Ask Christie Green why she is an Olympic-style weightlifter and a fleeting look of panic will appear in her eyes. Then she will giggle and look at her father. Ask her anything about her sport and she will look at her father. Luckily for Christie, her father is only too happy to answer any and all questions pertaining to his daughter and her weightlifting.
"She started training when she was eight years old," says Ben Green. "I started her on the squats, and when she was 11, she was doing the whole lift. It takes time to be an Olympic weightlifter."
After six years of training, Christie is the second-ranked female in the U.S., behind Robin Byrd, 19, in the 115-pound class. At the women's national championships last April in Houston, where she was the youngest competitor by six years, Christie snatched 115 pounds and hoisted 143 in the clean and jerk to finish second to Byrd. Her compact (5'8", 190 pounds), muscled father is still her coach and biggest booster. "I've tried not to push her," he says, "but I guess I have."
Ben is the recreation director for the parks department of Coweta County, Ga., and a weightlifting nut. Four years ago in the 198-pound class he won a World Masters title in the 40-44 age group.
Ben's wife, Sandra, and their other daughter, Leigh, 18, showed no enthusiasm for weightlifting, so when Christie looked at age eight as though she was going to be too big to go much further in gymnastics, Ben seized the chance to get her to start lifting. Christie trains in her father's "gym"—a one-car garage in the backyard that has never sheltered a vehicle. The building is filled with barbells and weights, and though the Greens' house is not air-conditioned, the gym is. "He told me he was building it for storage," says Sandra with a sigh.
When Christie is preparing for competition, she lifts two hours a day, four or five days a week. During these sessions, out of kindness to her coach, she endures his country-music radio station. Christie would rather listen to—what else—heavy metal. When she's not in her ninth-grade classes at Newnan (Ga.) high school or in the backyard gym, she likes to lie on her water bed, talk on the phone with her best friend. Shelly, and listen to Metallica tapes.
Christie is 5½ feet tall, and unless she's lifting, her muscles aren't especially noticeable. She looks like any normal teenager, and her room, decorated with posters of rock stars, looks like any 14-year-old girl's room. That is, until you see the seven weightlifting trophies in a corner. Most of them are topped with statuettes that resemble Mr. Clean.
The trophies help explain why such a young girl can be so successful in this sport. There are no standard-issue weightlifting trophies with statuettes of women because few females lift weights competitively. "It's not a glamour sport," says Ben, "when you're straining under the weight and your eyes are bulging." While the U.S. has fewer than 175 female Olympic-style weightlifters, an estimated one million Chinese women lift weights, and the Chinese have world-record holders in all of the nine weight classes. (In each of these there are three record holders.) Other Asian countries have also produced top female lifters, and Ben hopes that these countries and China will continue their efforts to make women's weightlifting an exhibition sport in the Olympics.
How much longer will Christie stay in weightlifting? She looks at her dad, but this time he keeps quiet. "Forever?" she says. "I mean, I guess...."
Ben, unable to stand it any longer, speaks up. "I don't want to answer for her," he says, "but if Christie shows one thing, it's that you can excel at weightlifting at a very young age and keep going."
Ben has helped Christie to excel in a sport that not many U.S. women pick up.