The strongest man in the United States is ready to have some fun.
After placing ninth at the World Weightlifting Championships in
Vancouver last Saturday, Shane Hamman, America's best hope for an
Olympic medal in men's weightlifting, can do all the things he
isn't supposed to do during the season for fear of injury. First,
he plans to head for the gym to dunk a few basketballs. (His
coaches swear he can dunk.) Next he'll do a few standing
backflips. Then the 31-year-old Hamman will do something that
just about floors the other athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training
Center in Colorado Springs, where he lives. From a standing
position, he'll jump up on a four-foot-high stand and then back
down, ascending with the spring of a high jumper and landing with
the grace of a gymnast. It isn't the type of thing you normally
see from a 5'9", 350-pound superheavyweight, but then Hamman is
no ordinary lifter.
He didn't begin competing in Olympic-style lifting until he was
24. As a powerlifter Hamman hoisted a world-record 1,008 pounds
in the squat in 1996. The squat requires a competitor to take
hold of a barbell behind the neck while standing up, then squat
and return to a standing position without dropping the weight or
lifting it above the head. In Olympic weightlifting events, by
contrast, a competitor must always raise the weight over the
head, either in one uninterrupted motion from the floor (the
snatch lift) or by hoisting the bar from the ground to the
shoulders and then overhead (clean and jerk).
The transition from powerlifting to weightlifting sounds logical,
but the techniques required for the two are as different as those
used by placekickers and punters. "I have never seen or heard of
anyone from any country do what Shane has done," says Dragomir
Cioroslan, a bronze medalist at the 1984 Olympics for his native
Romania and Hamman's coach. "Powerlifting movements are short.
The athletes have brute strength, but by definition, they are too
stiff, slow and inflexible for the burst and technique required
for Olympic lifting. Not Shane."
Hamman developed a love of lifting heavy objects while working at
his family's fruit market in Oklahoma City. After school and on
weekends he would load cantaloupe, watermelon and pumpkins into a
trailer. Soon he got so fast, farmers would gather to watch him.
When he began entering powerlifting events six years later, he
became known as the dive-bomb squatter for his uncommon
quickness. But after Hamman watched the weightlifting competition
at the 1996 Olympics on TV, he decided to give it a try. "Being
on stage by yourself with nobody spotting you, that fired me up,"
A year later Hamman won his first of seven straight U.S. titles.
After six years and one Olympic berth--he placed 10th in
Sydney--Hamman now holds U.S. records in the snatch (435 pounds),
clean and jerk (517) and total weight (940.5). He won gold at the
Pan Am Games in 1999 and placed fifth, missing a medal by one
increment (5.5 pounds), at the 2002 worlds. "If Shane had started
at 13," says Cioroslan, "he'd be a world champion by now.
Everybody in America would [know about him]."
Many already do. Before the Sydney Games, Hamman lifted Jay Leno
over his head on The Tonight Show and later did the same to Regis
Philbin and Kelly Ripa on their morning show. This year he
appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Discovery Channel
documentary called The Science of Superhuman Strength. Over the
coming months he'll be featured on an Olympic reality show called
The Cut, which will profile athletes' bids to make the U.S.
No U.S. superheavyweight has won an Olympic medal since Mario
Martinez's silver in 1984. If Hamman makes it to the podium in
Athens, you may see him parachuting onto the training grounds in
The dive-bomber needs a new trick.
COLOR PHOTO: TODD KOROL STRONGMAN The 350-pound Hamman, who's 31, has won seven consecutive U.S. titles and holds three American records.
America's Best Hopes
With its performance at the World Weightlifting Championships in
Vancouver, the U.S. earned five (of a possible 10) slots--three
men's and two women's--for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Here are
the five lifters most likely to make the team that will be chosen
at the trials in St. Joseph, Mo., next May.
NAME AGE HOMETOWN WEIGHT CLASS
Shane Hamman 31 Mustang, Okla. 231+ pounds
Peter Kelley 29 St. Joseph, Mo. 231 pounds
Oscar Chaplin 23 Savannah 187 pounds
Cheryl Haworth 20 Savannah 150+ pounds
Tara Nott Cunningham 31 Stilwell, Kans. 96 pounds