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The strongman has always enjoyed a popular place in sport - hence the long history of weightlifting as a competitive event.

It was practised by the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks and was one of the eight sports to feature when the modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896. The first world championships had taken place in London five years earlier with just seven lifters representing six countries. So things have come a long way since those pioneer days.

Now the International Weightlifting Federation has 167 affiliated nations and around 10,000 lifters take part annually in all competitions across the world. But there is far more to weightlifting than serious competition for weight training has now become an integral part of the training programme for participants in all sports at all standards.

What's more, weightlifting is now a men's and women's event at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and there will be five sessions of competition for women when the action starts at Manchester's International Conference Centre.

And if stories of Commonwealth Games of the past are to be believed, weightlifting is a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth II who will be opening the Games at the 90m City of Manchester Stadium on July 25, 2002. Her Majesty is a well-known stickler for punctuality, of course, but on one occasion in the seventies she was late for an official engagement - because she insisted on watching British weightlifter Precious McKenzie win Commonwealth gold!

That may or not be an apocryphal tale. But there is no doubt that McKenzie and his predecessor Louis Martin can be included among the list of Commonwealth Games weightlifting greats. Martin won the gold medal in 1962, 1966 and 1970 and McKenzie was successful in 1966, 1970, 1974 and 1978.

Who will be their successors at Manchester 2002, when weightlifting will be making its 14th appearance since its debut in 1950? We shall see. But the intimate atmosphere of the Manchester International Conference Centre makes it an ideal venue for this popular sport. So count yourself in!

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