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Shelley Smith
July 15, 1991
Weightlifter Mark Henry is a prodigious prodigy
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July 15, 1991

Heavy Duty

Weightlifter Mark Henry is a prodigious prodigy

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The beat of the music is heavy, the lights are flashing, and 19-year-old Mark Henry is working the dance floor in a large way. At 6'3", 370 pounds, everything Henry does, he does in a large way. "Here we go, here we go, here we go," the rap singer chants, and off goes Henry, surprisingly light on his feet. Henry is jamming M.C. Hammer-style, and when he suddenly twirls and jumps, a gasp rushes through a crowd of onlookers in the lounge at the Holiday Inn in Minneapolis, where Henry is relaxing a few hours after competing in the U.S. National Weightlifting Championships. Superheavyweight division, of course.

"Dancing," Henry says, sweat starting to pour down his face. "Girls like that."

With Henry there is a lot to like, more than just his sumo-wrestler size and dance-floor prowess. After only eight months of supervised training in Olympic-style weightlifting, Henry broke four national junior records, then he placed fourth at the U.S. Nationals in April and finished sixth at the Junior World Championships in Germany in May. His rapid progress from Texas high school power-lifting champion to Olympic hopeful has been so stunning that many established weightlifters and lifting experts say Henry could be a contender for a medal at the 1992 Games in Barcelona and should be gold medal material by the 1996 Games in Atlanta. That no American has won the Olympic superheavyweight class (over 242½ pounds) since Paul Anderson in 1956 makes Henry's potential even more noteworthy.

"He may be the strongest man in the world right now," says U.S. national coaching director Lyn Jones, who is well aware that Henry is still developing his skills. "He is the greatest natural talent I have ever seen."

Henry wants it understood that he comes by his extraordinary strength naturally. "I hate drugs." he says. "I drank a beer once and threw up. We broke my mom's cigarettes every day until she quit. I didn't even know what steroids were until two years ago, and I'll take a test every day if someone wants me to. I can't wait until they start the really refined tests, because everybody thinks I'm on some kind of drugs."

Jones is among the coaches who are convinced that Henry is clean. They were further assured by a second opinion four months ago when Henry accidentally dropped a 352-pound weight on his foot and suffered only a bruise. The doctor who examined the X-rays of the foot was dumbstruck by the thickness of Henry's bones and the density of his muscles.

His body fat has been measured at 22%, which means if you took all the fat off him, he would still weigh 289 pounds. Henry bench-presses 542 pounds, squats 895, runs 40 yards in 5.2 seconds, dunks a basketball, can sink into a split and can belt out a Baptist hymn in a voice so sweet that you would swear some diminutive tenor is hiding behind him. "Singing," Henry says. "Girls like that, too."

Everyone in Silsbee, Texas (pop. 6,368), expected Henry to be like his older brother, Pat, a star on the football field and in the classroom. At 6'1", 261 pounds, Pat was a third-team all-state nosetackle and an honors student in his senior year at Silsbee High. He signed with Texas A&M, where, in September, he will be a junior starter and will continue work on a double major, in speech communications and accounting, with designs on playing pro football and starting his own telecommunications or advertising firm.

"Patrick was very good in athletics and very, very smart," says the boys' mother, Barbara Mass. "Mark was bigger, but slower in everything. He could take apart a radio and fix it and amaze us with the work he did on electronic things."

Mark's size, Barbara figures, came from her mother's side. Her uncle Chud stood 6'7" and weighed more than 300 pounds when he died. Mark's father, Ernest, who was divorced from Barbara when the boys were small and died of complications from diabetes when Mark was 12, was 5'10", 225 pounds. Barbara is 5'4" and 187 pounds. "You could tell Mark had unusually big body structure when he was a little boy," she says. "He was born three weeks early [at a modest seven pounds, one ounce] but made up for lost time."

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