- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia Cheryl Haworth likes a joke as much as anyone. So one day she and some friends decided to play a joke on another friend. They picked up her car and moved it.
"It was a small car," she said.
Her help included an Olympic weightlifter Oscar Chaplin. But he wasn't the only Olympic weightlifter hauling the car away. For Haworth, a 17-year-old high school student from Savannah, Ga., it was just another workout.
Women's weightlifting made its Olympic debut in Sydney, and tomorrow Haworth its biggest star figuratively, literally and any other way walks up to the bar at the Sydney Exhibition Center to compete for a medal in the 75-plus kilograms (230 pounds plus unlimited) weight class.
The 5-foot-9, 300-pound Haworth captured worldwide attention this year with her size and strength, with newspaper profiles and television appearances like "Live with Regis" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." "I like the attention," she said.
She was the gold medal winner in the 2000 Pre Olympic test event, the gold medal winner at the 2000 national championships, the gold medal winner at the 2000 national junior championships, the gold medal winner at the 1999 Pan American Games … you get the idea.
She holds every senior, junior and school-age record in her weight class. She has lifted 319.5 pounds in the clean and jerk, in which competitors lift the weights in one motion over their heads. She has lifted 264.5 pounds in the snatch, a two-part exercise in which they pull the weight up to their chests, then over their heads.
She is very strong.
"Cheryl is going to revolutionize the sport," U.S. coach Michael Cohen said. "She will make history. She has the strength in her body and in her mind as well."
She was once weak, at least physically. Haworth had health problems as a young child with bouts of tonsillitis and bronchitis, but after having her tonsils and adenoids removed at age 6, she was healthier and began getting bigger and bigger.
Haworth said she never let her size disrupt her life. With athleticism in her genes her father, Bob Haworth, played football and wrestled at the University of Nebraska in the early 1960s she joined a gym in Savannah to improve her strength for softball. It was the gym where a local weightlifting club worked out, and Haworth already a local legend among her friends for her strength immediately was lifting more weight than any woman Cohen had seen at his gym.
"You knew right away that this was someone special with a chance to be better than anyone you have ever seen," said Cohen, a former U.S. weightlifter who missed the 1980 Olympics in Moscow because of the U.S. boycott of the Games.
Since then, she has become a female Paul Bunyan of sorts, with stories not just of her strength but of remarkable athletic prowess. She supposedly can do a split and run a 40-yard dash in 5.5 seconds. Also, she is purported to a near genius with a 135 IQ.
Haworth hasn't displayed any of those skills yet to reporters in Sydney. What she has displayed, though, is a sensitive, artist's soul.
During a news conference here, she drew pictures for reporters. She will be a senior this year at the Savannah Arts Academy and wants to draw for a living.
As she drew, she talked about the peace she has within herself in a society in which thin women are idealized. "God makes everyone different," she said. "I'm comfortable with myself."
Haworth's high profile has made her a role model of sorts for people who struggle with their size, and that touches her. "I got a letter from a woman who said she cried when she saw that I made the Olympics," Haworth said. "That made me feel important."
With such a high profile comes high expectations. Even though she is 17 and rather new on the international women's weightlifting scene, she will be presented as a favorite to win a medal, probably gold.
Haworth is not necessarily the world's strongest woman, though. She finished fourth at the 1999 world championships, and two of the three women who finished ahead of her Meiyuan Ding of China and Agata Wrobel of Poland are in Sydney. Haworth will have strong competition, and veteran weightlifters likely will try to play mind games with her an important part of this sport.
"No matter what happens here, if I feel I did my best, I'll be satisfied," she said. "I feel I have as good a chance as anyone."
Cohen said Haworth will perform her best on this, the biggest stage for weightlifters. She won't be intimidated.
"At the 1999 Pan Am Games, there was this woman [Maria Urrutia of Colombia] who was trying to psyche Cheryl out," Cohen said. "I walked over to Cheryl and said, 'You know what she is trying to do, don't you?' Cheryl said, 'Coach, don't worry, I'm a big girl. I can handle it.' She blew her away."

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