SYDNEY -- For the three years Cara Heads-Lane had pictured herself at the 2000 Olympics, the scene she saw most clearly and most frequently was the competition.
She said she even dreamed about it, that she envisioned herself on the stage at the Sydney Convention Centre, ready to make an important lift, and her family in the stands ready to burst.
Now, though, that will not be one of the better images she takes from Sydney. Because it turned out to be something she was not expecting, post-edited to contradict her previous hopes.
Heads-Lane became the first Team Savannah athlete to compete in the Olympics Wednesday, but did not reach her goal of medaling in the 48-kilogram class. She completed only two of her six lift attempts and finished in seventh place, 22.5 kilos out of a medal position.
Colombia's Maria Isabel Urrutia won the gold medal on body weight after three lifters tied for first place with totals of 245kg. Ruth Ogbeifo, of Nigeria, earned the silver, while Chinese Taipei's Kuo Yi-Hang took the bronze.
"I gave it my best shot, I just missed some lifts," said Heads-Lane, a Santa Monica, Calif. native who moved to Savannah in 1997 with the hope of qualifying for the Sydney Games. "I felt good warming up. It wasn't a lack of strength, I was just out of position a wee bit. It doesn't take much. If you're off just a little bit, it shows."
Trouble showed itself early Wednesday for Heads-Lane, who never recovered after missing her first two attempts of the competition.
Opening with an American-recorded 102.5kg in the snatch, she needed three attempts just to record a total for the first half of the competition and left herself no opportunity to improve on that weight. It appeared she might make the first lift, which she briefly held overhead but lost behind her as she tried to stand up, but was not as close on the second.
On her final snatch attempt, she paused before standing up through the weight and knelt over the bar when judges signaled the lift good.
"I was happy I pulled out that lift when I needed it," she said. "After that, I looked up in the crowd and saw my husband jumping up and down."
It was a temporary celebration, however.
After making her first clean-and-jerk attempt at 120kg, she failed twice at 125kg and was finished for the competition before the medalists had started the second half of it. Her total of 222.5kg was just 2.5kg off her American record, but only in the middle of a field that included the world's best lifters.
"It was a rough day," said Team Savannah founder Michael Cohen, who is coaching the U.S. women's weightlifting team in Sydney. "We had to have some big lifts and, unfortunately, for the first time in her career, Cara didn't make them.
"In international competition, she's always making 5-for-6 or 6-for-6. It was just a bad time to have an off-meet. I'm proud of her, but I'm disappointed with the performance."
For Heads-Lane, there was too much involved with the last three years she has geared toward the Olympics and the last three weeks she has spent in Australia to share her coach's sentiment.
The trip to Sydney began for her unexpectedly, when she discovered weightlifting while rehabilitating a knee injury as a shot putter and discus thrower at the University of California at Berkley. After her brisk improvement was confirmed with three bronze medals at the 1997 Junior World Championships, she left school and moved across the country to train under Cohen.
That decision got her to the top of her weight class in the U.S. It got her to the altar when she married Swainsboro native John Lane, who was a basketball player at the Savannah College of Art and Design when they met. And it got her to Sydney, even if it didn't get her the result there she was hoping for.
"How can I be disappoitned when I'm standing at the Olympic Games as a member of the first women's weightlifting team for the United States," said the 22-year-old Heads-Lane, who has not decided if she will pursue a berth in the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. "That's certainly nothing to hang your head about. It was a long journey to get here. I learned a lot and I matured a lot.
"This has been a three-year experience. One day can't ruin that. I was just off a little."
And that's something she just never saw coming.