ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Shane Hamman can dead lift more weight than any Olympic athlete in America. Imagine being able to hoist the back end of a Ford Focus or a Dodge Neon above one's head, and you get the idea.
While he has become something of a celebrity in a sport in which few Americans can name a single participant - he regularly makes TV appearances and expects to hit Letterman and Leno before the Olympics - Hamman's biggest athletic challenge will come in the next three months.
During a time span that, for weightlifters, is a relative blink of the eye, Hamman must increase his lifting significantly if he is to medal in Athens. His two-lift total of 903 3/4 pounds during Saturday's U.S. Olympic trials sounds exceptional, but is far below the 1,041 1/2 pounds hoisted by gold medalist Hossein Rezazadeh of Iran during the 2000 Olympics.
Rezazadeh, perhaps the best-known athlete in his country, has since had combined lifts of 1,047 pounds in competition, and is talking about raising even more weight in Athens.
In a sport in which even minimal increases in performance require months of exhausting training, Hamman seemingly has an insurmountable gap to close to substantially improve upon his 10th place finish in Sydney.
Hamman is convinced he can do it, even though these next 90 days already looked jammed with numerous media appearances, commercial endorsements and dealing with the prerequisite attention that is splashed upon Olympic athletes once every four years.
"That's what's going to be determined in my next three months of training, if I'm able to close that gap or not," said Hamman, of Mustang, Okla. "I think I do have the ability to be in medals; honestly, I do believe I'm there. If I can through these next three months and train as hard as I want to and not get any injuries, it's definitely a great possibility.
"That's exactly what I'm expecting to do. I'm not looking at finishing fifth or something, it's going to be all or nothing for me at this one. I'm going to load up the weight, and I'm going to try it," he said.
For all his infectious enthusiasm and optimism, Hamman understands the challenge ahead. No American super heavyweight has won a weightlifting medal since Mario Martinez took a silver in the Russian-boycotted Los Angeles games of 1984.
Nevertheless, Haworth's female counterpart, 2000 bronze medalist Cheryl Haworth said, "They're all scared of him," a reference to the rest of the men's field.
"I'm going to be adding a lot of kilos to my total," Hamman said. "I have numbers in my mind but it's all going to come down to what I need (to medal). That's what I'm training for."
Hamman will be joined on the U.S. men's team by 185-pounder Oscar Chaplin III, also a 2000 Olympian, and 170-pound newcomer Chad Vaughn, who held off hometown favorite Pete Kelley of St. Joseph for the third and final spot.
Hamman, Chaplin and Vaughn began the trials ranked 1-2-3 based on past performance and weren't bumped, even though Chaplin managed to complete only one of four lifts on achy knees. Kelley, who was No. 4, looked ready to bump Vaughn when he set a U.S. weight-class record in the snatch. But Kelley, a 1996 Olympian, apparently tore a hamstring on his first attempt in the clean and jerk and could not complete any more lifts.
The only U.S. weightlifting medalists in Sydney, Tara Cunningham (gold) and Haworth, will form a downsized two-woman team after easily holding off all challengers Saturday. The United States lost two of the four women's slots it had in Sydney because of a low finish in last year's world championships, when Haworth - who usually supplies 40 percent of the U.S. scoring - was injured and could not compete.
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