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Weight of the world: openly gay Chris Morgan hopes to win a world weight-lifting title.

Chris Morgan's path to becoming one of the strongest men in the world began at a London gym seven years ago. A fellow weight lifter glanced at the Brit and remarked: "You realize, you're very, very strong and what you're doing is a sport." Morgan took the observation to heart.

At the end of November the 32-year-old will become the first openly gay man to compete in the world championship final of the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation. The brawny 165-pounder, who goes by the Internet nickname Chunky Muscle, says he's "put together with nuts and bolts for joints and big guns for quads." Straight guys ask him how much he guys ask if he could bench-press them. Americans think he's a curiosity. Morgan's not sure if it's his accent, his sport, or his build.

In the championship, to be held in Atlanta, he wants to lift a personal best, challenge homophobia, and get rid of stereo types, like the one about gay men being lousy at sports, especially strength training. "We all try to make a difference in our own way," he says. "When I am there, standing with the strongest men in the world, I'm demonstrating that we are as equal as anybody, that we can compete with anybody. In Atlanta I am going to give the performance of my life."

Morgan's life hasn't always been this focused. Currently a financial adviser by day, he played competitive rugby until the early 1990s, when he was permanently sidelined by injuries. Not only was his body damaged, he was also ending a relationship with a woman and coming to terms with his sexuality. (He is currency single and jokes that he's married to weight lifting.) "My coming-out coincided with when I lost my sports career, and I sort of exchanged being a first-class athlete for the club scene," he remembers.

But then in January 1998 came that casual conversation at the London gym that sent Morgan in a new direction. He decided to compete in the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam and took home a silver medal. He returned to the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney to set records for the squat, the dead lift, and total pounds lifted. He won gold.

By the time he left Sydney he was confident that he could become an elite athlete and win at the world level. As an openly gay power lifter he had few peers, but he had gained serf-assurance. "The validation Chris got at the Gay Games was 'My God, this guy has got something, this guy could be something,' " says Gene Dermody, a Federation of Gay Games spokesman who is a wrestler and former coach.

Morgan returned to the basics, to the system that led to his victory in Amsterdam. He began to advance. In the world of power lifting there are four primary international organizations. Morgan thinks "people who take performance-enhancing drugs in sport are cheats, simple as that." So he competes in the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation, where he has achieved number 1 status in London and the number 2 rank in the United Kingdom.

He also is number 1 in London and in the top 5 in England in the British Weight Lifters Association. Morgan's personal bests are a 513-pound squat, 254-pound bench press, and 557-pound dead lift. Quite the heavy loads. The power to hoist such weight is not all brute strength--though physical force is crucial. "I think lifting is 50% in the mind and 50% in the muscle," Morgan says. "You have to be able to recruit both to succeed. It is no good being a strong person if your mind can't muster the mental strength to move your muscles. No, it is not always the strongest man who wins. Sometimes the clever man wins."

Neff is the managing editor of the Chicago Free Press.
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Title Annotation:Sports; World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation
Author:Neff, Lisa
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 23, 2004
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