Melanie Roach was supposed to make her first Olympic team in 2000.
Eight years later, she could truly appreciate the thrill.
The 33-year-old mother of three finally fulfilled her Olympic dream Saturday, having overcome the back injury that ruined her expected trip to Sydney.
Roach was the top-rated lifter at the U.S. weightlifting trials, claiming one of four female spots allotted to the Americans. She'll be joined in Beijing by Carissa Gump, Natalie Woolfolk and Cheryl Haworth.
This will be the third Olympics for Haworth, who claimed a bronze medal in her first appearance at the 2000 Sydney Games. The three-member U.S. men's team also was being decided Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Roach's comeback was even more remarkable considering she quit the sport for five years to start a family. When she decided to start lifting again, the pain returned, too, forcing her to undergo surgery in the fall of 2006 shortly after she claimed her sixth national title.
She hooked up with Dr. Robert Bray in Los Angeles, who was performing a procedure known as microdiscectomy that reduced the recovery time. He removed three fingernail-size fragments from her spine, and Roach was up and walking as soon as the anesthesia wore off.
''I knew right away that I was better,'' she remembered.
Bray surprised Roach by flying across the country to see her lock up a spot on the Olympic team. He walked up from behind and tapped her on the shoulder while she was celebrating in the warmup area.
''Thank you so much, Dr. Bray. You did an amazing job,'' said John Thrush, Roach's one and only coach since the former gymnast began lifting in 1994.
''When you're working with someone who has that much heart, it makes it easy,'' Bray replied.
Roach made all three of her lifts in the snatch, the heaviest at just over 178 pounds. As she held the bar above her head, she screamed in delight. After dropping it to the podium, she clapped her chalk-covered hands, threw both arms in the air and bounced off the stage.
She went to the clean and jerk merely having to avoid a total meltdown, and it quickly became apparent Roach wasn't going to let this opportunity get away. She lifted nearly 229 pounds with ease, then locked up her spot by hoisting just under 240 pounds on her second attempt.
Roach let out a yell while posing with the bar above her ahead, realizing this wouldn't be a repeat of 2000. She failed on her final attempt at 244 pounds, but it didn't matter.
She was heading for the Olympics.
''This is far better than anything I expected,'' Roach said. ''If I made the team in 2000, I wouldn't appreciate it nearly as much as I do now.''
Haworth, who was the face of American weightlifting when the sport made its Olympic debut at Sydney, has gone through her own trials over the last eight years. She underwent major surgery in 2003 after blowing out her elbow, and she failed to medal in Athens after re-injuring herself on the first snatch attempt.
She also had to fight through a slipped disc in her back, endured the embarrassment of a drunken-driving arrest in her hometown of Savannah, Ga., and went through a couple of coaching changes.
Haworth claimed the final spot on the U.S. team, but she's planning to make a run at a medal in Beijing.
''I'm ranked No. 4 but it doesn't matter at this point,'' she said. ''We're all going to China.''
The 25-year-old Haworth easily made all three of her snatches, and needed only one clean and jerk attempt to secure her place on the team.
''I'm really sort of getting my vengeance now,'' she said with a smile. ''I'm ready to get really strong and go compete the way I know how. The last two years, I didn't because I was so injured. My goal is to stay healthy and go get a medal. If I stay healthy, I won't have any trouble at all.''
For Roach, the hard part is over. She would love to win an Olympic medal, but just making it to Beijing was her main goal.
Afterward, she savored the moment with her husband and their three young children, including 5-year-old Drew, who is autistic. They all made the trip from Bonney Lake, Wash.
''I'm really proud of my mom for making the Olympics,'' said 7-year-old Ethan, who will accompany her to China.
Three-year-old Camille jumped into the conversation.
''I am going to the Olympics, too,'' she said.
Actually, she's not, which Ethan was quick to point out.
''Yes I am,'' insisted Camille, who then gave her big brother a punch to the chest.
Get ready, Olympics. Team Roach is heading your way eight years behind schedule.
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