SAN ANTONIO -- Weightlifter Mark Henry has never met a meal he didn't like.
All of it.
"If it's dead, I'll eat it," said Henry. "If it's alive, I'll eat it, too. Jus put it in front of me and get out of the way."
His desire to become the strongest man in the world is just as big as his appetite.
"I don't want to be the second strongest man in the United States or the second strongest man in the world. They don't get much attention," said Henry. "I definitely want to be No. 1."
Henry draws plenty of attention. He's 6 feet 3 and weighs 355 pounds. He looks like he has swallowed a briefcase (64-inch chest), and his neck (22 inches) seems as thick as a steel beam. Henry has a 48-inch waist. One thigh measures 34 inches.
At the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, Henry finished 10th in the super heavyweight division.
And Mark Henry is only 22. He has spent less than three years in Olympic-style training.
"Mark needs to gain experience, but after only one or two years of weightlifting, nobody has come as far," said Dragomir Cioroslan, the U.S. National resident coach. He was sitting outside Alumni Gym yesterday, while inside Henry was preparing for tomorrow's competition in the U.S. Olympic Festival.
"He is still distracted by too many factors, but as early as next year, he will be a contender for medals at the World Championships [in November at Melbourne, Australia]," he said. "That is my promise."
Henry burst onto the national scene nearly three years ago, debuting in a U.S. Weightlifting Federation event. USWF officials were impressed, and invited Henry to a junior training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., a few weeks later.
USWF National Coaching Director Lyn Jones took one look at Henry in the weight room, and called him "the greatest natural talent he had ever seen."
USWF officials then invited Henry to Colorado Springs to train full time. Henry responded with eight junior U.S. records in 1991, and finished sixth in the junior World Championships. Last year he was third in the national senior championships and had a strong showing in the Olympics.
Last month Henry won his first national title at the USWF championships, lifting 8,483 1/4 pounds.
"I'm just another year away," said Henry. "That's it. One more year, boom, and I'll be at my fullest potential. I want to win the gold medal in 1996."
Those close to Henry know that he's sincere, and obsessed with winning an Olympic gold medal. He trains twice a day, each time for 2 1/2 hours.
"That's all he talks about, and once he sets his mind to something, he usually accomplishes it," said Barbara Mass, his mother, who will travel from nearby Silsbee, Texas, to watch her son compete tomorrow.
"When Mark was just a baby, he could drag a chair to the refrigerator, open the door and pull out a gallon of milk," said Mass. "He was always bigger than kids his own age."
Size runs in the Henry family. Older brother Pat weighs 275. Uncle Chud was over 400. Little cousin Frankie, a seventh grader, is already 6-feet tall and weighs 205.
"They call him 'Mini Mark,' " said Henry, who likes to call people "Midget." "It's in the blood."
Don't get the impression, though, that Henry is fat. His body fat content is at 18 percent. He runs a 40-yard -- in 5.1 seconds. He has a 32-inch vertical jump.
"There's a lot to being a weightlifter," said Henry, who pays a minimum of $47 for a shirt and has size 16 triple-E shoes. "People think it's all brute strength. But it takes strength, quickness, flexibility and technique. And it can cause a lot of stress."
Enough to make Henry quit sometime soon or wish he were smaller?
"Oh no," said Henry, who likes to dance and read Alex Haley novels in his spare time. "I want to win the gold for all the big people in my family. Small? Nah, I never want to be small.
"Big people usually push small people around," he said. "Why would I want to be small? I haven't been in a fight since fifth grade."