightlifter Jenny Tong is turning her attention to the U23 Europeans.
While Tong admits her seventh-place finish at the World Champs in the 53kg category wasn’t her best performance, it has made her more eager to scoop a medal when she flies out to Poland for the start of the Europeans on 20 October.
“I’m really excited and fired up for it,” she said with a gleam in her eye and a sense of real hunger and enthusiasm, when Forge Press met with her at Goodwin Sports Centre.
“With the World University Championships not really going as I’d hoped, this is a chance to show my metal. Some small mistakes meant I went from gold medal position straight down to seventh at the recent competition.
“That’s my own wrongdoing but I was lucky enough to even be in medal contention anyway. I’ve got the opportunity to right my wrongs and I’m looking forward to showing people what I’m made of.”
Growing up in the small village of Lecrin in Granada, south Spain, just “half an hour from the ski resort and half hour from the beach”, Tong is no stranger to travelling, often going backwards and forwards from the beautiful valleys and the UK.
But, since finishing her degree in politics and international relations, she has gone full-time into training which, she says, presents its own challenges.
“Managing my time around training while trying to set-up my own business isn’t the easiest thing to do.
“Weightlifting is unfunded so it means I don’t get paid for training, unlike a lot of athletes. It means I have to find my own time to do it.
“I’ve got to be as consistent at that as possible. I’ve been doing the Inspired Through Sport programme, I’m working at Hallam University and a lot of coaching there.
“It’s about making sure that I’m making time for my own wellbeing not just putting all my eggs into one unfunded basket.”
It’s fair to say that Tong’s teenage years weren’t all plain sailing, with her often running into trouble with the law.
Sport, as is often the case with numerous sportsmen and women, gave a new focus and an unfounded drive.
It’s undoubtedly benefited Tong, who was part of the University’s Elite Sports Performance Scheme.
“I was a bit of a bad kid growing up. I think that’s a great way to describe it. Troublesome would be better, actually. I got in trouble with the police a lot, I did a small stint with young offenders and I think I just lost my way a bit in my teens and it took me a while to really find myself,” she said.
Due to weight classes changing, Tong will have a legacy record after notching a 78kg snatch – it’ll be hers forever.
“Just because you have a record doesn’t mean that you’re better than anyone else,” she said.
“I’m still currently ranked fourth so it doesn’t matter that I have a record or that I’ve lifted internationally. You’ve got six lifts to make it happen.”
The Olympics are often the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. The blood, sweat and tears that go into the preparation for a global event that only happens once every four years are testing.
It’s not just the preparation that is tough, but finding the finances in a sport such as weightlifting can be just as hard.
“I chose not to go through the Olympic qualification process but it’s unfunded so to get to the Olympics we have to pay it ourselves,” she said.
“Due to the historical doping in weightlifting you have to be at six major internationals within two years. The grand total of that is £10,000 to cover all those expenses. I opted not to do that because you could still pay to go to all those tournaments and still not qualify on.
“There’s a lot more I can do with that £10,000 and a lot of heartbreak waiting at the end of it if you don’t get selected.
“Suddenly your Olympic dream is shattered before your eyes. I love weightlifting and I’m really excited for the journey that I’ll go on, but it’s not worth sacrificing my happiness for.”
Despite the set-back and realisation that the Olympic dream isn’t an option, and not for a lack of quality or drive, her eyes are firmly set on the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“What more could you want than a home games? If I can get myself there and lift in front of a home crowd then I’ll be forever happy.”