Christine Girard of White Rock, B.C., became the first Canadian female weightlifter to win an Olympic medal Tuesday, capturing bronze in the women's 63-kilogram division.
She called it the "best time of my life."
"I should say my wedding comes close, but this is completely different," said the 27-year-old who grew up in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.
Girard won Canada's third bronze medal of the day after divers Roseline Filion of Laval, Que., and Meaghan Benfeito of Montreal kicked things off with a third-place finish in the 10-metre synchro event and Antoine Valois-Fortier added a bronze in men's judo less than 30 minutes later.
About an hour later, Girard finished third with a total weight of 236 kilograms — 103 in the snatch and 133 in the clean and jerk.
After finishing fourth at the Beijing Games four years ago, Girard has faced several challenges, including injuries and coaching changes. She's had four coaches in the last five years.
"I thought I had missed the medal and finished fourth again," said Girard, who doesn't like to know her standings during the competition. "When my coaches said I had finished on the podium, I started to cry. I couldn't believe I had reached my goal. Right now, it's worth all the gold in the world."
Girard missed her third attempt at 135 kilograms in the clean and jerk, but she had already done enough to get the bronze. The rival she had to edge to get to the podium, Turkish weightlifter Sibel Simsek, lifted 235 kilograms after missing her last two tries to lift 133 kg in the clean and jerk.
"My last snatch, which was a bit forward, I really worked hard. But I let go and it hurt my shoulder," said Girard. "I was more nervous when I started the clean and jerk. Fortunately, I got to the care of Sam (Gibbs) and the Canadian team. It helped me get back on the right path. I was a little stressed, but the shoulder held up."
Girard's husband and coach Walter Bailey was clearly relieved with the outcome.
"Good thing Sam was there to care of Christine's shoulder between the two sessions," said Bailey. "Otherwise we would not have known how to approach the clean and jerk. After having done poorly (at the training camp) in France, she was really worried."
Girard said she was motivated by the near miss in Beijing.
"I have been working really hard for this for four years, since the Beijing Olympics," she said. "All I have been thinking about is getting on the podium.
"Now I have reached it, it feels great."
The fourth daughter in a family of weightlifters, Girard was inspired by Maryse Turcotte, who competed for Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Games. In addition to being the first Canadian woman to win a medal in weightlifting, Girard is only the third Canuck in both men's and women's to medal in the sport after Jacques Demers got a silver in 1984 and Gerald Gratton got a first silver in 1952.
Now, she's hoping other girls will look up to her.
"I am the first woman from Canada to win a weightlifting medal and I grew up wondering whether it was possible," she said. "Now I have proved it is possible. So I would say to any girl who wants to lift, it is possible."
Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan won gold while Svetlana Tsarukaeva of Russia captured silver.
Maneza was second after lifting 110 kilograms in the snatch but rose to first place by taking 135 kilograms in her first clean and jerk for a total weight of 245 kilograms, an Olympic record.
Maneza went for the world record in her final two lifts but gave up, smiling.
The expected duel between Maneza and Tsarukaeva — the top lifters in the weight class — fizzled in the snatch when the Russian managed to outlift Maneza by only two kilograms.
That margin was bound to be too thin heading into the clean and jerk, where Maneza is the stronger of the two.
Tsarukaeva seemed to focus on shoring up the silver as she picked only 125 kilos for her first clean and jerk. She held on to second place despite failing subsequent attempts at 130 kilos, finishing with a total weight of 237 kilos.
Zulfiya Chinshanlo won the women's 53-kilogram class Sunday to grab Kazakhstan's first weightlifting gold in London.
— With files from Canadian Press reporter Marc Tougas and The Associated Press
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