It ain't over till the Russian bear sings

Guy Hodgson reports on weightlifting's dramatic sequence of world records
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The Independent Online
All they had to do was hang the gold around his neck. Ronny Weller was so sure he had won the right to call himself the world's strongest man he rolled around the floor with delight. Then, emulating the athlete Michael Johnson, he threw his wooden-soled shoes to the crowd. One to the left. The other to the right.

The German had just lifted 255kg, breaking the world record for the clean and jerk in the process. Gold medals have been earned for a lot less than that. Let's get on with the ceremony. Except in weightlifting, particularly in the super-heavyweight class, anyone can explode out of the warm-up room, hoist the improbable and dump a heavy load of depression on an erstwhile leader. While Weller was celebrating, the nagging thought was that one man, Andrei Chermerkin, was waiting in the wings.

The Russian world champion had no choice. To get gold he had to not only lift what Weller had just raised above his head, he had to add another 5kg to the loads on the ends of the bar. To give an idea of what was confronting Chermerkin, imagine trying to lift Steve Redgrave and hold him above your head. But Chermerkin faced much more than that. Add Matthew Pinsent, Redgrave's partner in the coxless pairs boat, and still it is not enough. Only if you put Suzy Ellis, the cox for Britain's women's eight, into the equation would you get near the burden that waited, mockingly, on the floor of the Georgia World Congress Center.

Chermerkin, a great bear of a man weighing 165kg and big enough to have a postal code, prowled round the bar before putting his shovel-sized hands at either end. With a massive heave, he grabbed the 260kg weight to his chin, then hoisted it above his head. The bar crashed to the ground, making the sound of a distant cannon, and for a moment Chermerkin was still, almost in disbelief. With a modest wave to the crowd, he hugged his coaches. Weller, meanwhile, buried his head in his hands.

"I just thought of winning," Chermerkin, 26, said. "If someone had gone higher I could have done more." As his total for the snatch and the clean and jerk was an Olympic record of 456kg (1,008lb), it would have been a brave man to argue.

Whatever you think about weightlifting - and the International Olympic Committee are so concerned about the incidence of steroid abuse that consideration is being given to its exclusion from the Games - there is no doubt it is magnificent theatre.

These boys are no shrinking violets, taking the stage with such a swagger that in comparison Eric Cantona looks as self-deprecating as Uriah Heap. They pose, they strut, they pout. Indeed, they show just about every childish trait of the playground, but at that size what the hell. "Jeans in this nightclub? In your case go ahead, sir."

The crowd loved it and no one more so than the American Mark Henry, who whipped the spectators into a frenzy before defying medical advice to complete a clean and jerk despite earlier tearing back muscles. "The doctor told me not to go out there, but I made that last lift for the team," Henry said.

Never mind, at nearly 32 stone (about 203kg) he had broken one record as the heaviest athlete in an Olympic Games and his immediate future is assured having signed a multi-million pound contract to join the World Wrestling Federation.

Henry has said he is leaving the sport because of what he claims is the rampant use of steroids, which leaves non-users like him at a disadvantage. "I think he really has a bellyful of weightlifting right now," Terry Todd, his coach, said. "I think you would, anyone would, if you hear promises of a new testing procedure levelling the playing field, and the playing field only gets less level. Why put yourself in the situation where it looks like outsiders are kicking the stuffing out of you when the truth is different."

The truth is, no one knows about weightlifting, like they do not know about most Olympic sports. All you can do is watch and hope what you are seeing is clean. And, in the case, of Chermerkin, marvel.

lHow heavy is 260kg?

The same weight as Penny, the Malaysian Tapir, at London Zoo

Tony Adams 13st 11lb

Gareth Southgate 12st 3lb

Stuart Pearce 12st 9lb