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News: Beijing Bound- Kendrick Farris heads to 2008 Olympic Games
Topic: News: Beijing Bound- Kendrick Farris heads to 2008 Olympic Games (Read 443 times)
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News: Beijing Bound- Kendrick Farris heads to 2008 Olympic Games
Aug 03, 2008, 05:35 AM »
Kendrick Farris heads to 2008 Olympic Games
By Teddy Allen
The Olympics loom, filled with most everything you love to hate about modern big-time sports. Corporate logos, behind-the-scenes political schmoozing, a pretense that everything about "the games" are just games and not something less admirable, like a thread of dope and scandal and suspicion behind every time and every score and every record.
These are cynical days to be a fan of sports.
And still, when it's time for the Olympics, who wants to think much of that? Once the torch is lit and the games are "on," the world celebrates the Olympics. There is no talk of contract disputes and players switching teams or demanding to be "traded" to another country. This is the one time the world gets on the same page, celebrates because of speed and strength and will that started in a child's mind and blossomed to an international stage.
There are thousands of them, thousands of athletes — more than 16,000 in the Beijing Games that begin with Opening Ceremonies on Friday — who run and lift and swim and exceed what we expect, every four years with everyone watching.
"Expect" might be the wrong word. Do you really know what to expect in the Olympics?
Think 1980 USA hockey.
The diversity of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
The speed of Michael Johnson.
The selflessness of Kerri Strug.
Or think Sydney and 2000 and the determination of a virtually unknown dairy farmer's son named Rulon Gardner. No major titles to his credit, yet he beat a three-time gold medal winner, the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler in history, an undefeated Russian, for the Olympic gold.
Preconceived notions and expectations have front row tickets at the Olympics and often end up sitting in the cheap seats because... Because, who knows?
So we watch and celebrate because we cheer youth and excellence and sacrifice — because we never know. Just down the street, a kid might do something in an arena built just for him and his fellow athletes that shocks the world and leaves his name on the tongues of people who don't even speak the same language he does. It happens.
And even if a medal is not won, the title of "Olympian" is. Either way, the story is of beating at least one thing — the odds.
So we celebrate the will and the drive and the fact that somehow, against odds and obstacles hard to appreciate, they got here.
Kendrick Farris is Olympic proof of that.
Somehow, a kid from Stoner Hill in Shreveport has a ticket to Beijing. It makes as much sense as calculus, but it happened.
At age 11 he was dropped off by his forward-thinking uncle at the USA Weightlifting Development Center at LSU-Shreveport. Had never seen a weight in his life. Ten summers later, he's one of two American males on the six-person USA 2008 Olympic Weightlifting Team and our country's best hope for a medal in Beijing.
He was scrawny and small and raw then. He's an Olympian now. And the only reason for that is this:
He kept showing up.
He kept coming back.
He kept getting beaten in meet after meet, but he kept growing too, in confidence and skill and size.
The heartbreak of losing couldn't shake a little kid from Stoner Hill.
And so he'll lift in Beijing. And when he does, when you see him on the television and his smile spreads wide as the bar he's been lifting over his head for a decade now, when you see that charisma and you don't know squat about weightlifting but you start rooting for him anyway because his heart is big and the odds are long, you might wonder something.
Is it Kendrick Farris lifting the weights?
Or did the weights lift him?
Stoner Hill to Beijing
The billboard off Youree Drive marks the neighborhood and honors its only Olympian.
"Kendrick Farris — 2008, Beijing, China — Dreams Do Come True In Stoner Hill."
"It's a special feeling to see my name there," Farris said. "All the competitions, all the workouts "» it's just paying off."
His mom raised him and his brother and his two sisters here in the little house on the 1600 block of Easy Street in a neighborhood of tight streets and tiny yards and houses trying as best they can to hang in there.
"At times there was basically nothing to eat; it had to be at my grandmother's house or my aunt's," he said. "Food "» man, I remember one time, one summer not really eating at all. Well, not a home, put it like that."
