Only two women advance to Athens

Updated: May 9, 2004, 2:40 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Cheryl Haworth and Tara Cunningham will again represent the United States in Olympic women's weightlifting. The challenge now is to do in Athens what they did in Sydney -- win medals.

Men's super heavyweight Shane Hamman has a different agenda; get the medal he wasn't yet ready to win in 2000.

Haworth, the super heavyweight who took home a bronze medal from Sydney at age 17, and Cunningham, a returning gold medalist at 105½ pounds, easily secured their spots for the Athens Games during Saturday's U.S. Olympic trials.

Hamman, 185-pounder Oscar Chaplin III, and 170-pounder Chad Vaughn qualified for the men's team by holding onto the rankings they brought into the trials.

Each lifter's U.S. team ranking was based on a percentage comparing the total amount each lifted to the world-qualifying standard in his or her weight class in a series of competitions, not just the trials. Haworth and Cunningham were easily ahead before increasing their totals Saturday, Haworth to 110.01 percent, Cunningham to 109.23 percent.

Hamman's 903¾ pounds were less than the 920¼ that he lifted at the 2000 trials, when he jumped from No. 5 to No. 2 with a series of big lifts to make it to Sydney. Chaplin, also a 2000 Olympian, held second place despite completing only one of four lifts before withdrawing with knee tendinitis.

Vaughn, from Rowlett, Texas, held onto the final men's slot when fourth ranked Pete Kelley injured a hamstring on his first attempt in the clean and jerk, in which the bar is raised first to the chest and then overhead. Before getting hurt, Kelley set an American weight-class record of 380¼ pounds in the snatch, in which the bar is raised above the head without stopping.

Even before getting hurt, the 230-pound Kelley attempted a 473¾-pound clean and jerk that would have put him on the team, but couldn't raise the bar past his knees before grabbing his hamstring in pain and limping off the stage.

``I think I tore it pretty bad, but I had to try it. What else was there to do?'' said Kelley, a 1996 Olympian who was cheered by a hometown crowd of about 1,000. ``You've got to go for the Olympics.''

Hamman, who holds every U.S. record, probably must raise 50 pounds more than he ever has to medal in Athens.

``I'm confident about lifting well,'' said Hamman, who was 10th in Sydney. ``I know what to expect now, and I know what I have to do now to get a medal.''

Haworth put up 270 pounds in the snatch and 330.7 pounds in the clean and jerk for a total of 600.7 pounds -- more than the 573 she lifted at the 2000 trials. She might have been tempted to do more, but she already had first place wrapped up.

No one else was within seven percentage points, even though No. 3 Cara Heads, a 165-pounder from Costa Mesa, Calif., enjoyed the best meet of her career by lifting 507 pounds.

"I was just trying to keep the No. 1 spot, that was my goal, but Tara was keeping me nervous," said Haworth, who is from Savannah, Ga. "She was stressing me out. Now, I've got a tremendous amount of work ahead. I definitely have a long way to go for Athens."

Haworth is probably glad she didn't need to challenge her own American records of 281 pounds in the snatch, 352½ pounds in the clean and jerk and 628 pounds total. She tore two left-elbow ligaments last June, sidelining her for 10 months, and still has occasional bouts of pain in the elbow.

"I just have to be careful and not do anything crazy," she said.

Cunningham, who now lives in Mount Pleasant, Mich., finished at 391.2 pounds, down from the 407.7 she lifted at the 2000 trials in suburban New Orleans. Then, she set three U.S. records and made all six lifts -- a 6-for-6 performance that is weightlifting's equivalent of hitting for the cycle.

With Cunningham's spot all but assured before Saturday, it wasn't necessary for her to duplicate a performance she credits with giving her the confidence she needed to become the first American weightlifting gold medalist in 40 years.

"I know what I need to work on to be at a high level [for Athens]," she said. "My clean and jerk [214 pounds] won't cut it there. I need to be doing a lot more in three months."

Cunningham, known then as Tara Nott, initially won the silver at 105½ pounds in Sydney but traded it for a gold three days later when Bulgaria's Izabela Dragneva failed a drug test.

Now, Cunningham will celebrate her 32nd birthday Monday while spending a few days helping husband Casey Cunningham get ready for his own trials. A coach at Central Michigan University, he will compete in the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials beginning May 21 in Indianapolis.

"I'll be so much more nervous then, sitting in the stands, everything totally out of my control," she said. "It will be gut wrenching."

Unlike four years ago, when four U.S. women weightlifters made the Olympics, only Haworth and Cunningham advanced this time. Haworth was injured and did not lift in last year's world championships in Vancouver, costing the United States valuable points in the team standings that determined each country's qualifiers for 2004 Olympics.

Among those left off was Heads, a seventh-place finisher in Sydney. She went to arbitration against USA Weightlifting last weekend, arguing that the qualifying procedure was arbitrary, but lost her case. Had she won, the U.S. team likely would have been determined only by Saturday's results.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press