Hamman's lifts trail top in world by more than 100 lbs.

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Shane Hamman can dead lift more weight
than any Olympic athlete in America. Imagine being able to hoist
the back end of a Ford Focus or a Dodge Neon above one's head, and
you get the idea.

While he has become something of a celebrity in a sport in which
few Americans can name a single participant -- he regularly makes TV
appearances and expects to hit Letterman and Leno before the
Olympics -- Hamman's biggest athletic challenge will come in the
next three months.

During a time span that, for weightlifters, is a relative blink
of the eye, Hamman must increase his lifting significantly if he is
to medal in Athens. His two-lift total of 903¾ pounds during
Saturday's U.S. Olympic trials sounds exceptional, but is far below
the 1,041½ pounds hoisted by gold medalist Hossein Rezazadeh of
Iran during the 2000 Olympics.

Rezazadeh, perhaps the best-known athlete in his country, has
since had combined lifts of 1,047 pounds in competition, and is
talking about raising even more weight in Athens.

In a sport in which even minimal increases in performance
require months of exhausting training, Hamman seemingly has an
insurmountable gap to close to substantially improve upon his 10th
place finish in Sydney.

Hamman is convinced he can do it, even though these next 90 days
already looked jammed with numerous media appearances, commercial
endorsements and dealing with the prerequisite attention that is
splashed upon Olympic athletes once every four years.

"That's what's going to be determined in my next three months
of training, if I'm able to close that gap or not," said Hamman,
of Mustang, Okla. "I think I do have the ability to be in medals;
honestly, I do believe I'm there. If I can through these next three
months and train as hard as I want to and not get any injuries,
it's definitely a great possibility.

"That's exactly what I'm expecting to do. I'm not looking at
finishing fifth or something, it's going to be all or nothing for
me at this one. I'm going to load up the weight, and I'm going to
try it," he said.

For all his infectious enthusiasm and optimism, Hamman
understands the challenge ahead. No American super heavyweight has
won a weightlifting medal since Mario Martinez took a silver in the
Russian-boycotted Los Angeles games of 1984.

Nevertheless, Haworth's female counterpart, 2000 bronze medalist
Cheryl Haworth said, "They're all scared of him," a reference to
the rest of the men's field.

"I'm going to be adding a lot of kilos to my total," Hamman
said. "I have numbers in my mind but it's all going to come down
to what I need (to medal). That's what I'm training for."

Hamman will be joined on the U.S. men's team by 185-pounder
Oscar Chaplin III, also a 2000 Olympian, and 170-pound newcomer
Chad Vaughn, who held off hometown favorite Pete Kelley of St.
Joseph for the third and final spot.

Hamman, Chaplin and Vaughn began the trials ranked 1-2-3 based
on past performance and weren't bumped, even though Chaplin managed
to complete only one of four lifts on achy knees. Kelley, who was
No. 4, looked ready to bump Vaughn when he set a U.S. weight-class
record in the snatch. But Kelley, a 1996 Olympian, apparently tore
a hamstring on his first attempt in the clean and jerk and could
not complete any more lifts.

The only U.S. weightlifting medalists in Sydney, Tara Cunningham
(gold) and Haworth, will form a downsized two-woman team after
easily holding off all challengers Saturday. The United States lost
two of the four women's slots it had in Sydney because of a low
finish in last year's world championships, when Haworth -- who
usually supplies 40 percent of the U.S. scoring -- was injured and
could not compete.