Des Kelly: Perdue, the bin girl who's far from rubbish
21:00 GMT, 1 August 2012
21:00 GMT, 1 August 2012
When men say they like ‘strong women’,
they aren’t usually thinking of the type who are capable of hurling a
washing machine across the room.
So I’d advise any gentlemen who are feeling insecure about their masculinity to avoid the women’s weightlifting at London 2012.
In times past, the typical male would
demonstrate their alpha status by dragging the wife back to the cave by
her hair. But the rise of women’s liberation and hairdressing costs have
put paid to that.
Now just one assigned task defines
manhood — and that is to put the bins out. Modern women need little else
from the male of the species.
Raising the bar: Wales' Natasha Perdue in action
But weightlifter Natasha Perdue has
stolen even that duty away. The 37-year-old is on the council bin round,
chucking rubbish away when she’s not lifting weights.
Like all the women in this 69kg class,
the chirpy Perdue is surprisingly small but formidably strong. I know
this because she shook my hand and I’ve had to type this article with my
left hand and right elbow as a result.
There are already enough challenges
facing a journalist trying to cover women’s weightlifting. The biggest
test is to convey accurately just how much effort is involved in this
sport, because what these women do is extraordinary. With veins bulging
like Madonna’s arms and eyes bulging like Madonna’s arms too, they
thrust almighty loads above their heads.
The best way to explain this is to
imagine that the lumps of metal on the end of the bar are actually two
baby elephants. Add that those baby elephants are making a terrible
noise at being hoisted into the air and you’ll also capture the sound
coming out of the lifter’s mouth while all this is happening.
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But they don’t just lift the weight,
they must also stand perfectly still and control the quivers of exertion
vibrating through every fibre of their body as they wait for the judges
to say they are happy.
The trick is for three lights to
signal it is a ‘good lift’ before the competitor’s head explodes with
the strain. Then the baby elephants… sorry, weights are hurled to the
floor, sending out a shockwave that dislodges roof slates on the Houses
I weigh 85kg and some of these women,
standing little more than 5ft tall, are lifting nearly double that.
Which means I am a baby elephant and need to go on a diet.
At the ExCeL, Perdue emerged on to the stage, blinking into the lights and visibly nervous. Her first attempt at 92kg failed.
During the Commonwealth Games in Delhi two years ago, she simply folded and failed to register a lift. There were worrying signs of a repeat in London when she faltered and dropped the bar.
She tried a smile but she looked daunted by the crowd and the responsibility. Admittedly, she did have another weight to bear. Her late father, Terry, competed at the 1968 and 1972 Games, finishing in a best place of 10th. Perdue was a British karate champion and took up weightlifting only after her dad’s death. Her great fear was that she would let him down.
Her second effort was successful but Perdue’s legs wobbled and gave way as she left the stage. It looked like a faint and was later described as a leg spasm.
Lifting spirits: Perdue completes a lift in agony
One lift at the snatch (a lift straight up with locked elbows), was enough to take her into the second round, where she lifted a respectable 113kg in the clean-and-jerk (on to the chest and then above the head). After that, she was pulled out of the competition. It was enough.
Back to the daily grind: Perdue
‘I know Dad was looking down,’ she said. ‘Even mentioning him does something to my insides and I get very emotional. To think he did all of this 40 years ago.
‘When I was young I never looked at him as an Olympian. He was just Dad. If only I’d asked him about the Games. You kick yourself for not doing that.’
Perdue certainly wasn’t rubbish. Her combined total of 205kg gave her fourth place in the B final. North Korea’s Rim Jong Sim went on to claim gold with a total of 261kg.
‘I’ve felt special here and I’ll miss it, silly as it sounds,’ Perdue added. ‘But it’s back to work and reality for me. I’m going home to Swansea where I hope I’ll get my job back.’
I’d like Perdue to be my local bin woman. With her, there’d be none of this weight limit nonsense or worries about whether the lid was up. She’d just grab my wheelie bins, one on each Olympic bicep, and throw them in the back of the truck.
Then I found out Perdue’s job is to drive the dustbin lorry, not fill it. And on hearing the news, there was a man somewhere nodding and saying: ‘Quite right too. That’s my job.’
Today’s scanner test — a brand new garlic crusher. It didn’t even raise a beep. It’s not just the security that’s being forgiving with all things French. We appear to be letting them have a lot of medals, too.
One New York Times columnist has dubbed the London Games ‘the mall Olympics’ because the Westfield shopping centre is nearby. Oh, do shut up. Americans created shopping malls. And if there were no shops here, everyone would moan that the park was miles from anywhere.