"Look at those shorts," said 303 pound champion weightlifter Tom Stock, who stretched the blue terry sweat shorts to their full 46-inch width. "I can't believe I am that fat."
With his 19 1/2-inch neck, 20-inch biceps, 20 1/2 inch forearms and 33-inch thighs, there's a lot of him, but fat it is not. As Stock says, "I hope I've got it packed on to where it looks halfway decent." And he does.
Just the same, when he was trying on the $1,000 wardrobe donated to Stock -- as well as to 550 other would-be Olympic athletes -- by Levi Strauss, almost every section of his measurement chart had "custom" written in. Only the cowboy hat, cowboy boots and belt didn't have to be special made.
In fact, a couple of things were too big for him. Handed a size-8 hat ("That looks like a wash basket") he had to trade it for a 7 1/4, which sat solidly on his brow. The belt was exchanged for one two inches smaller. Only the silk scarf had to be scaled up to the extra-large size, "so that you can tie a pretty bow in the front," teased the woman behind a stack of scarves. cStock winced, Popeye style.
For the past 2 1/2 days, Levi Strauss has turned the grand ballroom at the Marriott Twin Bridges to a makeshift warehouse for nearly $500,000 in shirts, jeans, sweatsuits, hats, boots, belts, socks and more (including a stock of 988 cowboy hats in hatboxes). Once underway, they were dispensing the "Official Olympic" wardrobe (minus the travel suit) to the athletes at the rate of 35 an hour, or about one every two minutes.
There were enough adjustments and individualized changes to keep four seamstresses going full time. For Anne Donovan, a near-seven-foot-tall basketball player, for example, they had to sew two skirts together to get one the right length.
For a company that made its reputation by selling clothes off the rack, this was not business as usual. But for athletes like Tom Stock, custom-made clothes are a way of life. Even when he can find a size 58 on the rack, it's always too baggy. Most men have a two inch difference in measurement from chest to waist; for Stock, the difference is 10 inches.
He usually has to weigh in on a feed-sack scale -- "the only thing that can weigh me" -- on the grain farm in Bellesville, Ill., where he grew up and still lives. He says he was dragging 60 pound feed sacks at the age of 5. ("Even Dad couldn't believe it," says Stock who admits he could never do more than two or so at one time.)
He works as a sales specialist for Anheuser-Busch, teaching brewers about safe lifting, and offers similar advice to what he would tell anyone just for lifting a grocery bag: head up, back flat, legs in a flex position, feet on a line where possible. (If you look down the rest of the body will follow the head. If your back is flat you can drop anything that is too heavy and not hurt anything. Legs are bent for better leverage and feet lined up for better support. Any of the above helps, he says.)
Stock doesn't mind most jokes about his size and is game to show off his strength. But in the three-time gold-medal winner at the 1979 Pan American Games admits that sometimes it gets out of hand. "I wouldn't be human if it didn't get to me," he says. And for those who do get to him, he taunts: "Why don't you come by the gym and jerk 500 pounds off the rack?"