Robin Byrd Goad was five months into retirement -- not to mention five months pregnant -- when she learned that women's weightlifting had been added to the competition schedule at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
So Goad did what any longtime athlete, eager for a chance to finally compete in the Olympics, would do: She gave birth to a daughter and named her Sydney, and was back in the gym six weeks later.
On Wednesday at the Pan American Games, Goad won the gold medal in the 53 kg (117 pounds) weight class, with 2-year-old Sydney in the audience. Goad, 29, set a U.S. record in the snatch (187.5 pounds) as she posted a total of 413 pounds. This is the first year that women's weightlifting has been part of the Pan Am Games.
"I'm so proud to be here, and to see women's weightlifting part of these Games," said Goad, who started weightlifting when she was 12 years old. "We were always having to justify what we did before. Now that it's a Pan Am and Olympic sport, I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore."
The rules of women's weightlifting are similar to the more established men's sport, except that there are seven weight classes for women and eight for men. There are 50 women and 65 men entered here.
Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts: the snatch (lifting the weight from the platform over the head in one continuous motion) and the clean and jerk (lifting the weight from the platform to the shoulders and then over the head). Each athlete is allowed three attempts on each lift, and the sum of the athlete's best snatch and best clean and jerk is the total.
Seven U.S. women are competing in five different weight classes here. So far, they have been very successful -- in addition to Goad, Tara Nott won a gold medal on Tuesday in the 48 kg (106 pounds) class (a total of 391 pounds) -- setting four U.S. records, and today, Lea Foreman took the gold in the 69 kg (152 pounds) class (a total of 474 pounds).
Goad began weightlifting in 1982 at the suggestion of her gymnastics coach, who wanted her to develop more strength. She gave up gymnastics four years later, when she turned 16, and focused on lifting. Goad, who lives in Newnan, Ga., has been on the national team since its formation in 1987.
"When I first started lifting, most of the women involved were athletes who had finished careers in collegiate track and field or whatnot," Goad said. "They were looking for other ways to stay fit and competitive. I was very young compared to the others, and the sport was still perceived somewhat as manly. Not anymore.
"Now you see very young girls going to nationals and competing," Goad said. "The depth has also increased. When I started, there were maybe one or two superstars in a class. Now there are four or five. In general, I think the U.S. has come to appreciate women in sports, and that goes for weightlifting too."
Goad's teammates have varied backgrounds -- Nott, for instance, is a former Class 1 gymnast and member of the under-16 and under-19 women's soccer national teams -- and appearances.
Goad is 5-1 and 116 pounds, with muscular thighs. Nott, 27, is petite, 5-1 and 105 pounds. Cheryl Haworth is 5-10 and 290 pounds.
"I asked someone the other day in the village to take a look at Robin and Melanie [Kosoff-Roach, who is 5-1 and competes in the 58 kg (128 pounds) class] and guess what sport they did," Haworth said. "Robin and Melanie could be mistaken for gymnasts, but if you look at me, you can tell I'm a weightlifter. Khadijah [Hunter, who is 5-7 and in the 69 kg (152 pounds) class] looks like a basketball player. We're all different shapes and sizes."
Haworth, the youngest member of the team at age 16, represents the future of women's weightlifting. A junior at the Savannah (Ga.) Arts Academy, she competes in the super heavyweight class (75-plus kg; 165-plus pounds) and already holds 35 U.S. records.
Haworth started lifting in 1996 at the suggestion of her softball coach. Soon after, she gave up softball to devote full attention to lifting. She trains every day after school.
"The one question I usually get is, `How much do you bench press?' " Haworth said. "In Olympic-style weightlifting, there's no bench press. I bench press maybe once a year, so I don't know how much I can do. But the bench press is very popular with other athletes, so I guess that's why they want to know."
For the record, Haworth's personal best in the snatch is 254 pounds. In the clean and jerk, her best is 303 pounds. She competes on Saturday.
"It used to be that you didn't allow females in the gym," said Mike Cohen, the women's national team coach. "Now, with someone like Cheryl, it's the football players who don't want to go into the gym because a 16-year-old is doing more than they are. Our biggest problem now is telling the offensive linemen that it's okay for a younger girl to lift more than them."
Notes: With a goal in each half, the United States overcame a driving rain and a hostile crowd and Canada to win, 2-1, and take the bronze medal in men's soccer.