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The big boys--an even dozen of them, mostly in the
290-to-407-pound range--did not slip in unnoticed, of course.
They sashayed across the platform, knowing they were on display,
like horses in a post parade at the racetrack. Their bellies
were a half step ahead of their feet, their thighs attached from
kneecap on up. And when the merry witnesses first glimpsed the
lifters yesterday in a basement hall of the Georgia World
Congress Center, they went berserk. The superheavyweights had
moved in for the final, and they were the perfect antidote for a
paying public that had apparently overindulged on Kerri Strug
and all the other gravity-defying athletes in these Games. The
monster trucks had arrived.

The most monstrous of them was an American, Mark Henry, an
amiable Texan with a beard and an earring and a 407-pound body,
so naturally he will soon embark on a professional "wrestling"
career. May he have a long and prosperous one. He's a
charismatic man, and the crowd roared for his successful lifts
and moaned sympathetically at his misses. The experts in this
sport say that until Henry can snatch his own body weight, he's
not going to be a factor in international heavyweight
weightlifting. Yesterday he finished 14th, behind four lifters
from the morning session. He snatched 385 3/4 pounds and jerked
446 1/4 pounds. If you wish to demean those results, you're on
your own.

The competition belonged to Ronny Weller, a German known in some
circles as the Slab, and to Andrei Chemerkin, a Russian. It was
supposed to belong to Aleksandr Kurlovich, the 34-year-old
Belarussian trying to win his third consecutive gold medal. But
Kurlovich was good snatch, no jerk yesterday, and he finished

The Slab prepared for his lifts to the curious selection of
music that filled the hall--Brahms, Elvis, Springsteen. By the
Slab's final lift, the music--or something--had moved him. Early
on, he was a stoic. By his final jerk lift, 562 pounds, he was
practically an exhibitionist. He had set a world record and
celebrated by taking off his sneakers and heaving them toward
the delirious fans. He could taste the gold.

But the Russian had last licks. When the announcer said,
"Loaders, load 260 kilograms on the bar," there was the sort of
whooping that brought to mind the audiences of the late Arsenio
Hall Show. The 260 was five more kilograms than Weller had just
heaved--573 pounds. Ouch!

He got it up, Chemerkin did, his belly shaking, his lips curled
in smile. He had set a world record and won a gold medal, too,
by coupling his record jerk with his 435 1/2-pound snatch.
Silver for the Slab. A bronze for an Australian, Stefan Botev.
The Russian anthem was played, and for a moment the festive
crowd turned earnest. They gave Chemerkin a standing ovation.
They knew, in the end, that this was no monster-truck pull. It
was the Olympics, and they had seen history.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Chemerkin set a world record of 573 pounds in the clean and jerk. [Andrei Chemerkin lifting weights]