ATHENS, Greece -- You know it's not a mainstream sporting event when Poland has the largest and loudest group of fans.
The Olympic weightlifting arena was virtually empty for Saturday's women's heavyweight final, with officials and media nearly outnumbering fans. There were only the fewest of U.S. supporters to cheer on American Cheryl Haworth, who was forced to compete with a painful elbow injury.
But those Poles were out in force, cheering loudly and waving flags for
their beloved Agata Wrobel.
Wrobel, who looks a little like she should be an East German
masseuse/double-agent in an old James Bond movie, is every teenage boy's worst nightmare. She weighs 256 pounds. She can lift 353 pounds over her head. She has shocking pink hair and hoop earrings large enough for dolphins to leap through. And the Poles love her.
"A-Ga-Ta! A-Ga-Ta!'' they chanted so long and loudly whenever it was her time to lift that Wrobel had to hold up a hand to silence them.
Wrobel didn't disappoint, winning the bronze medal with a combined lift of 290 kilograms (640 pounds) in the snatch and the clean and jerk.
The gold, however, went to China's Gonghong Tang, who needed to break her own world records to win the event. With Korea's Jang Mi-ran leading heading into the final attempt of the day, Tang had to raise 402 pounds in the clean and jerk -- nearly 17 pounds more than her world record. She did so in a climactic end to finish with a combined weight of 672 pounds, surpassing her record of 667 pounds.
It was a disappointing day, however, for Haworth. She won the bronze medal at age 17 in the 2000 Olympics but she finished sixth Saturday with a total lift of 617 pounds. She missed half the 2003 season recovering from ligament surgery on her left elbow and then injured her right elbow Saturday. She lifted 275 pounds with her first attempt in the snatch and hoped to go as high as 298, but heard a popping sound in the elbow and decided it was best to skip the final two attempts and not risk further injury.
Despite considerable pain, she came back in the clean and jerk, and though she completed all three lifts (topping out at 342 pounds), was clearly straining throughout. She underwent an MRI after the competition. Results were not immediately available.
Haworth, a delightful woman studying at the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design, is very comfortable with her size but the question is whether others can be comfortable enough as well in a world that prefers its women athletes to wear short skirts, tight bikinis or nothing at all.
Weightlifting in general is not exactly the world's most popular sport. Can women's weightlifting ever overcome biases toward body types to draw more than a handful of fans at even the Olympic level?
Probably not. These women will never make the cover of Vogue magazine.
That's Vogue's problem.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.