Powering their way to the top

Tysz, Haworth, Hamman win titles

March 13, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- Shane Hamman reached down to snatch up the barbell with its 182.5 kilograms and dropped it. He shrugged and walked off.

"He'll make it this time," intoned the announcer, as the top competitor in the super heavyweight class returned for a second attempt at the 407-pound lift.

But Hamman couldn't handle the weight again. And now things were getting tense. As in baseball, it's three strikes and you're out in weightlifting.

Embarrassed and angry, Hamman came back for his third and final try.

He took a deep breath. He huffed and puffed. The bar went all the way up -- and stayed.

"I expected to do a lot better," said Hamman, 27, who has won every national title he has competed for since 1997, and who eventually would win the gold in his weight class at these 2000 National Championships. "If I wouldn't have made that lift, I would have bombed out. I had to do it and it was very exciting."

USA Weightlifting's 2000 National Championships at the Holiday Inn Holidome were mesmerizing. The competitors were trying to help themselves by either making the top 20 positions that qualify for the Olympic trials in New Orleans on July 22, or by improving their current standing within the top 20.

From another perspective, they were exciting because they were a new experience for this community. Officials say these national championships usually attract only fans with a connection to the sport or the competitors, but many in the crowd had simply heard about the competition and came out of curiosity for entertainment.

And what they saw was entertaining. Surrounded by decor more suited to a cotillion -- sparkling chandeliers, gold wallpaper and decorative carpet -- the event was held on a makeshift stage.

Three champions were crowned yesterday: Californian Andy Tysz won in the 105-kilogram A class; Savannah's Cheryl Haworth took the women's 75-plus-kilogram class; and Hamman, whose hometown is Mustang, Okla., won the 105-plus-kilogram class.

Only Tysz's gold performance was a surprise, and it came after Wes Barnett, a favorite to make his third Olympic team, withdrew with a back strain, while in first place, and Konstantine Starikovitch, while in second, withdrew with an elbow injury.

"I certainly didn't want to see those two guys go out," Tysz said. "It's more motivation to move up if they'd stayed in. If they had stayed in, it might have kept me more focused on my last lift attempt [of 440 pounds]. That [440 pounds] is like a plateau everyone is trying to get to. It's like breaking a four-minute mile."

As quietude was shattered by barbells being dropped by weightlifters practicing behind the scenes, the audience here sucked in its collective breath when the big men and women on stage snatched massive weights from floor to air in wondrous displays of strength. And the crowd cringed when those ponderous bars landed squarely on the lifters' throats or clavicles on the way to being jerked to an overhead finish.

In both cases, the lifters presented lasting images.

Tysz, whose clean and jerk lift of 429 pounds was best in class, as was his overall total weight lifted of 759 pounds was stunning.

A junior competitor in the senior 105-kilogram class, Casey Burgener was a fan favorite. When he reached a personal-best 401.5 pounds in the clean and jerk, he waved and started to just walk off stage but changed his mind. He suddenly turned and pretended he was riding a horse, galloping around the stage, his arm twirling an imaginary lasso. "It was spontaneous," said Burgener, 17, "It's a great feeling to lift -- afterwards."

Haworth, the 16-year-old sensation, who has held the top spot in the United States for more than a year, looked poised as she moved her massive form up to the barbell.

She closed her eyes and tightened her support belt around her 297-pound body. And, then, with various directions from her coach -- "Get set!" "Breathe!" and "Do it! Do it!" -- she set women's junior and American records in the snatch (264 pounds), the clean and jerk (319 pounds) and overall total weight lifted (583 pounds).

"The [319 pounds] was a personal record for me," said Haworth, who passed on a third attempt on which she could have tried to increase the records further. "It was heavy enough and as far as I needed to go. It wasn't an easy lift. As I was coming up with it, I started to lose it forward a little bit -- not an easy lift at all."

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