Holley Mangold dreamed of the Olympics just like anybody else -- but she dreamed from a mattress on a laundry-room floor.
Mangold, at 5-foot-8 and 357 pounds, started out as a football player; she's the younger sister of New York Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, and she had a national news-making stint as the first Ohio girl to play offensive line in a high school game in 2006. But Holley transitioned sports, and she's been a competitive super-heavyweight weightlifter for the last two years. She became an Olympian on March 4, when she made the U.S. team for the 2012 Games in the 75-kilo-plus (165 pounds and up) division.
"I was an okay high school football player, it's not like I was fantastic," Mangold said over the phone. "It was so ... just shocking because I was a female, and I was a lineman, and I'd done it for 12 years. I don't think any other girl had done that. ... This (weightlifting) I have worked hard for. I was blessed with the muscle mass that I have, and then I was blessed with people around me who shape me and make me who I am. I was okay at football, but this I'm pretty good at."
Weightlifting has been part of the Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896, but women didn't compete until 2000, when Americans Tara Nott and Cheryl Haworth took gold and bronze, respectively. No U.S. lifter -- man or woman -- has reached the podium since. China has emerged as the world's strongest nation, which will contribute to its bid to finally overtake the U.S. in the overall medal count in London.
There is hope that Mangold can return some power for the red, white and blue. She's improved her combined total in the two Olympic lifts (snatch and clean-and-jerk) by 77 pounds since moving from the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to Columbus, Ohio, in February 2011.
"I describe it as the 'Price is Right' (Cliffhanger) guy, the yodeler that goes up (the mountain)," said her coach, Mark Cannella, a retired cup-of-coffee lifter who once instructed and spotted former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett. "She's been improving straight up for this last year."
She peaked Sunday. Mangold snatched 110 kilograms and clean-and-jerked 145 to snare the second of two Olympic berths for the U.S. women. That would have placed her ninth at last year's world championships but just 18 pounds out of fifth.
"I told her coach afterward that this is not the last Olympic team she's going to make," said 2008 Olympian Carissa Gump, who now works for USA Weightlifting. "If she sticks at it and stays focused and keeps doing what she's doing, she'll be a medal contender at the Olympics. Holley's year to really, really shine could be 2016."
Mangold dabbled in weightlifting in high school, winning a state title at a meet where they served pork chops for breakfast. She was forced to stop training when she attended all-female Ursuline College, because she cracked first-story building windows while dropping weights on the second story.
She quit school and returned to lifting with fair early results. But she didn't reach the Olympic level until moving back to Ohio last year-- 90 minutes from where she suited up for Archbishop Alter High School's state championship team. At first, Mangold slept in Cannella's basement, but she soon migrated to the couch at the apartment of fellow lifter Drew Dillon and two other guys. Until ...
"I came home one day, and (Dillon) had the laundry room completely cleared out, like a nice little place where I could put a mattress," Mangold said. "I kind of moved into the laundry room, and I've been there ever since."
"It's carpeted," said Dillon, who exhibited this photo as evidence. "It's not a cinder-block utility room."
Dillon, 26, provided Mangold much more than a mattress (though Mangold received a full bed as a 22nd-birthday present). She calls him her "life coach." They've had many heart-to-hearts about living the right way to be an Olympian.
"I was a bit of a party girl," Mangold said.
That was portrayed (in addition to her lifting) on MTV's "True Life" reality series, where cameras followed Mangold for a June 2011 episode titled, "I'm the Big Girl."
She would regularly stay up until 2 a.m., sleep in and get a late start on her next day's training. With Dillon's aid, Mangold changed that. She decided to start cooking breakfast for him -- maple sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese but not bacon, because her roommates don't like the smell -- which meant she had to be up by 8 a.m.
Dillon also helped Mangold land her first job as a catering associate for the Ohio chain City Barbeque. She drives a black 2010 Chevy HHR slapped with food, logos and the slogan, "Honk if you love barbeque." Though others drive it, too, the radio presets are hers -- two hip-hop channels, a '60s/'70s/'80s channel, country and reggae.
"It's not technically my car, but it should be," Mangold said. "It's such a safety hazard. I always think I'm doing something wrong because people are honking at me."
Mangold took a sabbatical at the start of the year to focus on the Olympic trials, held at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, named after Arnold Schwarzenegger. She declined interviews late in the week to focus on what her zealous dad called the biggest day of her life. On Sunday, the day of the trials, incredibly nervous, she sought out her coach before the competition.
"He happened to be sitting next to Arnold," Mangold said. "All I kept thinking over and over in my head is, 'Let's play a game. Who is your daddy, and what does he do?'"
Thankfully, she didn't blurt out the paraphrased line from "Kindergarten Cop," one of Mangold's favorite flicks, she said. Instead, she got some advice.
"Lift big weights," Schwarzenegger told her.
Mangold did. She hit five of her six lifts while her supporters played mathematicians with iPads, calculating the long-division-like system used to determine who would make the Olympic team. It wasn't as simple as who lifted the most, not with two precious Olympic spots available to be shared among seven weight classes.
Older brother Nick stood in the back during the event with his wife and baby in a stroller for the four-hour competition. He never sat down, father Vern said.
"He had a week of angst," Vern said. "He didn't want to go. He's God's gift in Columbus, the heart of Buckeye country. He did not want to be the center of attention. I saw my son politely tell group after group wanting autographs, pictures, 'Today's not my day.'"
Their sibling rivalry goes back, but this is one feat for which Mangold cannot be compared to her brother. It's not baseball, where Holley asked to play catcher because Nick did. It's not football, which is Nick's domain. It's weightlifting, her individual sport.
"His name will always be attached to my name the rest of my life, and I'm perfectly OK with that," she said. "I think he's done a really great job in his life, and I've done pretty well so far in my life."
After Mangold let out a scream following her final lift, wrapping up her Olympic spot, her mother, Therese, equated the family's emotions, pointing out they've got a son who went to the Pro Bowl and a daughter who's going to the Olympics all in the same year.
"That's pretty heavy," Vern said.