Female super heavyweight champion going for gold, not approval

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Holley Mangold is accustomed to making headlines.

She was, after all, the only girl on her high school football team in Ohio, maybe not that big of a surprise since she’s the sister of New York Jets center Nick Mangold.

She’s not a novelty anymore. She’s an Olympian.

Mangold will compete as a superheavyweight in weightlifting at the London Games later this month. Her coaches initially saw her as a prospect for the 2016 Olympics but her progress the past year — she upped her lift totals by more than 70 pounds — put her ahead of schedule.

Nick Mangold couldn’t be prouder, and he predicts more than one Olympics in his sister’s future.

“As an older brother, you love to see your siblings do great things and this is something she tried to do and was successful at it and it’s a great thing to see,” he said. “There are people who have been training their whole lives for this opportunity and she’s been doing it for two years.”

However long she pursues Olympic success, Mangold will take along a gregarious personality and a quick wit. She’s comfortable with her size (about 350 pounds), and showed as much during an episode called “I’m the Big Girl” last year on MTV’s “True Life.”

She’d like to help reshape the image of female weightlifters.

Mangold doesn’t wear makeup while competing. Fingernail polish, well, that’s another thing entirely. Tiny barbells adorned her nails during the Olympic trials in March. She’s planning something in red, white and blue for London.

“I feel like women weightlifters try to be too feminine just to show that they’re still feminine,” she said. “I don’t do that. I try to have a nice balance. But I haven’t really had any problems. People usually don’t say anything to your face because they’re intimidated that you can out lift them.”

Her experience at Archbishop Alter High in Kettering, Ohio, had its firsts: first girl to play a down from scrimmage in Ohio and the first girl to play in a state championship game. Her brother saw the connection between weightlifting and football, which his 22-year-old sister played for 12 years to follow in his path.

“If she had said race car driving or something like that, I would’ve been like, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know,'” he said. “But weightlifting, it just seemed to flow with her.”

Competition started early between the two Mangolds. Growing up, Holley and Nick used balloons as footballs in games in the family living room. Nick’s handicap? He played on his knees.

“Those games would always get kind of heated, especially if the balloon popped,” he said. “Somebody would always get blamed and not want to take the blame. We were doing that from a young age, so anytime there’s a competition, somebody was trying to win.”

Nick Mangold heard all the mean jokes and received plenty of messages on Twitter from those who made fun of his sister for being a heavy girl who played football. He also sensed that she might have thought he was ashamed of her.

“I think she kind of let outside influences tell her that,” he said, adding that Holley didn’t ask him how he felt. “I’ve never been embarrassed about her and always stuck up for her and always been proud of what she has done.”

After finishing high school, Holley Mangold attended Ursuline College, an all-female school near Cleveland, on a track-and-field scholarship. She threw discus and shot put, and did her weightlifting training in a second-floor room above the school’s swimming pool. At least she did until she dropped weights, cracking all the windows around the pool.

When she qualified for the Olympic team, Holley Mangold lifted about 320 pounds in the clean-and-jerk competition — more than her brother’s 307 pounds.

Along with Sarah Robles, another first-time Olympian who qualified as a superheavyweight, Mangold will try to end a 12-year medal drought for the U.S. In 2000 at Sydney, Americans Tara Nott and Cheryl Haworth took gold and bronze, respectively. No U.S. man or woman has reached the podium since.

Despite the urging of Jets coach Rex Ryan, Nick Mangold won’t be in London with other family members to watch his little sister. He will be at training camp starting July 26 in Cortland, N.Y., preparing for the NFL season.

“It’s not that he doesn’t want to go,” she said. “Football is my brother’s life. You wouldn’t see me missing training or a big meet to watch one of his games. I know it’s different because it’s the Olympics, but it’s a big part of their season.”

Her brother said he doesn’t want her to feel as though she is in his shadow.

“I’ve tried my best to make sure it wasn’t there,” he said. “She doesn’t need any of that added pressure. She has enough pressure with what she’s doing.”

And what she’s doing is going after gold — and that weightless lift.

“When you get a good lift the bar is literally weightless off of your body and then you don’t feel it until it hits over your head again,” she said. “You get that lift maybe one in a 100, but if you get that lift you’re chasing that lift for the rest of your life. It’s kind of amazing. I love it.”


AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak contributed to this report from Florham Park, N.J.