altMAY 17 - TEENAGER Zoe Smith (pictured), voted the British Olympic Association's weightlifter of the year, faces having her preparations for London 2012 ruined by the closure of the gym where she trains.

The 14-year-old, who won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune last year, is helping campaign for the Europa Gym in Erith to stay open after its rent was doubled last year.

Smith said: "Without Europa Gym I wouldn't have had any of the success I've had."

Besides weightlifting, the gym also has facilities for gymnastics, boxing, aikido and judo, and has rehearsal rooms for musicians.

Smith said: "It would be a disaster if we lose Europa.
"Not just for the weightlifters, but the gymnasts and boxers. Where would we all go?

"Without the facilities to train locally, the future for all of us really would look bleak."

The 5ft 2in Smith has lifted three times her own bodyweight, has set 98 British records this year and held every record but one for 53kg between the ages of 14 and seniors.

The gym's rent rose from £25,000, to £55,000 this year when new landlords conducted a review.

Its owner, Len Arnold, has struggled to save money by taking on a second job and even sold his house to move into the gym with his wife, Yvonne.

Despite serving 1,400 members, mostly children, including Smith and four other British champions, Europa does not qualify for Council or National Lottery funding.

Arnold said: "Since this summer we've largely relied on money from fundraising - from displays and things like quiz nights.

"I can put my hand on my heart and say we are the largest youth club in the Borough.

"But if you want to try and produce something like Zoe's achievement, you are not going to get it by being classed as a business."

Peter Catterall, the Bexley Councillor for leisure, said: "It would be a very sad day for sport in London if Europa were forced to close.

"Bexley council will continue to work closely with Len and Yvonne to seek to prevent this from happening."