When 19-year-old Tony Sims started lifting weights to build his body seven years ago, little did he know he was desined to become one of America's most promising young weight lifters.
But today he is ranked as the top teen-aged lifter in the United States and 10th overall among U.S. men. Last November, at the American Junior Cup, he set an American teen-age record by lifting 359 pounds in the clean and jerk.
Sims, who weight 165 pounds, lives with his parents at Georgia Avenue and Madision Street in Upper Northwest. He is articulate and well aware of his talent.
"I want to do something that no other black has ever done," he says. "I want to win a gold medal. There have been two blacks, Jim Bradford (bronze) and John Davis (silver), who have won medals. But none has won the gold. I want to be the first and I think I can accomplish it."
He didn't have the Olympics on his mind when he began. "I started lifting with my brother about seven years ago when he was playing football," recalled Sims. "I mainly did it because I was 90 pounds at the time and I didn't want to be pushed around by the bigger guys."
When his brother went away to school, Sims continued to lift on his own. Then he heard about Bob Thompson, a D.C. fireman who was starting a weight-lifting program for neighborhood youths at Emery Playground, across from the firehouse. Sims went over "to check it out."
Sims and his buddies became so interested in Thompson's program that they began to lift and work out every day and formed a mutual admiration society. "We pull together and share everything."
Thompson, a former weight lifter himself, knew Sims was something special from the first time he saw him. "He had a certain grace that was tailor-made for the sport.
"Tony is a rare breed," said Thompson, who became Sims" coach. "He is an incredible type of athlete. With his natural quickness, coordination, balance and timing, he was born to be a weight lifter.Actually, he could have been successful in any sport with his ability."
From Sims' first year of competition it was clear he was extraordinary, and he continued to improve with every meet. He has won first place 12 times. He has been named best lifter seven times against national competition. He was selected Potomac Valley Lifter of the Year in 1978 and last year took the middleweight championship at the National Sports Festival in Colorado.
Sims' success has been achieved through hard work. His schedule is grueling. He works out three to four hours a day, five days a week, with an occasional weekend. He is also a part-time student at the University of the District of Columbia, where he is majoring in aviation maintenance. He recently resigned from Marroitt Corp., where he worked as a banquet houseman, to devote more time to his lifting.
Sims and his nine fellow team members call themselves Crusher Unlimited. Sims say they are the only black weight-lifting team in the country. The Crushers work out at Rabaut Recreation Center and travel up and down the East Coast to compete against other teams. They pool their resources to finance the trips, although Thompson puts up the majority of the money.
Sims faces a crucial schedule this spring leading up to the Olympics. He competes in the Junior National Championships in Hampton, Va., in three weeks, which will determine whether he qualifies for the Junior World Championships and the Junior Pan American Championships, to be held in Montreal in late May.
One possible obstacle to Sims' quest for the gold medal is that recently, for the first time in his short athletic career, he has been plagued with minor injuries.
The problem, Thompson thinks, is a minor injury to a vertebra. It will be helped by exercises to strengthen Sims' stomach muscles which, in turn, will help strengthen his back. Thompson feels that the injury is not severe enough to keep Sims from competing.
However, if the injury gets worse, the strong chance that the United States will pull out of the Olympics this summer could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Meanwhile, according to Thompson, Sims has become not just just a symbol of success but a motivational factor for his team, too. "Tony propelled us into the spotlight through his tremendous accomplishments. It gives the other boys something to strive for. They are motivated by something positive. oIf you've got a person who is hungry, he can achieve anything he wants.