Australian wedding tempers crushed olympic dreams

Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000

SYDNEY - The groom, by his own estimation, would have qualified as old. The rings were new, the tuxedoes borrowed.

That, unfortunately, left only the bride to be blue, her sweetest memory from Sydney tempered by her saddest.

Suzanne Leathers will not get to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Neither will Michael Martin. Just hours before Team Savannah celebrated Leathers' wedding in Australia, it shared the disappointment of its members who will go home less than fulfilled.

When the International Olympic Committee finalized the field for weightlifting at its technical conference Thursday, none of the alternates to the American squad received berths. Countries that had not already entered a full team in the competition were allowed to add lifters instead.

So, Leathers and Martin will make different plans for Sept. 16-26 when the weightlifting meet is held at the Sydney Convention Center. So will Wes Barnett and Tom Gough, America's other weightlifting alternates.

But, for Thursday at least, Leathers already had an alternate celebration.

The critical care nurse at Memorial Health had a little ceremony to take her mind away from the disappointment of missing out on the Olympics. She was married Thursday. Leathers walked away from Olympic dreams and up the aisle, taking her weightlifting coach Don MacCauley as her husband in a ceremony at the Bankstown District Sports Club.

"This will start to make it better,'' said Leathers, who took a month off from work to train for and travel to the Sydney Games. "I'm happy I finally got him.

"I knew my chances of making it were not great, but I wanted to lift. I'm disappointed. I'm trying not to think about it.''

The timing was cruel for Leathers, who heard the word she had been dreading only about an hour before the words every girl dreams of, the IOC's "no,'' coming at 5 p.m. and MacCauley's "I do,'' at 6.

While she had said earlier that bad news out of the technical conference would overshadow her wedding, the disappointment did not prevent her from enjoying herself.

Because, anyone can get married. But not everyone can have the kind of whirlwind wedding Leathers did.

Upon hearing of the couple's intentions to tie the knot in Sydney, the host club planned and paid for the entire event, from tuxedoes to the girls' dresses to limousines to a sprawling reception buffet that included several local delicacies. Among the numerous food stations, there were prawns (shrimp), bugs (crawfish) and pavlova, an exquisite Aussie dessert made with whipped egg whites, whipped cream, passion fruit and enough sugar to soak up an oil spill.

There was also a sweet reaction to the wedding, which for a day might have made Leathers the most prominent non-Olympian in Sydney.

As word spread about the ceremony, interest grew. Members of the club attended, as did IOC vice president Herman Fraser and Jim Fox, the executive director of USA Weightlifting. And there was enough international media to turn the couple's exchange of gold rings into a precious-medal ceremony.

By Thursday, the event had turned into one of the biggest pre-Olympic happenings in Sydney, attracting more than a dozen camera crews, 25 still photographers and 20 reporters. The couple was asked to pose for pictures and sit for interviews before and after the ceremony. And their first kiss caused a lightning storm of camera flashes from the three-deep ring of photographers around the altar.

That's something even the most pampered bride in American doesn't receive, her own personal paparazzi.

"This is something. We haven't had a celebrity wedding before,'' said Bill Love, director of public relations for the Bankstown Sports Club. "This is outdoing Jamie Packer (the recently married son of Australia's richest man.) There's an enormous amount of interest here.''

And a large weightlifting presence.

The wedding party consisted of nearly the whole American team, with Olympians Cheryl Haworth, Cara Heads-Lane and Robin Goad serving as bridesmaids and Martin and USA team trainer Michael Popson among the groomsmen. Michael Cohen, the U.S. women's coach, was the best man and gave the bride away.

That's a crew that could lift anything, even the spirits of a melancholy bride.

"I don't think we even talked about it,'' Heads-Lane said of the IOC's decision. "It might have come up briefly, but we were too busy taking pictures and being girly in the room to talk about that.

"The main thing is, this was Suzanne's wedding day. It's so great to see her and Don finally get together and be happy. The mood was happy and exciting.''

It was also a little different than perhaps than the couple had pictured.

The ceremony was held in the Bankstown club's Rain Forest Lounge, on a small staging area just outside a pub and adjacent to a casino. To one side there were indigenous plants and an indoor waterfall, to the other dog races and soccer played on the many televisions and barmaids pouring beer.

But maybe it was fitting that Leathers and MacCauley were married in a bar. They fell in love under one.

Leathers had only recently taken up weightlifting when a friend recommended her to McCauley, who was coaching in the same Rhode Island gym where she worked out. The two trained together for three years before they started dating and moved to Georgia together when Leathers excelled in the sport and joined Team Savannah.

McCauley proposed on Christmas morning in 1998 and the couple decided, if Leather earned a trip to Sydney, they would have the ceremony there. They will have a reconciliation ceremony in Rhode Island later.

"I guess I always dreamed of a church wedding, but then I was never really that religious,'' said Leathers, whose sister Lauren flew to Sydney to be the maid of honor. "This was beautiful. The people here did such a wonderful job and were so nice to us. I didn't really start getting excited about this until today. I was too busy thinking about whether or not I would get the chance to lift. But I'm excited now. This was beautiful.

"Over the years I fell in love with weightlifting and with a coach I had developed a great friendship and close relationship with and now here were are. We'll be o.k.''

Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera can be reached at 652-0352 after Oct. 8.

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