It made sense that the weightlifting venue at the U.S. Olympic Festival last week was San Antonio's Lila Cockrell Theatre. The strongest man at the festival was also its biggest ham.
Mark Henry wears size 16EEE shoes, a size 62 jacket and the mantle of goodwill ambassador for his sport, a title the 6'3", 365-pound superheavyweight bestowed upon himself. Anybody have a problem with that?
The 22-year-old Texan saw his mission in San Antonio as making the festival fun. On his first day in town he arm-wrestled USOC executive director Harvey Schiller. After missing a half-court shot during halftime of the men's gold medal basketball game—he left it well short—he immediately and melodramatically clutched his lower back. The crowd roared. Unlike his fellow lifters, a band of rippling stoics, Henry celebrated successful lifts by firing, and then bolstering, an imaginary six-shooter. After easily winning his division, he took care not to step on the children who flocked to him like birds to St. Francis of Assisi.
He is always entertaining, though he doesn't always entertain intentionally. Every Henry lift is an adventure. "Remember, Mark has been lifting seriously for less than three years," says Dragomir Cioroslan, who coaches Henry. After just nine months under Cioroslan's tutelage at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Henry placed 10th at Barcelona. In his first year of competing, he broke and rebroke the three junior (20-and-under) American records 12 times and surpassed 36-year-old Mario Martinez as this country's top superheavy. Says Cioroslan, who won a bronze medal for Romania at the '84 Olympics, "I lifted for 16 years, I've coached for nine and I've never seen anyone with Mark's raw talent."
With San Antonio just 270 miles from his hometown of Silsbee, Texas, Henry was the most-recognized athlete at the festival. No matter where he competes, however, children gravitate to him. "They know I'm one of 'em," he says. "I'm the biggest kid of 'em all." At times Cioroslan wishes Henry would be a little less childlike. "He likes to talk, he likes to share," says the coach. "He wants to play golf and dunk basketballs." To his chagrin, Henry—who, astonishingly, can jam—participated in a recent Footlocker Slamfest in Phoenix. "To continue with his progress," says Cioroslan, "he must be careful about interfering with his lifting program."
Two years ago Henry's best total in competition was 300 kilos (661� pounds). Today it is 385 (848� pounds). Cioroslan figures Henry will need to add 40 kilos (88 pounds) to his total if he is to win a medal in Atlanta in '96. "After adding 85 kilos in two years, I think he can give me another 40 over four years," says the coach. "In fact, I think he can do it in one year."
Henry's last lift in San Antonio was his best. With 205 kilos (451� pounds) over his head, he heard the buzzer, freeing him to drop the weight. Instead, Henry stood before the cheering crowd, holding the bar aloft as if to say, I could keep this here all night. Finally, after four or five seconds, the referee ordered him to drop it.
Cioroslan could only smile at his pupil's audacity. "We are very fortunate to have Mark," he said. "He makes our sport a show."