Weightlifting fans have been seeing a lot more of Lydia Valentin’s trademark celebration.
Having first produced the beaming smile and ‘heart’ gesture four years ago, Lydia is well aware of the importance of engaging with her supporters.
The charismatic Spaniard has more than 150,000 followers on Instagram and her performances – and celebrations – have cut through into mainstream media coverage around the world.
Wearing mascara, earrings and a pink hairband during competitions, Lydia is widely seen to be a poster girl for women’s weightlifting, although she says that her famous celebration is not for anyone in particular – just those who have come to support her and her loyal fans.
Now, after the most successful year of her career, she has even more reason to celebrate, having scooped the IWF Women’s 2017 Lifter of the Year award.
The popularity of Lydia was underlined by the final poll for the award. With 16,406 votes, the 32-year-old from Ponferrada in north-western Spain was the overwhelming winner, picking up more support than the other four shortlisted candidates combined.
As a competitor in the 75kg division, she won her first senior medal at a major event more than a decade ago – a bronze at the 2007 European Championships in Strasbourg – but it was her silver medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing (recently awarded) the following year that brought her to international attention.
Lydia went on to claim gold at the London 2012 Olympics and silver at the Rio 2016 Games – Spain’s first weightlifting medals at sport’s biggest spectacle.
She has also collected an array of medals at the European Championships over the years, including three golds in 2014 and 2015, and, most recently, in Split last year.
However, despite her successes on the Olympic and continental stages, a gold at the IWF World Championships had eluded her, with a bronze in Wroclaw in 2013 representing her best performance at the event – that is, until 2017.
At the IWF World Championships in Anaheim, Lydia registered a 118kg snatch and a 140kg clean and jerk to claim a total of 258kg – a huge 18kg better than her closest challenger – and take home three golds in the process.
For Lydia, glory in Anaheim represented the highlight so far of a glittering career and a huge relief after injury had ruled her out of the 2015 World Championships in Houston.
Lydia, who was a keen all-round sportsperson in her youth, has previously said that weightlifting chose her, rather than the other way around. She remembers fondly exploring a range of sports – including lifting weights – at her local Camponaraya sports club.
Lydia has said that she will continue to compete in elite weightlifting until she stops enjoying it and then, when she retires, she would like to enjoy the sport from a “totally different perspective”.
However, as she continues to stick to a rigorous training regime that comprises up to three hours of work every morning and afternoon six days a week, there is little sign of her admirable motivation for medals fading just yet.