That was the summer he'd ride his bike to the Sonic Drive-Thru over the levee, claim they'd messed up his order and he'd ride away with a sack of cheeseburgers. It worked a few times.
"That was before they started checking receipts," he said. "Man, I did some crazy stuff just to eat."
Funny, but he didn't really know he was poor until he started lifting weights, working out in close quarters with kids from other neighborhoods.
"Two of my teammates were talking one day and one of them said, 'Man we're so poor sometimes we don't even have milk in the house,' and another one's talking about how they don't have a certain kind of Internet. I just started laughing. I was like, 'I don't have a computer! Sometimes we don't have food in the house. That's y'all's problems? I'd trade with you in a heartbeat."'
He can see now that how he had it is maybe how it had to be. The day came when his Uncle Kevin dropped him off for his first workout, feeling it could be the start of something steady, something his nephew could participate in year 'round — and something that was free. There's no charge at the weightlifting center. Free weights, free supervision. All you need is desire and respect for your fellow lifters and you're in.
After a few workouts, some words lit a fuse. Kyle Pierce, the center's director, told the 11-year-old that, hard as it might be to believe, if he stuck with this, he had a chance to see the world.
"I'd never heard that," Farris said. "'You can see the world.' Kyle was the first person to show me that. I wasn't hearing that playing any other sport."
Ten years ago this summer, he went to his first Junior Olympics. Virginia Beach, Va. Pierce and others loaded about a dozen kids, all the ones who were working out and eligible, into a convoy of cars.
"We thought that was going to be a much shorter drive," Pierce said. "Man!, that was a long way."
But Farris and Pierce have been much farther since. Canada. Los Angeles. Puerto Rico. Missouri. Florida. The Beijing Games won't even be his first trip to China. He finished eighth overall at the World Junior championships in Hangzhou in 2006.
Every trip, every meet and every competitive lift, he's earned.
"I feel," he said, "that my life is one long workout."
He didn't always win. Early on, he rarely won at all.
"He's got some genetics; you don't get this far without that," Pierce said. "But what he's got the most of is persistence. There were a couple of kids better than Kendrick early on. But even when he was getting beat, he hung in there. He outlasted the rest of them."
Sometimes Pierce had to send a graduate assistant to go pick Farris up so he wouldn't miss a workout. Sometimes Pierce went and snatched Farris up himself. Or a fellow lifter would give him a ride. Either way, Farris was always ready.
There was the meet when he got "dusted" by the talented son of a former Soviet Olympic champion, Pierce remembers. It made Farris just angry enough to "crank it up" that year at Junior Nationals.
"Smoked everybody," Pierce said.
This was a boy who showed up tiny at 11 years old. "We used to joke that we were going to take him to Louisiana Downs and see if we could get him on as a jockey," Pierce said.
Now he's a tall 5-foot-6 and a hard 185 pounds. His arms are a little long for the "perfect" weightlifter. Most champions have short legs and short arms and long torsos, all better for leverage in the "snatch," when the bar is lifted from the floor to over the head in one motion. In the clean and jerk, Farris' premier event, the bar is brought first to the chest, then over the head.
But he manages. He manages with a lifting style slightly unconventional. Just like his life.
After high school graduation, he moved in with Pierce, whose house is part home, part storage space for lifters Pierce helps train. Somewhat of a free spirit — you might remember him as the Pirate mascot for Shreveport's old Canadian Football League pro team — Pierce might be the only Ph.D. in town to have once owned a 1983 lemon-colored Coupe de Ville.
But he's a tireless worker and a calming and passionate presence in the gym, the main reason the weightlifting center has flourished and drawn athletes from all across the country.
"He's been there for me all these years," Farris said. "It's the type of relationship I always wanted with my dad. I can be open with him and tell him I love him. He's one of the quality people I've been blessed with in my life. My mom. My aunt. My grandma. My uncle. Kyle's right up there."
The lack of a rent payment has helped Farris continue to train and attend LSUS — he'll attend this fall after skipping the spring — in hopes of getting his degree and becoming a radio talk show host. He's had part-time jobs. The United States Olympic Committee has provided him with a $1,000-a-month stipend since he made the '08 team at the trials in Atlanta.
