It's not the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics, which she will march in as a member of the United States women's weightlifting team. It's not a faraway reunion with her parents and sister, who will fly from Southern California to Sydney. It's not even stepping onto the lifting platform at the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour and competing in the women's 75kg class on Oct. 20, because Heads-Lane has visualized that act so thoroughly already that the experience might not seem entirely new.
But, whenever her mind moves forward to the Olympic competition, she keeps coming back to a certain feeling, a familiar confidence she says has foreshadowed every significant advancement she has made in her sport.
"It's about time, really, to make that great stride,'' says Heads-Lane, who will lift Oct. 20 in Sydney, which will be late Oct. 19 in Savannah. "Usually, I hold, I hold, I hold, and then I just smash my record. And I'm just right on track to do that again.''
She has been aboard that track for more than four years now, since she left Costa Mesa, Cal., for Savannah to transform weightlifting from a fruitful hobby into fulltime endeavor.
A sophomore at the University of California at Berkley in January, 1997, Heads-Lane had first picked up weights to train for throwing the discuss and shot put and to rehabilitate a back injury, when she found she had a natural skill for lifting heavy things over her head. With her only instruction coming from the UC Berkley football team's strength and conditioning coach, Heads-Lane went to the 1995 U.S. Junior Championships and won the gold as a 17-year old.
She then won the event the next two years, in addition to the 1997 NACACI Championships and the attention of the country's most prominent women's weightlifting coach.
"Cara is a tremendous athlete,'' said Team Savannah founder Michael Cohen, who convinced Heads-Lane to move 2,000 miles from home and concentrate on qualifying for the Sydney Olympics, the first to include women's weightlifting. "She has the heart of a lion. You've got to have that heart that allows you to go out and give it everything you've got and allows you to do things you perhaps don't really believe you can do and push you to a level most athletes will never obtain. She can do that.''
And she has been doing it since joining Team Savannah, taking three bronze medals in the 1997 Junior World Championships and winning the Junior Nationals later in the year. She was fourth in Women's World Championships in 1998, the highest finish by an American women outside of teammate Cheryl Haworth.
And, as her strength has built, so has her conviction that something big is going to happen in Sydney.
She has felt this way before.
Leading into the Junior Worlds three years ago, her training progressed along a similar plane, feeling increasingly stronger and more confident as the meet neared. Then she went out and set new personal best in both the snatch and clean and jerk and won three bronze medals in an event Cohen call her coming out party.
Besides, such telepathy is not uncommon among the Heads women.
"Her mother is the same way,'' says Larry Heads, Cara's father. "My wife has the vision that it's going to happen. She has the belief.''
And they have seen unbelievable things before from their daughters.
Both were prom queens, one graduated Stanford and the other was in Berkley when the Olympic calling came. Both were exceptional athletes, Gina a track star and Cara the point guard on a state-playoff basketball team. And, according to their father, they both had a competitive bent at a young age.
"The first time I remember thinking there was something special was when they went to a Girl Scout-a-rama when they were about six or seven,'' says Heads. "There were three or four hundred girls there and they both won their divisions. I told my wife, this is kind of unusual.
"I learned about sports by watching them. And I've learned from Cara's weightlifting how mental sports really are. She's very strong no doubt, but she made the Olympic team because of here ability to focus and control her emotions and have faith in what she can do.''
So, Heads is sharp enough to have figured out that her latest athletic challenge will be her toughest.
The women's 75k is perhaps the most tightly competitive class in Olympic weightlifting. There are as many as 10 contenders, including Heads-Lane, for three medals.
"One lift made or missed could mean the difference between a bronze medal or a 10th-place finish,'' says Cohen.
But for Heads-Lane to chase a spot on the medal stand, she will need a strong meet.
She has lifted well in preparation during the U.S. team's two-week stay in Canberra, Australia prior to the Olympics and says her strength has been climbing for five weeks. She says she feels improvement and expects more.
Her opening attempt in both the snatch and clean and jerk will be with the American-record totals she currently holds, and she'll attempt to improve from there, trying to keep up with the crowded field.
"I intend to medal and I believe I can,'' says Heads-Lane, whose session will begin at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 20 in Australia, which will be 11:30 p.m. Sept. 19 in Savannah. "Everything is going to be awesome and the competition part of it I just feel is going to be on. The adrenaline is going to be going and the whole reason for training is to do well at the Olympic Games.
"I don't think there will be any pressure. I think it will just be what it's supposed to be. I expect to feel confident, I expect to be ready and I expect everything to fall into place.''
Sounds like quite a feeling.
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