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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Henry Is Unmasked in Competition

Weightlifting: American hope injures back and finishes 14th. Chemerkin wins duel with Weller.

July 31, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Mark Henry is big in a lot of ways.

Big as in 407 3/4 pounds.

Big as in prodigious eater.

Big as in immensely popular.

And, in Olympic super-heavyweight weightlifting competition Tuesday at the Georgia World Congress Center, Henry was big in another way.

Big as in bust.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 5,000 rose and applauded, at Henry's urging, when he stepped onto the competition stage. Thereafter, however, he gave them little more to cheer about.

After his fourth lift, a successful clean-and-jerk of 446 1/4 pounds, Henry left the floor walking uncomfortably and holding the middle of his back.

Just like that, he was gone, forced to withdraw because of a strained muscle.

So the World Wrestling Federation got its man, but he's not joining the ranks with an Olympic medal to his credit.

Not even close.

Not even an American record. Barely two good lifts. And well short of being one of the top lifters in the room.

Henry finished 14th, lifting 385 3/4 pounds, in the snatch and 446 1/4 pounds in the clean and jerk for a total of 832 pounds.

The gold medal, and title of world's strongest man, went to Andrey Chemerkin, a Russian policeman who set world records with his 573-pound clean and jerk and with his total of 1,008 1/2 pounds.

Chemerkin needed the record effort in the clean and jerk on his final attempt to hold off Ronny Weller of Germany, whose total was only 5.51 pounds less.

Weller was so sure he had earned gold with his final lift, a 562-pound clean and jerk, that he leaped in the air, waved his arms, then took off his shoes and flung them into the crowd.

His lift was a record for less than five minutes.

Chemerkin said he was prepared to hoist whatever it took to win.

"Even if he would have gotten fully undressed on stage, I would not have concerned myself," Chemerkin said through an interpreter. "I was thinking only about my next lift."

Stefan Botev of Australia won the bronze medal.

Meanwhile, Henry is contemplating his next career.

He briefly considered trying football. He said the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers contacted him.

It's just that none of those organizations were throwing around 10-year, multimillion-dollar contracts like the one Henry said he got from the WWF.

Henry leaves here for Silsbee, Texas, rich and, in his own view, a hero.

"The medals are what you are judged by as an athlete," Henry said. "The lifting I did here today judged me as a person and as a good teammate."

Henry hurt his back on his third lift, an attempt at what would have been an American record of 407 3/4 pounds in the snatch. He lifted the weight overhead, but as he started to stand, the bar slipped back behind his head.

"I had it coming up, then it started to go backward and I tried to stop it but it just kept going," Henry said. His back went with it.

Henry's first clean and jerk was 25 kilograms off his personal best, but as soon as he finished it was obvious he could not continue.

Before that attempt, Henry had been told by the U.S. team doctor to withdraw. He said he wanted to complete the attempt so he could score.

"It was more of a chance to hurt it, but the strength was there," he said. "It was just me doing the weight. I did it a lot differently than I usually do. I guess you could call it a success, but it was not a personal success. It was a success for my teammates."

Henry's WWF contract includes a clause that will allow him to compete as a lifter. He said he might make a comeback for the 2000 Games in Sydney, adding, "but there are some changes that need to be made."

Henry has been outspoken in implying that performance-enhancing drugs are being used by the top lifters in his division.

Weller left a similar impression after being asked by a reporter if Henry was correct.

"Insiders know what's going on in this sport," he said. "I would not like to comment on this subject further."

Chemerkin, who was suspended from competition in 1993 and '94 after a positive test, said weightlifters are already watched too closely.

"The doping control is too much right now," he said. "The Russian Federation pulls me out of my house for random tests. It is getting extremely ridiculous."

Both lifters were asked about their American counterpart's pursuit of a new career.

"I don't believe he can go farther in weightlifting," Weller said.

Said Chemerkin, "That is good.

"Good guy or bad?"

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS / Weightlifting

HEAVYWEIGHT

Gold: Andrey Chemerkin, Russia

Silver: Ronny Weller, Georgia

Bronze: Stefan Botev, Australia

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