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Top U.S. lifter is looking to pick up medal -- in '96 Super-heavyweight lacks experience


BARCELONA, Spain -- America's feather, Shannon Miller, has finished her Olympic work, winning four of the five U.S. gymnastics medals. And now it's time for America's battleship, Mark Henry. Henry is the 19-year-old super-heavyweight weightlifter who has slimmed down, in the past year or so, from a high of 407 pounds to a relatively svelte 360. That makes him more than five times the size of Miller, who weighs 69 pounds.

Just more evidence that the Olympics gives us the huge and the tiny, the long and the short, of everything.

"I don't mind people talking about my size," Henry said. "My size is what got me here -- along with hard work. People are going to come up to me because of my size, and ask what I do."

What Henry does is pick up enormous amounts of weight. Although he is not a medal candidate, having taken up Olympic-style lifting barely a year ago, the U.S. Weightlifting Federation is thrilled by his potential. Last year, he won one junior international tournament and finished sixth in the world junior championships.

When he was "about 12," Henry said, "we got some weights at home in Silsbee, Texas, near Houston. They come in sets of 220, so 220 is the most weight I had, so I would do lots of reps." His stepfather is a garbage man, his mother hires herself out to clean houses, and with his humble roots, Henry was discovered at a power-lifting tournament competing in cutoff jeans and old unlaced sneakers.

Like almost all boys growing up in Texas -- and certainly all large boys -- Henry played football, and it was on his junior high football team that he discovered a fondness for being able to outdo his teammates in the weight room. "I wanted to be the first football player in my junior high to squat 600 pounds," he said. And he was.

He was so naive in the ways of competitive weightlifting that, during a gym workout in ninth grade, he was asked if he was "on the juice" -- meaning steroids -- and he answered, after thinking a second, "I had orange juice with breakfast." Former weightlifter and anti-steroid advocate Terry Todd of Austin, Texas, is delighted to think that Henry is big enough and strong enough to eventually beat the best without artificial help.

"I mean, the Strongest Man in The World title is a good title," Henry said, "and this is a chance to get that. If you can be the best super-heavyweight weightlifter, you are the best weightlifter in the world. No ifs, ands or buts. This is just my first Olympics, but my goal is to be the strongest man on the planet."

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