Oscar Chaplin III is looking at the Olympics as just another competition.

Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2000

By now, athletes all over Sydney are talking about lifetime moments, eagerly admitting that their impending competition in Australia will be the biggest one of their careers.

Some of them will even say the building excitement has kept them from sleeping or that each day the event gets closer they get increasingly anxious.

Not Oscar Chaplin III, who on the eve of the 2000 Summer Olympics is sounding as reserved as a college football coach the day before a conference game.

"I don't think this is going to be different than any other competition,'' says Chaplin, who will compete in the 77k class of the 2000 Olympics Sept. 22. "I'm going to look at it the same and just try to do my best.''

A little longer, and he would have praised the bar as a tough opponent with great history and tradition.

Chaplin's understated perspective is rare for the Olympics, which are about as modest as a nudist colony. But it is more real than the trumpeting that precedes every Olympiad and the result of the same qualities that earned the Savannah native a spot on America's weightlifting team in Sydney: experience and practicality.

"It comes from lifting weights for 11 years and from participating in a lot of big events,'' said Chaplin, who was one the first members of Team Savannah, joining Michael Cohen when the club was a handful of Jenkins High students working out daily in the school's tiny gym. "I've been around a lot longer than most of the other athletes, so I'm used to competitions.

"I've never really been over-stressed in competition. I just find when you have too much pressure on you, it makes it harder.''

Besides, expected results often affect an athlete's outlook. And, in reality, Chaplin does not expect much from these Olympics.

He will lift in his weight class' B Group, eight hours before the medal favorites and even if he were to break his American records in both disciplines, he would still finish well behind the contenders. A career best total of 340k leaves Chaplin 20k behind 12 lifters in the 77k class, dismissing medal hopes and tempering what he hopes to achieve in Sydney.

"I think to come to the Olympics and place in the top 10 would be a good goal for Oscar,'' says U.S. men's national team coach Dragomir Ciorslan. "That's the best we can hope for at this time.

"Oscar is training well and his shape is coming right on target. I'm positive he's going to give it his best shot at a personal best.''

Then, after the Olympics, Chaplin can pursue his own best interests.

This has been a successful year for Chaplin. He won the Junior and Senior U.S. Weightlifting Championships, increasing his total by 10 kilograms during the tk between the events. But it has also been a year of losing.

Having just about outgrown the 77k class, but needing to remain in it to earn a spot in Sydney, he has had to lose six pounds for five different competitions, including the Olympics.

"That's a total of 30 pounds of body weight cut this year,'' said Ciorslan. "That has impacted his strength and his performance.''

It has also eliminated any weight on him to be the lifter who fulfills USA Weightlifting's demand that America win at least one medal in Sydney.

"I just want to get this competition over with and go up in weight class. I know I should have gone up a long time ago,'' said Chaplin, whose personal best total is 50k behind the world record in the 85k class, but would have a better chance to increase his lifts with more body weight. "That will give me a better base for training, more strength and my body will be right.''

It could also give him a different outlook four years from now.

At 20, Chaplin has not yet reached the peak age for a male lifter. Natural growth and competing in his natural weight class could hasten his progress. Ciorslan says, if he were to improve during the next four years as steadily as he has during the last four, Chaplin would be a potential medal contender at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

And that would also mean substantially more Olympic excitement.

"Hopefully,'' says Chaplin, "This should be just the beginning for me.''

And, in an Olympic oddity, it's a tame beginning.

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