Sounding Eerily like Hans and Franz, Saturday Night hive's fictitious titans, Michael Cohen found himself admonishing the United States Weightlifting Federation (USWF) last December with the Teutonic twosome's refrain: "Hear me now and believe me later."
The 36-year-old Cohen, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team, runs a program through which kids in Savannah learn to pump up. He informed the USWF that one of his young female lifters, Cassie Clark, was hoisting enough weight each day in practice to qualify for the junior men's national squad. "When she makes the grade at a sanctioned meet," asked Cohen, "will you put her on the men's team?" Lyn Jones, the national coaching coordinator for the USWF, replied, "Show me first."
Late in March at the National Junior Weightlifting Championships in St. Joseph, Mo. (the Show Me State), 15-year-old Cassie did just that. Competing in the 50-kilo (110-pound) women's class, the 4'11" high school sophomore lifted a combined 135 kilos (297½ pounds) in the snatch and clean and jerk to become the first American female ever to qualify for the junior men's team, which is virtually the Olympic developmental squad. Had she competed as a male in St. Joe, she would have finished third. Girlieman, indeed!
"I'm excited about going to Colorado Springs this summer and training with the best coaches in the country," said Cassie on April 11, just after the USWF extended her a formal invitation—in the wake of a threatened lawsuit by Cohen—to join the men's team.
"They weren't going to give Cassie any recognition—until she rocked the boat," says Robin Byrd, 24, the best American female weightlifter and four times a runner-up in the world championships. "I'm thrilled for her."
And to think that when she was first introduced to lifting four years ago by her classmate and best friend, Stephanie Bodie, Cassie was a 90-pound weakling. A wimp. "Football players at the high school where Coach trained us would point to me and say, 'Look at that cute little girl,' " she says. "The only thing that I could clean-arid-jerk then was a broomstick."
She's not kidding. When Cohen's father, Howard, who was a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team, first observed Cassie, she was overmatched by a 44-pound bar. The elder Cohen chastised his son. "You're wasting your time with that one," he said loud enough for Cassie to hear.
"I cried—I'm a crybaby," says Cassie, who trains three hours a day, six days a week, "but I liked lifting too much to even think of quitting."
A bar belle but no dumbbell, Cassie has a 93 average in an honors curriculum at Savannah's Johnson High. Like Shannon Faulkner, who has made news as a freshman at The Citadel, formerly an all-male bastion up the coast in Charleston, S.C., Cassie has churned the gender blender by becoming the first female to infiltrate men's weightlifting. Yet, unlike Faulkner, Cassie seems oblivious to the stir she has caused.
"My only concern when Cassie took up the sport," says her mother, Shirley, "is that I didn't want her to look like a man."
Not to worry, Mrs. Clark. Cassie is every bit a charming young woman. She only lifts like a man.