Women competing on the world stage in weightlifting is still relatively new. They were first allowed into International competitions at the 1987 IWF World Championships and not allowed into the Olympics until 2000 (yes, really, that recent).
It is crazy to think that women have only been competing in Olympic Weightlifting at the Olympics for a handful of Games, but it is true. Many doubted the level that women's performances could rise to and earlier competitors like Karyn Marshall helped break down some of those barriers. Marshall set over 60 American and World records in weightlifting and became the first woman in history to clean and jerk over 136kg (300 lbs) with a 137kg Clean and Jerk in 1985. She beat out a strong team from China to win the 82.5kg weight category at the IWF World Championship. (She had already topped the previous Guiness Sports Record held by Austrian strongwoman Katie Sandwina with a 131kg Clean and Jerk in 1984.)
Until more recent than we like to acknowledge, women in weightlifting were seen more as a "freak show" than as athletes. Previously mentioned Katie Sandwina was only allowed to pursue her career as a strongwoman by working with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus companies until she was almost 60 years old. (Her parents were both circus performers as well.) Sandwina used to lift her husband above her head as part of her act.
In the United States, we have a great handful of women who helped pave the way for our current team of women in weightlifting. We could talk about them all, but it is important to acknowledge those who were the first to represent the USA in the Olympic Games at the first games that allowed women to compete in weightlifting - Sydney 2000.
Tara Nott Cunningham
Tara became the very first US woman to win Olympic gold and the first US weightlifter to win Olympic gold since 1960. She won the 48kg weight category at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, coached by Mike Gattone and Bob Morris. Tara is the only athlete to have trained for three different sports at the USOTC (United States Olympic Training Center) with gymnastics, soccer, and weightlifting. She also competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens as well as competed for the USA for multiple World Championships and Pan Am Games.
At the age of seventeen, Robin competed in the first Women's World Championshps in 1987 in Daytona Beach. She also competed at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney in the 48kg class, making her the only female Olympian that was also present at the first women's Worlds. She won gold at the 1994 IWF World Championships in Istanbul, gold at the1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, as well as a handful of silver and bronze medals at other World Championships (1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998).
While still a teenager, Cheryl became a National Champion, World Medialist, and Olympic Medalist. She started training in weightlifting to assist with her softball career but soon found her place in weightlifting. Her talent has taken her to 3 Olympic Games - Sydney 2000 (bronze medal), Athens 2004 (6th), and Beijing 2008 (4th). Cheryl won multiple other medals from Junior World Championships to the Pan Am Games to the Goodwill Games.
Cara started her athletic career as a thrower, competing in discus and hammer for the University of California, Berkeley, on an athletic scholarship. She placed 3rd at the Pac-10 Track & Field Conference Championships. As an Olympic team member in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Cara became part of the first group of women to compete in weightlifting at the Games, but was the first African-American woman to represent the US in weightlifting. She has earned her spot on 6 Worlds teams, 2 Pan Am teams, and set numerous junior and senior American Records.