USA Weightlifting Features Coach Recaptures New...

Coach Recaptures New Orleans Magic

By Kevin Farley | Oct. 06, 2016, 4:26 p.m. (ET)

Mike Gattone and Tara Nott Cunningham in 2001 at Colorado College Hall of Fame ceremony.

It was a case of déjà vu for legendary Weightlifting coach Mike Gattone at the 2016 National University and Under 25 Championships at the Alario Center in New Orleans.

"Sixteen years is a long time ago," Gattone told USA Weightlifting during a break in the competition last month. "When I pulled up, I remember what the Alario Center looked like. I remember the smell in the air, the humidity, and I thought, 'oh, yeah, OK, now I remember this place.'"

Sixteen years ago, Gattone walked into the Alario Center for the first time for the 2000 Olympic Trials. It was here, on August 6, 2000, Tara Nott Cunningham started down a path toward Olympic history. 

"Six for six, set three American Records. Talk about someone who was ready," Gattone said of Cunningham's performance at the 2000 Olympic Trials.

That magical day in August 2000 lives on at the Alario Center. A poster advertising the 2000 Olympic Trials sits in a glass case at the end of the Center's main hallway.

"That was a cool memory," Gattone said of the sign. 

For the 2016 National University & Under 25 Championships, Hall A of the Alario Center was used for the training hall. But in 2000, it was center stage for the Olympic Trials.

"I remember the big elevated stage," Gattone said. "Tara jumped off the top step and gave me a nice hug when she made the team, and that was a very special memory."

Tara Nott Cunningham celebrating at the 2000 Olympic Trials after setting three American Records.

Gattone returned to the Alario Center this year to coach several athletes at the 2016 National University and Under 25 Championships. It was his first time in the arena since the 2000 Olympic Trials. While more than a decade has passed, the memories made in this building, are still strong.

"I remember is getting in the car to come for weigh-ins with Tara, Jackie Berube, Lyn Jones and I," Gattone said. "I remember that very specifically, the emotions and tensions were running pretty high."

But for Gattone, seeing his athlete make the Olympic Team is something he won't ever forget.

"I remember coming in for the weigh in, I remember the final emotion and relief, quite frankly, when Tara was named to the team," Gattone said. "In 2000, Tara had only been lifting for 6 years, for some of that was 3 days a week in a YMCA basement in Chicago. She was sleeping in our house for a while. I had a men's 20 kilo Eleiko bar, I didn't even have a woman's bar."

The 2000 Olympic Team on the platform at the Alario Center. From left to right: Shane Hamman, Oscar Chaplin III, Cheryl Haworth, Cara Heads-Slaughter, Tara Nott Cunningham

After speaking with him for just a few minutes, one can tell Gattone still has a soft spot in his heart for the athlete he still calls "a kid."

"This kid, she was really psyically talented so psychologically strong," Gattone said. "She kept going, like a train rolling down the railroad tracks."