American Beauties In the first Olympics to give a squat about women weightlifters, Tara Nott (right) won a gold medal and Cheryl Haworth a bronze for the U.S.

October 01, 2000

Last Friday at 1 p.m., some 90 minutes before her Olympic
weightlifting competition was to begin, 17-year-old Cheryl
Haworth met her mother outside the Sydney Convention Centre to
get her hair braided. "It was a quick job," Sheila Haworth said
later, "because Cheryl had someplace she needed to be." Her
daughter's 'do was done for practical reasons (otherwise her
hair tends to get in her eyes during competition), but
cosmetically it was a wise decision too. By 4 p.m., 307-pound
Cheryl, a high school senior from Savannah, had won a bronze
medal in the superheavyweight class (more than 165 pounds),
becoming a full-blown--not to mention full-figured--media darling.

In its first year as an Olympic sport, women's weightlifting,
particularly U.S. women's weightlifting, pulled up a chair and
sat down at the big table. You know a sport has arrived when it
has a new star and a drug scandal. Women's weightlifting wasted
no time on the latter qualification. Last Friday, five days after
Bulgaria's Izabela Dragneva took first in the 48-kilogram class
(105.8 pounds), she was stripped of her medal because she had
tested positive for furosemide, a diuretic known for masking
steroid use, and Tara Nott of the U.S. was elevated from silver
to gold. Nott, who was a gymnast and soccer player at Colorado
College before she began hoisting barbells, thus became the first
U.S. lifter to win gold since Chuck Vinci took the 123-pound
title in 1960.

The International Weightlifting Federation went out of its way to
make the women feel welcome in Sydney; on the first night of
competition each female competitor and fan was handed a red rose,
a gesture equal parts charming and archaic. But in some quarters
the emergence of the women and the celebrity accorded Haworth was
met with a kind of post-root-canal smile. "The lack of depth in
most of the women's weight classes is ridiculous," said one male
insider who did not want to be identified.

Well, duh. It's a new sport, so there will be more depth by the
Athens Games in 2004 and more still by '08. If the sport
continues to grow, the three world records broken in the
superheavyweight class by China's Meiyuan Ding may be obliterated
in Athens.

The quibblers were also quick to point out the margin by which
Haworth (595 pounds total in her two lifts) trailed the
20-year-old Ding (661 pounds) and 19-year-old silver medalist
Agata Wrobel of Poland (650). But Haworth could've gone perhaps
15 pounds higher in the clean and jerk, if not for the
conservative approach mandated by her coach, Michael Cohen. "USA
Weightlifting needed Cheryl on that podium," said Cohen. If
Haworth disagreed with Cohen, she gave no indication.

Indeed, after getting the good lift signal from the judges on the
320-pound clean and jerk that guaranteed her the bronze, she
flashed a smile that could've lit Sydney Harbour. Haworth has a
dignity about her, and a maturity forged from years of athletic
competition and making her way through a world that worships the
svelte. During a press conference following her medal-winning
performance someone wanted to know what kids ask her when she
visits classrooms. "They like to ask me how much I weigh,"
Haworth said in a sly tone that suggested, Is that what you
wanted to hear?

Hours after Haworth had charmed her way through the session with
a media horde that could barely tell a clean from a jerk, Nott,
11 years older and 200 pounds lighter than Haworth, smoothly
traded double entendres on a popular and snarky late-night
Australian talk show. Nott's outgoing personality and compact
gymnast's body (her two-lift total was 408 pounds) captivated the
male cohosts. It was a night that will go down in history for
American female athletes: Two women--two new and different role
models--jousting and parrying with the boys and coming out on

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN COLOR PHOTO: OLEG POPOV/REUTERS UPLIFTING For USA Weightlifting, the bronze-medal finish by its most visible athlete, the 17-year-old Haworth, was as good as gold.

You know an Olympic sport has arrived when it has a new star and
a drug scandal.