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Sarah Robles becomes a heavyweight in weightlifting

When Sarah Robles transferred from Alabama to Arizona State to be a redshirt thrower on the track team, she found herself looking for a place to lift in the week before the school’s athletic facilities reopened.

Robles looked on USA Weightlifting’s Web site to find a club in the area and wound up with Joe Micela at his Performance One Advanced Sports Training in Mesa, Ariz.

It was in early January 2008 when she met Micela, who suggested Robles try a local weightlifting competition four days later. She did well enough to qualify for the junior national championships.

That was the beginning of the end for her throwing and the start of a weightlifting career in which Robles’ progress has been so fast she has legitimate aspirations at making the 2012 Olympic team in the super-heavyweight category.

That is the weight class in which former child prodigy lifter Cheryl Haworth, currently recovering from an injury, has been in a class by herself among U.S. women for a decade. Haworth, 26, won an Olympic bronze medal in 2000 and followed it with sixth places in 2004 and 2008.

“If Sarah had started when she was 12 or 14, she could be Cheryl-or close to it,” Micela said.

Barely six months after the local competition, Robles had finished second in the World Junior Championships and decided to leave Arizona State to train and study at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University.

Now the 20-year-old from San Jacinto, Calif., wants to move again, and she hopes her results in the Pan American Weightlifting Championships will earn her a place at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

No U.S. women won medals but two men, Norik Vardanian of Moorpark, Calif., (207-pound class) and Patrick Judge of Sarasota, Fla., (super-heavyweight) took overall bronzes in the four-day Pan Am event that ended Sunday at UIC.

Robles was 2 kg short of a medal in clean-and-jerk and some 6 kg shy of an overall medal. “My Olympic lifts are still catching up to my strength,” Robles said. “But I’m new to the sport.”

“For someone in their 20s to make that kind of improvement is rare,” Micela said. “But Sarah is a natural athlete.”