His six teammates are competing.
His fiancee, Natalie Woolfolk, is competing.
The Rancho Buena Vista High alum is 6 feet 1, weighs 275 and can hoist 494 pounds above his head, but he has been tossed around by the capricious politics of international sport like a dandelion in a hurricane. Burgener was on the U.S. Olympic team, off it, on it again and then, finally last night, off it for good.
“It's heartbreaking,” said Woolfolk, who plans to marry Burgener this fall in his hometown of Bonsall. “To finally find out the day before the Olympics starts that you're not competing, it's just heartbreaking. I wish he was here with me.”
Woolfolk paused as her eyes welled with tears.
“But he's extremely level-headed,” she continued. “He doesn't blame anybody. He doesn't call anybody names. He'll get over this and get on to something else. But he deserves this, just as much as anyone on this team. He deserves to be called an Olympian. He's a testament to the attitude, the commitment, everything that goes along with being an Olympian.”
A USA Weightlifting spokesman said Burgener, 25, had declined interview requests, but his coaches and teammates spoke candidly and at times angrily about what they perceive to be a major snub.
The back story:
Weightlifting is an individual sport, but countries earn berths to the Olympics through team results at the World Championships. The 27th-place team at worlds gets three slots, and the U.S. men finished exactly 27th at the 2007 worlds last summer.
In December, USA Weightlifting executive director Dennis Snethen was scanning the Web site of the International Weightlifting Federation and noticed, to his utter shock, that Chinese Taipei was listed as 27th. The U.S. men were now 28th.
The IWF explanation: Lifters from other countries had been disqualified for failing drug tests, and when the results were recalculated the U.S. men had dropped one place.
The U.S. men went to a secondary Olympic qualifier, in Peru in March, and secured two slots for Beijing. They continued lobbying for a third slot and, Snethen says, were told they had been granted it shortly before the U.S. Trials.
Then Burgener, a heavyweight whose father taught him how to lift in their garage, qualified as the third U.S. man.
A week later, the IWF informed USA Weightlifting that, sorry, it would have only two men's berths in Beijing.
“Our strategy,” Snethen said, “was to bring Casey to the Games, and with drug positives or no-shows hope the IWF would let him in. That didn't happen, unfortunately.”
The great irony, of course, is that positive drug tests – Greece and Bulgaria each had 11 – end up punishing a country without any.
“We're lifting weights clean and we have a slot taken away from us,” Snethen says. “That we play the game clean and get penalized for it, that's what hurts the most.”
Burgener is expected to remain in Beijing to watch Woolfolk compete Tuesday in the 139-pound division. Woolfolk said Burgener's parents, Mike and Leslie, likely would cancel their trip to Beijing.
And Burgener's future in the sport?
“He's saying that he's done,” Woolfolk said, “but it's hard at this moment to say you'll keep going. I think he needs some time away from the sport right now.”
Mark Zeigler: (619) 293-2205; firstname.lastname@example.org