His car is an old Pontiac. His workout gear, sweats and a T-shirt.
His most important possession, he said, is his son, 2-year-old Khalil, who goes back and forth between his unmarried parents.
"I can tell he's going to be strong," Farris said. "I don't know what he'll be interested in, but he walks around trying to lift things up. Me and his mom get along now; we're building a strong and better friendship. We've got to raise this little one up right."
Somehow, all those events and decisions of the past decade have gotten him to Beijing, have earned him the tag of "America's best chance for a weightlifting medal." His mom, Monica Lockett, will be there, thanks to local fundraising efforts. Pierce will be there too, more nervous than usual at competitions since he won't actually be on the floor during the meet.
And of course, Farris will be there.
What will he do?
Weight of a lifttime
Pierce caught it from a lot of people when Sports Illustrated's special "Beijing Games" edition hit stands last week. The magazine's 85k division weightlifting medal picks are Andrei Rybakou, the heavy favorite from Belarus, followed by lifters from Turkey and Romania.
No Farris, who owns the American record in the clean and jerk at 201 kilograms, about 443 pounds.
No Farris, America's best weightlifting medal hope.
No Farris, a bronze medal winner in international competition.
"I've got people telling me the worst he can do is a silver or bronze," Pierce said, "that kind of stuff."
What's against Farris is obvious. For starters, he'll compete against 16 other Olympians, including athletes who have beaten him in international competition. They're trying too.
Also, only Canada and Great Britain rival the United States in strictness of drug testing. Farris has been tested four times in a single month.
"It's not an even playing ground," Pierce said. "Kendrick might be the strongest guy in his weight, but those other countries aren't doing it like we are. They can take that stuff (performance enhancing drugs) all year long and get off it and go to the championships."
"I know it's not an even playing field right now, but that just makes me work harder," Farris said. "I worry about me and I work hard. I'm not going to look for excuses. And I'm not going to make it easy for them."
The clean and jerk is his marquee lift; he drags behind in the snatch. And medals are given for the total, not for each lift.
But what's solidly in Farris' corner, besides the support of his weightlifting family at LSUS, is more intangible.
"Our country's Olympic motto for athletes in weightlifting has always been 'make the team,"' Pierce said. This is because the United States men haven't medaled in the sport since 1984, the year of the Soviets' Olympic boycott — and the year before Farris was born. Before that, America's most recent men's weightlifting medal is 1976.
"But we've tried to instill in our kids that they can make the team AND win," Pierce said. "Kendrick believes he can win, and I'm going to go along with him. I'm going to keep on believing he can do something."
Two other things: one, in the competition, the weight you start with is what you keep adding to. Ego could get in the way and a couple of the better competitors could go in too high and bomb each other out.
And two, few rise to the occasion quite like the Olympian from Stoner Hill. No lifter will be more entertaining then Farris.
"I haven't gotten the feeling yet, but it normally happens a few days before the competition, usually when I get on the plane," Farris said. "I don't know what it is about me and competition. When people are watching, the adrenaline gets going. I'm pretty focused in training, but if 200 were watching me work out every day, there's no telling what I might do."
"He is a meet competitor," Pierce said. "He just turns it on. The more pressure there is, the more he can crank it out. He loves it. That's tough to find, somebody who just loves the competition the way he does."
Farris and Pierce left on a plane Saturday. Behind are the training center, the house on Easy Street, a toddler son, a lot of workouts, a lot of Sundays at the Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church.
Ahead could be London and the 2012 Games with a 26-year-old, fully matured Farris leading the U.S. team.
That's what could be ahead.
What's definitely ahead is Beijing.
"I got here through a lot of prayer and a lot of hard work," Farris said. "I believe in what I pray in. I believe I can do a lot of things, but I have no foundation if I don't put in the work. I've put in the work."
"Show me the government that does not infringe upon anyone's rights, and I will no longer call myself an anarchist." ~Jacob Halbrooks
News: Beijing Bound- Kendrick Farris heads to 2008 Olympic Games
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