Digg this.Sarah Robles, Alex Lee on road to becoming first Arizona Olympic weightlifters
by Jeff Metcalfe - Sept. 11, 2010 07:40 PM
The Arizona Republic
Weightlifting has been an Olympic event since 1920, and Arizona finally is producing Olympic-caliber lifters.
Training at a utilitarian gym in a Mesa warehouse, Sarah Robles and Alex Lee are not only going to the World Weightlifting Championships (Friday-Sept. 26 in Antalya, Turkey), they are pushing for hard-to-earn berths at the 2012 London Olympics.
Robles, top-ranked among American women in all weight classes, has supplanted three-time Olympian Cheryl Haworth as the "strongest woman in America," as her coach, Joe Micela, put it. She is aiming for a top-seven finish at Worlds with a lifting total close to 260 kilograms (572 pounds) that would be second-best in U.S. history behind Haworth's 287 (631.4) at the 2005 Pan American Games.
Lee, making his major international debut, is No. 1 nationally in the 62kg and 69kg weight classes and No. 8 overall among U.S. men. That puts him in the mix for London, although the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro could be more realistic because Olympic berths are filled based on best overall lifters and not one person per division.
Performances by the top six men and top four women at Worlds this year and next year will determine Olympic slots per country.
"He basically has to be the all-time best in his weight class to make this (2012) Olympic team," said Micela, who coaches Lee and Robles at Performance One Advanced Sports Training and will be the U.S. team leader at Worlds. "It's a lot to ask, but because he is still so light in his weight class, he has room to grow."
Lee hopes to compete at 69kg in Turkey but was competing at the lighter weight in early July when he won gold and set two American college records at the World University Games.
"It's just about getting that experience right now," said Lee, 21, a Gilbert High grad who is taking this semester off from Arizona State. "Hopefully by the next couple of years I'll be in that position where I can medal."
Robles, 22, is from California and was redshirting in track at Arizona State in 2008 when she decided that weightlifting was a more-realistic path to the Olympics.
But that meant giving up a scholarship and transferring to Northern Michigan, where she could live and train with financial support through the U.S. Olympic Education Center. She then moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Robles almost immediately excelled at super heavyweight (75kg plus), winning national championships in 2009 and 2010, finishing 11th at the '09 Worlds and taking a silver medal at the '10 Pan American Championships.
She returned to Arizona in July seeking coaching stability with Micela and said she believes staying here to train toward London probably is the best plan.
"I don't want to jeopardize the success I'm having with another change, another move, another coach," she said. "Each competition we're going to is even more important than the last. There's more pressure, more gravity, more everything. I don't really want to shake things up."
Arizonan Gea Johnson, between competing in heptathlon and bobsled, had some weightlifting success in the late 1990s. But one of her major surgeries, for a nerve problem in her foot, ended Johnson's quest to be among the first Olympic women's weightlifters in 2000.
Robles embraces the idea of "Olympians coming out of our little old Gilbert, Arizona" especially because she is up against the legacy of Haworth, who won an Olympic bronze in 2000 and if healthy still could make a run at a fourth Olympics.
"Sometimes it's hard to feel like you're being a trail blazer because you're doing the same thing other people have done," Robles said. "Being in a place where nobody else has done something, now we have a chance to be the trail blazers, then other people can look up to us and strive for higher things."