Hamman improves but Iranian wins gold

Updated: August 25, 2004, 7:31 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Shane Hamman proved once again Wednesday night that he's the strongest man in America, adding to his legacy by breaking two of his U.S. records.

But he came away from the Olympic super heavyweight lifting finals in awe of Iran's Hossein Rezazadeh, who proved once again that he's the strongest man in the world -- by far.

Rezazadeh took the lead on his second lift and was guaranteed gold after his fourth. After his only miss, he came back with a 581-pound (263.5-kg) clean and jerk, setting a world record and matching the record total lift of 1,041.7 pounds (472.5 kg) he set four years ago in Sydney.

"He is intimidating to some of the guys," said Hamman, who at 5-foot-9 and nearly 350 pounds doesn't get intimidated often. "You see how easily he stands up with the bar. Even people who aren't lifters can see it."

Silver medalist Viktors Scerbatihs of Latvia was a whopping 38.6 pounds (17.5 kg) behind Rezazadeh. Velichko Cholakov of Bulgaria won the bronze with a total that was closer to Hamman's seventh-place finish than to Rezazadeh.

Although Hamman improved three spots on his 2000 Olympics, he was mildly disappointed because he came in eyeing a medal. Pulling off a clean and jerk of 523.6 pounds (237.5 kg) and a total lift of 948 pounds (430 kg) provided some consolation.

"I think that's cool," Hamman said.

Hamman grew up lifting weights to stay in shape for football. He decided to pursue this sport after seeing it in the 1996 Olympics.

He's dominated the national scene ever since, but this is one sport where Americans are far behind the rest of the world. The United States last got a weightlifting medal at the Soviet-boycotted 1984 Games and hasn't finished in the top three of this division since 1956.

Hamman's bad breaks Wednesday began during warmups, when he tore a piece of skin on the inside of his right hand. He was able to clear his first snatch, even though he almost backed off the lift area.

When he dropped the bar, Hamman shook his head, as if saying, "Whew!" then held up his right index finger -- one lift down.

His heave of 424 pounds (192.5 kg) was small for this division, so he tried getting closer to the leaders by adding 11 pounds. He got the bar up quickly, but wasn't able to lock his arms.

Because he was the only one trying that weight, he had to go again right away. Having less down time between lifts didn't help and he missed in almost the same way.

"My snatches," he said, "were horrible."

Hamman moved up the leaderboard between rounds when Germany's Ronny Weller pulled out, apparently having hurt himself when he dropped the bar behind his back on his second snatch. Weller was trying to become the first weightlifter to ever win a medal at five straight Olympics, a feat that's rarely been done in any sport.

Hamman opened the clean and jerk by tying his American record of 507 pounds (230 kg). He added 16.5 pounds (7.5 kg) on his next try, forcing the veins in his forearm to bulge and his body to quake more than before.

Still, he pulled it off nicely and finished with a flourish, throwing the bar down, waving a fist, hopping several times and then striking the Charles Atlas muscle pose, his 6-inch braided goatee flopping below his chin.

"That's pretty good with the pressure of the Olympics," he said.

Hamman's final attempt was over as quickly as it began. Trying to lift 534.6 pounds (242.5 kg), he got the bar to his knees then dropped it. He said he was holding it too far out and feared hurting himself if he took it any higher.

Although at 32 he's at the peak lifting age, Hamman hopes to make it to Beijing in 2008. His body feels good and he figures being late to the sport should extend his prime.

"I think I still have my best performances in front of me," he said.

The 26-year-old Rezazadeh might, too, with emphasis on performance.

He came out waving from the start, then touched the podium and kissed his hand on his way up for his first lift. His reactions were more exuberant with each trip, culminating with him kissing the floor, bowing all around then pulling out the flag on his singlet and kissing it. He closed by holding out his arms, showing off hands so caked in chalk he appeared to be wearing white gloves.

"The Olympic medal is a precious thing to acquire and obtain," he said. "I came full of strength."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press