In women's weightlifting, it's possible to have beauty as well as brawn. That's the defiant message coming from the bar belles of the Olympics.
World and Olympic champion Cao Lei, and 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Michaela Breeze have spoken up for their fellow women lifters, often dismissed as freaks with V-shaped torsos, bull necks and thunder thighs.
"My belief is that being healthy is being beautiful," said Cao after winning the 75kg gold medal on Friday.
"We are very healthy, so we are beautiful women. There is a (local) saying,'Health leads the trend in fashion.'" School teacher Breeze, a former athletics star from Devon in southwestern England, who switched sports to improve her prospects at Olympic glory, admits she often gets quizzical looks when she tells people she is a weightlifter. "Why, what do weightlifters look like?" she said she would tell them. "I was doing weights to tone my legs to help with my athletics, to become more powerful," she said.
It was love at first sight. Breeze, who finished outside the podium in the 63kg class, said she would like to play a part in breaking down stereotypes about women lifters. The official public address announcer at the weightlifting venue here tries to do his part, telling the crowd: "What you are about to see is a perfect combination of strength and beauty. Canadian lifter Jeane Lassen, who finished in eighth place at the 75kg competition, is also doing her best to bring a feminine touch and psychology to the discipline, which first entered the Olympic programme at the Syney Games in 2000.
She wins over the crowd by smiling at them before every lift, and then, pass or fail, kisses the bar after every heave. "I try to smile because that's how I wish to feel after I've lifted," said the slender blonde.