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Haworth coming off elbow injury

5/8/2004

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Cheryl Haworth expects to lift a big
weight off her shoulders Saturday, and not just the 600 or so
pounds she intends to hoist at the U.S. Olympic weightlifting
trials.

It was nearly a year ago the 2000 Olympics super heavyweight
bronze medalist tore two ligaments in her right elbow during the
junior world championships in Mexico. The injury was so severe, she
didn't know if she could recover in time for the Athens Olympics in
August.

Mostly because of her injury, the United States qualified only
two of a possible four women's lifters for Athens because the rest
of the U.S. team could not make up Haworth's missing points during
the world championships in November. The number of Olympic lifters
each country qualified was based on its finish in the world
championships.

"It was a hard hit," USA Weightlifting president Dennis
Snethen said Friday. "She's the cornerstone of our program. She is
a show stopper, she improves almost every meet and when she had
this injury I was doubting -- I've seen these injuries -- if she
could come back for the Olympic games."

Now that she is healthy again, the 21-year-old Haworth is
quickly trying to make up for all those idle months. She didn't
resume lifting competitively until the national championships in
March.

"It was a big shock," Haworth said. "I was completely
immobilized and in a great deal of pain ... and there were always
doubts in my mind. I was always worried I might not be 100 percent;
just the task of straightening out my elbow completely was very
tough for a long time. But, right now, I feel great."

Because other world-class competitions factor into the selection
process, Haworth and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Tara Nott
Cunningham need only to show up Saturday at the St. Joseph Civic
Arena and lift a minimal amount of weight to secure the two spots
on the U.S. women's team. Three U.S. men also will qualify for
Athens.

Nott enjoyed a breakout performance at the 2000 trials in
suburban New Orleans, setting U.S. records for a 105-pounder (48
kg) in weightlifting's two events, the snatch and the clean and
jerk, and for total weight. She carried that performance into
Sydney, where she unexpectedly got a silver medal that turned into
gold three days later when gold medalist Izabela Dragneva of
Bulgaria flunked a drug test.

Once the top 60 lifters, 30 each in men and women, are finished
Saturday night, four of the six members of the 2000 U.S. team
likely will be back in the Olympics. Men's super heavyweight Shane
Hamman, who holds every American record in his class, and
187-pounder Oscar Chaplin III should have no trouble securing two
of the three men's spots.

Hamman, of Mustang, Okla., has lifted more weight than any
American man ever has but is still waiting to make a breakthrough
on the world scene. He was 10th in Sydney, then was disappointed
with his eighth-place finish at the 2003 world championships in
Vancouver.

"I've always thought 2004 would be my year," Hamman said.
"Sydney in 2000 was a stepping stone. I've always had my sights
set on Athens."

Hamman, 32, is 5-foot-9 and 350 pounds, but doesn't fit the
stereotypical image many have of massive weight lifters. He can
dunk a basketball two-handed, seemingly an impossible feat for one
with his body mass, and he has exceptional flexibility.

The third spot on the U.S. men's team probably will go to either
Chad Vaughn, a relative newcomer from Oklahoma City who was the
only U.S. weightlifting gold medalist at the 2003 Pan American
Games, or eight-time national champion Pete Kelley. Kelley is from
St. Joseph and will have the advantage of lifting before a
supportive hometown crowd.

The trials were not affected by an arbitration case brought last
week by Cara Heads, the third-ranked U.S. woman, who argued the
qualifying standards were arbitrary and should be tossed out. An
arbitrator upheld the selection format, in which results from
multiple world-class events -- not just the trials -- determine who
makes the team.