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Jenny Arthur Is First U.S. Weightlifter To Qualify For Rio Olympics

By Scott Guthrie | Jan. 12, 2016, 7:10 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Weightlifter Jenny Arthur expected to see the same colored weight plates, wooden platforms and bowls of chalk she sees every day when she walked into the weightlifting gym Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Instead, she discovered friends, Olympians and United States Olympic Committee employees waiting to congratulate her. In front of a crowd of two dozen people, Arthur found out she had qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

“Is this real life?” Arthur said following the announcement. “This is my dream since I was a little girl. Is my dream really coming true?” She couldn’t help but cry.

Arthur is the first U.S. weightlifter to qualify for the 2016 Games, and will be the first athlete to represent Team USA in the 75 kg. weight class since Cara Heads-Lane in 2000, when women made their Olympic debut in the sport.

The Gainesville, Georgia, native qualified for Rio by earning the top cumulative score of any U.S. weightlifter at the 2014 and 2015 world championships, where she finished 14th and eighth. Additional weightlifters will qualify through the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Weightlifting in May.

Arthur, who started lifting at 69 kg., has been primarily lifting in the heavyweight class since 2013, and she has compiled an impressive resume.

She is a two-time national champion, an American Open champion, a junior world silver medalist and a two-time Pan American Championships silver medalist. She holds the senior and junior American records for the 75 kg. division in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total. In addition, she holds the senior and junior American records in the clean and jerk for the 69 kg. division.

Supporting her in Rio will be national team coach Zygmunt Smalcerz. Smalcerz, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist for Poland, has been coaching since 1978. In all that time, he hasn’t seen many lifters the caliber of Arthur.

“She is one of the best lifters that I have met in my coaching,” Smalcerz said. “She is getting exactly what she deserves.”

Arthur didn’t have a lot of time to celebrate after 2008 Olympic weightlifter Carissa Gump broke the news to her. She volunteers at a children’s hospital near the Olympic Training Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Before even calling her family, Arthur was headed to the hospital to honor her volunteer commitment.

“I have 10 members of my family, so I want to let everyone know almost at the same time. They’ve all played a huge role in my life, and still do,” Arthur said. “I’m just thinking of the time when my mom will be home from work and when my dad will be home all at the same time.”

Arthur began lifting in 2009, a year before she earned a youth national title, and has dreamed of making it to the Olympics for most of her life. Now that she is officially going, she is already setting lofty goals.

“I want to podium, I want to have a good experience and I want to live a good life out there (in Rio) and have a good time.” Arthur said.

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Jenny Arthur