Haworth coming off elbow injury

Updated: May 8, 2004, 3:58 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press