Glasgow 2014: Georgi Black consumed by Games dream

YESTERDAY was a red-letter day in the life of Georgi Black because, for once, she woke up and wasn’t thinking about the Commonwealth Games.
Georgi Black shows her strength with the help of team-mate Craig Carfray at the Clyde Auditorium. Picture: HEMEDIAGeorgi Black shows her strength with the help of team-mate Craig Carfray at the Clyde Auditorium. Picture: HEMEDIA
Georgi Black shows her strength with the help of team-mate Craig Carfray at the Clyde Auditorium. Picture: HEMEDIA

Instead, the small matter of winning the Scottish Senior Championship title in Pitlochry was on the Kilmarnock weightlifter’s mind. The 23-year-old’s plan of attack was a simple one. To win her ninth Scottish title and, in the process, hopefully expand her number of British and Scottish records, which currently stands at 46.

Tomorrow, though, it’ll be business as usual. “For me, that means obsessing about the Commonwealth Games,” she laughs. “It’s getting more and more real now. I’ll be thinking about something else and, all of a sudden, it’ll just pop into my head. It’s completely taken over. I think about the Commonwealth Games every second of every day. As soon as I wake, up it’s the first thing on my mind. I’m a woman on a mission, I weigh myself between 15 and 20 times every day. It’s all-consuming.” The reference to weighing herself is because Black plans to compete at 63kg to maximise her gold medal chances. As recently as 2010 she weighed 78kg and looked then like she barely had an ounce of fat on her. For a girl who liked an occasional pint and was partial to chocolate, losing almost two and half stones is a gruelling feat, especially as she wants to lose only fat yet retain all her muscle. Her goal is to come down in weight, while simultaneously beating her personal best of 82kgs for the snatch and 103kgs for the clean and jerk. It’s a herculean task.

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“It’s been hard but I’m down to 65kg and, in Malta recently, I lifted at 67kg,” she says. “It means that I have to watch everything I eat, and have my skinfold measured every couple of weeks [by Scottish Institute of Sports nutritionalist Nikos Jukubiak], but at least that stops you from wandering off the diet and going mental.”

A bubbly, effervescent soul, Black seems to have almost superhuman reserves of motivation and self-discipline. She says this partly stems from the heartbreak of missing out on the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games in Australia as a 14-year-old. After that she decided to dedicate herself completely to the sport, while the experience of being in Delhi to watch her training partner Peter Kirkbride win silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games sparked a fixation which consumes her. “Back in 2004 I decided that nothing was going to stand in my way, and so, where I used to go up to Glasgow every Saturday with my pals, I started to train four times a week. Parties come and go, and days like Halloween and Bonfire Night which used to be big social times, go begging, too. And, since I was in Delhi with Achieve 2014 [a scheme to help 28 promising young medal prospects assimilate the demands of a major championships] to see Peter win the silver medal, weightlifting has been my whole life. I realised that, if I tried hard enough, if I gave it everything I’ve got, then that could be me up there.”

As well as the people of Kilmarnock, who regularly stop her in the street, if they’re not facebooking or Tweeting their support for her, the other driving force for Black has been Charlie “Chick” Hamilton, the legendary coach who has established Kilmarnock as the centre of Scotland’s weightlifting universe. Black first came across him as a 12-year-old tomboy when she and her sister attended a fitness class he ran and he suggested that she try weightlifting instead. She was soon hooked, and she’s not the only one. As well as Kirkbride, other medal contenders like Craig Carfray train under Hamilton. So, too, does Black’s cousin Sophie Smyth, who Black persuaded to try weightlifting three-and-a-half years ago and who has also reached the Commonwealth Games qualifying standard and will lift at 58kg. “We’ve all trained together virtually every day for years and I’ve known Chick since I was 12 and I’m 24 next month so that’s half my life. He’s been amazing. He’s a shift worker and has a family and grandchildren, but he’s always there for me, and texts me every day to make sure everything’s okay. I’d never have got here without him.”

Having such a coterie of talented lifters around her is also a huge support, with the Kilmarnock posse pushing each other onto bigger and better things. Back in 2011 she won gold in the 75kg Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships in South Africa, a morale-boosting win which sent her confidence levels soaring, especially as she triumphed against rivals she believes were doping. Glasgow’s strict controls, though, should ensure a clean competition. “At lots of competitions you know that other competitors are doping, and you know fine well who they are,” she says. “In South Africa we all waited in the same room for post-competition testing and there would be girls pacing, sweating, or even pretending that they don’t know the rules and leaving the room which is strictly forbidden. Some of the girls had so much stubble they had five o’clock shadows. Chick did a double take when he came first saw them all because one of them had a bigger beard than him.”

As if a lack of medicinal aid wasn’t enough, anyone who wants the women’s 63kg weightlifting gold medal will also have to take on a whole town.

“As well as me, my family, Chick and the guys, this is for the people of Kilmarnock,” she says. “It would be if we could give them something to really shout about.”