Women Get a Lift at the Olympic Games

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American Cheryl Haworth competes in the snatch event

Admit it, you snickered when you first heard that women would be weight lifting in these Olympics. You imagined huge hairy-chested Belarussians with no teeth who built up muscle from pushing a handheld stump-jump plough. But I have seen this sport and, reader, it is glorious. This is the kind of sport for which the Olympics were invented.

The beautiful thing about weight lifting is that it's a no-frills event. Contestant comes out. Contestant applies chalk. Contestant grabs bar. Contestant lifts bar. Contestant makes a happy grimace and drops bar. Contestant leaves stage. But it's not without drama, as the women try to psych each other out backstage by making their next lift heavier and heavier. Sort of like muscle poker. Except everybody's bluff is eventually called.

It could hardly be called glamorous. Svelte swimming star Inge DeBruijn is not going to try it. Some of the women — notably the Russians — make a valiant effort at catching the eye of, say, Nike marketing execs, with upswept hair, lipstick and mascara. One Argentinean lifter even had a tiny diamond in her nose. And some of them really are babes. Huge babes. (OK, I saw a couple of hairy armpits, but no moustaches.) But it's to no avail. The beauty is in the raw power. (See TIME's upcoming Notebook section for another reason why makeup on these ladies is beside the point.)

And ironically, even though these are definitely role models for your bigger-boned girls everywhere, weight is an issue among them. The winner of the 75-kg class, Colombia's Isabel Maria Urrutia, lifted the same amount as the silver and bronze medalists, but she was awarded the gold because she weighed less. She had lifted in a heavier class until recently when she went to Bulgaria to train. (Bulgaria must have lousy food; a lot of lifters go there to lose weight.) Urrutia won Colombia's first-ever Olympic gold medal in anything, which means she lost all that weight for the glory of her country. Maybe Jenny Craig should try an incentive like that.

I've nothing against the men's weight lifting. I know they lift more. And they have colorful nicknames like "Pocket Hercules" and cute idiosyncrasies like always wearing their lucky underpants. But there's something particularly sweet about standing next to a male colleague while America's Cheryl Haworth hoists 300 pounds plus above her head and watch him mentally calculate how many times over she could lift him. And Cheryl only took the bronze.