Uhlaender a mystery as a weightlifter

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Katie Uhlaender doesn't know what to expect at the U.S. Olympic women's weighlifting trials.

And no one really knows what to expect out of her on Sunday.

She comes in ranked 15th in a field vying for just two spots. But underestimating the two-time Winter Olympian in the skeleton has cost other competitors before. Why would it be any different in weightlifting?

''I have no expectations. I'm just going to go into it like a kid in a candy shop and do the best that I can,'' she said while changing planes en route to the event, which is part of the Arnold Sports Festival. ''I feel like this is just the beginning for me in weightlifting, so I'm looking forward to the competition.''

Uhlaender, the daughter of former major league outfielder Ted Uhlaender, believes that weightlifting is just a natural offshoot for her since she already lifts to prepare for her winter sport. Relatively new to weightlifting - this is only her fourth event - she is an unproven underdog.

Well, maybe not an underdog. There might still be people around who remember her late father, who was a coach for the local Columbus Clippers Triple-A team, then an affiliate of the title-winning New York Yankees. Maybe that will give her some hometown mojo.

''I spent a lot of younger years there supporting the Columbus Clippers when they took all the championships with Bernie Williams, Gerald Williams, Wade Boggs and Paul O'Neill,'' she said of the former Yankees. ''I hope they remember my dad. I don't know if they'd remember me. I was about 9 or 10 years old.''

Uhlaender is approaching this as a learning experience that will pay dividends down the road.

To most observers, Uhlaender is at an odd junction between two divergent sports. Even she acknowledges it's hard to imagine someone excelling at both.

''Weightlifting is power and speed. In skeleton, coming off the block requires the same energy system,'' she said. ''The training for both is a little different. If I was just doing skeleton, I'd probably only be lifting two or three times a week. With weightlifting I'm lifting double that and not running as much. For skeleton I'd be running four to six days a week. So they kind of flip-flop.''

Uhlaender won the title at the Skeleton World Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., last month. It might be instructive to those looking past her this weekend at the weightlifting trials that she carried a World Cup ranking of 11th coming into that elite skeleton competition.

She has a history of making big comebacks. The native of Breckinridge, Colo., has already overcome a lot to be successful at one, let alone two, sports.

The 27-year-old Uhlaender, who is 5-foot-3 and 136 pounds, shattered her left kneecap in a snowmobile accident after the 2008-09 season - about the same time she was dealing with the loss of her father. He had spent eight seasons with Minnesota, Cleveland and Cincinnati as a player. The 68-year-old Uhlaender, a scout for the San Francisco Giants, died in February 2009.

Katie Uhlaender has persevered through a second shattered kneecap, eight operations and lengthy rehabilitation. After winning a regional weightlifting event in the summer of 2010, she was third in her weight division last summer at the USA Weightlifting national championships. She qualified for the Olympic Trials in Columbus by placing second at the American Open last December.

Lifting weights has helped her get stronger, and not just physically.

''It is one of the hardest things I've ever trained for. Every day you're in the weight room and you're pushing it,'' said Uhlaender, who will compete in the 58-kilogram division this weekend. ''It's something that's opened my eyes to how much my body can take, especially after coming off of eight surgeries. I've really been inspired by what life has to offer because there was a point where I didn't know if I'd even be able to compete at an elite level. Now I'm going to the Olympic Trials and I just won the World Championships.''

All the training doesn't wear her down.

''Skeleton is one of the few sports that is only on ice for six months, but we train 11 months out of the year,'' she said. ''And weightlifting, people train all the time. So as soon as this meet's over, I'll probably take a couple of weeks off and then I'll go back right into it.''

Uhlaender is enjoying the competition and enjoying her life.

''I'm just kind of riding the wave and hoping I catch a good one,'' she said.


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap .

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