SYDNEY, Australia - They ranged in age from 16 to 43. The Brazilian wore large hoop earrings, the Italian glittery green eyeliner.
On a Sunday when men's weightlifting produced shame, there was still a celebration at the Sydney Convention Centre, where there were 12 contestants in the inaugural Olympic session for women in the sport.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, has threatened to boot weightlifting out of the Olympics if rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs continues.
Samaranch, mourning the death of his wife, was not here when news hit that the seven-member Romanian weightlifting team had been suspended after two members tested positive for banned substances. A third Romanian lifter tested positive for drugs earlier this year. Under International Weightlifting Federation rules, a country is banned from international competition for 12 months if three positive cases occur within a year.
Taking advantage of an IWF provision, the Romanian Olympic committee paid a $50,000 fine to escape the blanket suspension so that the four "clean" weightlifters - three men and one woman - could still compete. IOC officials first said there would be no reprieve, but the Romanians were reinstated. Meanwhile, the banned duo of Traian Ciharean and Andrei Mateias threatened to go on a hunger strike if they were not allowed to have further drug testing to clear their names.
The controversy was a stark contrast to the arrival of female weightlifting at the Games.
Bulgarian Izabela Dragneva took the gold in the 48-kilogram class. American Tara Nott won the silver because she weighed less than bronze medalist Raema Lisa Rumbewas of Indonesia.
Fifth-place finisher Robin Goad of the U.S. team said that the day included plenty of other winners.
"I'm glad I was here for this moment in history, competing on the same platform as the men," Goad said. "I hope some girl sees this, and thinks that she can do it too."
Goad, 30, competed in the first world championships for women in 1987. She is the only American to have won a world title, and she grew discouraged when women were still shut out of the 1996 Olympics, which unfolded not far from her home in Newman, Ga.
She took that year off to have a baby, and when the IOC added women's weightlifting for the 2000 Games, she named her daughter Sydney.
Anita DeFrantz, vice president of the IOC, said that the addition of women's weightlifting was part of the movement's demand for parity.
"It's a wonderful day," DeFrantz said. "To me, it made a lot of sense. The sport was already on the Olympic program. It has conducted a world championship for a long time. President Samaranch has made it clear that if a sport is on the Olympic program, it must have men and women competing."
As an Olympic rower, DeFrantz said she engaged in "pumping iron" decades ago, and scientific weight training has long been a must for elite female athletes, even at the high school level.
There is no telling how advanced Nott will be by 2004 in Athens. She was a Class 1 gymnast as a girl, then was a Division I soccer scholarship player for Colorado College and a member of several national teams. She was an Olympic volunteer in Atlanta when some weightlifting coaches piqued her interest in the sport.
"I dreamed this, but this isn't the way I dreamed it," Nott said, who wore a red, white and blue mouthguard. "I made the last lift in my dream."