COLUMBUS, OH — Team USA is sending in the heavies. The super heavyweights, to be exact.
Sarah Robles and Holley Mangold, who both compete in the women’s 75+-kilogram weightlifting class, both lifted more than a quarter-ton overhead en route to representing the U.S. at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The two women dominated the 2012 U.S. Weightlifting Olympic Trials, held as part of the Arnold Sports Festival, a Columbus classic featuring the “Terminator” himself.
Competitors like 2008 Olympian Natalie Burgener and 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympian Katie Uhlaender, fresh off her world skeleton title, weren’t even close.
With only two women qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic weightlifting team — and 15 competing in six different weight classes — the event was a game of percentages. The two women who lifted the closest percentage to the qualifying standard in their class — described as the bronze-medal-winning total in their class in the last five years — would be named to the team.
|Sarah Robles won the women's super heavyweight snatch by lifting 114 kilos. Photo by Peggy Shinn.
The competition came down to a clean & jerk duel between Mangold, who two hours before the event weighed in at 358 pounds, and Robles, who’s 274 pounds. In her first clean & jerk, Mangold raised 140 kilos (309 pounds) to her collarbone, where the bar bounced as if it weighed nothing. Once settled, she raised the bar overhead without faltering. Robles also made 140 kilos look easy.
Robles only faltered on her second (of three) clean & jerks, finally clearing 144 kilos. Mangold then upped it to 145 — a personal record. With a higher snatch total — 114 kilos to Mangold’s 110 — Robles won the competition. But both women met their ultimate goal: making the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.
Ranked one and two in U.S. weightlifting, both women were favorites to make the team. But while Robles, 24, has a substantial international resume, with a 10th placefrom the 2011 World Championships, Mangold, 23, is a relative unknown.
Except to those in Centerville, Ohio — about an hour-and-a-half west of Columbus where Mangold grew up playing football.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, she played on the offensive line, and her high school team made it all the way to the state championships.
“I played football for 12 years,” she said. “My coach said I was strong for a girl, so I moved into power lifting, then over to weightlifting. And here I am today.”
|Holley Mangold prepares to snatch 110 kilos.Photo by Peggy Shinn.
She wasn’t the only football player in the household. Older brother Nick plays center for the New York Jets. He was in the audience cheering his sister Sunday evening.
Holley’s weightlifting career began less than four years ago — shortly after she was inspired by weightlifting at the 2008 Olympics on TV. But she was not an immediate success, and about a year into it, she injured her knee.
After surgery, Mangold began rehabbing with Mark Cannella, president and head coach at Columbus Weightlifting, which hosts The Arnold every year. Asked if he saw her potential immediately, Cannella says no, he had to break her down and look at her technique first.
“It was soon afterwards, I was like, we have something here,” he said. “From there, I knew it was going to be good.”
He just didn’t know how good. In one year, she has gone from lifting a max of 220 kilos to her PR of 255, set at the 2012 U.S. Weightlifting Olympic Trials Sunday night.
While Cannella wasn’t so sure about Mangold right away, she had faith in him almost from the start.
“I knew within a month of being with him that he was going to take me to London,” she said.
At Trials, she had 100 percent faith in him. Like most weightlifters, she was unaware of the numbers she needed to lift to make the team. Her coach and the rest of her team crunched the numbers.
“My coach puts it on the bar, and I lift it,” she said. “I had complete faith in my coaches, and I let them figure out what I needed to do. I wasn’t paying attention to anyone else, I wasn’t watching anything. I feel bad, I had to ask people [afterwards] how they did because I was in my own zone.”
A former shot putter and discus thrower, Robles credited her good performance to good health, good training, and God.
“I was pretty confident I’d make [the Olympic team],” she said. “I felt like God really had his blessing on this whole journey.”
She also thanked her town, family, and coach — “everybody put forth such a great effort to get me to this point.”
But both women will now have to put forth a great effort to medal in London.
Robles’ total of 258, while a PR, is 70 kilos (154 pounds) less than Lulu Zhou’s gold-medal-winning performance at the 2011 World Championships — and 15 kilos (33 lbs) out of third.
“Training, training, training,” said Robles, when asked what she has to do between now and the 2012 Olympics. “We have to build up my confidence and work our way into lifting weights that we’ll hopefully medal with.”
For Mangold, making the Olympic team means she now the real work begins.
“I’d really like to hit over 270 total,” she said (which would put her in bronze-medal range). “That’s reaching but I will work very hard to make that happen.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject
to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing