SYDNEY - Oscar Chaplin III can't explain how he arrives in competition mode. He has no special event-day preparation routines, knows of no signs to indicate he's ready.
He just always is.
"Oscar is absolutely, 100 percent a competition lifter as opposed to a gym lifter," says United States men's weightlifting coach Dragomir Ciorslan. "He is a mentally strong competitor and he can always prepare himself to lift his best."
Sometime today, then, that indescribable, irreplaceable feeling should hit Chaplin, as he prepares for the biggest competition in his 11-year weightlifting career.
The Savannah native will compete in the 77-kilo class in the 2000 Olympics at the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour. His session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday in Sydney, which will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Savannah.
And he doesn't expect his potential result to limit his typical preparedness.
"I think, because I've been lifting so long, it's almost like second nature. When I go to the platform, I'm just focused, I feel a difference in the weights and I just feel like I'm going to make the lift," says Chaplin, one of two U.S. men entered in the Olympic weightlifting competition in Sydney. Shane Hamman, of Mustang, Okla., lifts in the 105kg-plus class Sept. 26. "I don't hear anything else going on around me, except what my mind is telling me to do to make the lift."
And both Chaplin and Ciorslan say their minds are telling them to temper expectations for today.
It is both unfortunate and impressive that the Team Savannah member qualified for the Olympics in a weight class that no longer suits him. The 77kg is not only tight with competition, it is also too small for Chaplin. He has had to lose six pounds to make weight five times this year, including for the Olympics. As of Tuesday, he was still 2kg overweight, but expected to have no problem dropping down.
But such wild fluctuation in weight can rob a lifter of leg strength, a vital element to driving the bar overhead.
"I've done it so many times, I'm used to it," Chaplin says of shedding weight quickly before a competition. "It's almost like second nature now."
Ciorslan has tried to counter the weight loss by cutting back Chaplin's training for the last two weeks. He has not lifted at maximum effort in the gym for 10 days, which his coach says will preserve his legs and keep him generally fresher than if he had been working out intensely leading up to the event.
"He's well-rested, he has no pain and he's ready to be 100 percent," says Ciorslan, who trains Chaplin at the USA Weightlifting headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I believe he is ready to do a personal-best performance and have the best competition he's ever had.
"Our goal is for him to lift the best he can and worry about where he finishes when the lifting is done. We are looking for a 6-for-6 performance, and if he does that, he should finish in the top 10, which we'd be happy with."
Chaplin will be happy to leave the 77kg class after the Olympics. He has had to forego the buffet at the Athlete's Village this week and expects when he gets heavier, he will get stronger.
He also says he agrees with the strategy Ciorslan has taken leading up to today.
"Cutting back my training always makes me feel better," says Chaplin. "It makes me want to attack the weight. I feel like I can get up there and do some American records and a personal-record performance."
And when that performance is over?
"Then," says Chaplin, "I'll be like, all right, let's go eat something."