Northwestern State University Sportís Information Department

A Demon great opens his Olympic Games scrapbook - At Northwestern State University Gayle Hatch set numerous records in basketball some of which still stand after 40+ years.Hatch is in the NSU Athletic Hall of Fame and will be inducted this fall into the NSU Long Purple Line, an honor given only to those whose career achievements have reflected positively on NSU.Hatch is also a recipient of the universityís Nth Degree Award.

Being part of the United States' delegation competing in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, was every bit as thrilling and rewarding as you would imagine it to be.

Serving as head coach for the menís 2004 USA Olympic Weightlifting Team was a great honor. It marked the first time that a Louisiana coach served as head weightlifting coach.  My mentor, Alvin Roy, served as team manager for the 1952 USA Olympic Weightlifting Team at the Games held in Helsinki, Finland.

Despite all of the flash and hoopla attached to the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals, and the tradition of baseball's World Series, and even the global interest in the World Cup of soccer, there is still nothing in sports quite like the Olympics.  It is the number one sporting event in the world.  I've watched with great interest through the years, enjoying each Olympiad, especially those in which some of my lifters were able to compete.

Having the privilege to participate has given me an even greater appreciation for the Olympic experience, and why I hope that the Olympic movement can continue to wade past the choppy waters of international politics and provide us with reminders about what is fundamentally good about humanity.

The Opening Ceremony was one of the most inspiring events of my life.  Watching the production that was spectacularly done, filled with cultural and sports history, and then experiencing the thrill of marching into the spectacular Olympic stadium behind our nation's flag is impossible to describe. 

The most touching moment for me was the lighting of the torch. I was standing fairly close to the flame and I had a feeling that this represented my reaching the summit of my career.

Sportsmanship is a word that you do not hear used often enough in athletics today, but it was alive at the Olympics.  Michael Phelps proved this, when after winning six gold and two bronze medals in swimming events he handed his spot on the 400-meter medley relay to Ivan Crocker so that a fellow teammate could win a gold medal. 

Phelps may be remembered more for this act of sportsmanship than the six gold medals he won, and he should be.

It was eye-popping to sit in the dining hall and people-watch. We think of the Chinese people, for example, as being small. Well, when you saw 7-footer Chinese basketball players (not just NBA star Yao Ming) and 6-5 Chinese women's basketball players that shattered my perception of the Chinese! It was simply breathtaking to observe the spectrum of extraordinary athletes parading through the dining hall each day, and to see them interacting.

That was another wonderful aspect of the Olympic experience -- having the chance to meet fellow coaches and competitors from around the world. The Olympic spirit you hear about is a palpable presence in the Olympic Village, the city of Athens and indeed, the entire country of Greece. The Greek people were wonderful hosts and worked very hard to assure visiting competitors that the Olympic experience would live up to their dreams. I am sure many of us will try to return to Athens sometime, as we were all busy involved in our competitions and didn't have the chance to fully enjoy the many attractions of this ancient land.

Speaking of competitions, despite all the wonderful aspects of the Olympics I have described, our purpose for being in Athens was always our primary focus. I was pleased with the performance of the USA in our sport, and I'm glad to say that the leadership of USA Weightlifting was pleased as well.

Our weightlifters were successful in the fact that they all placed higher than they were ranked going into the competition.  Our highest ranked lifter was super-heavy weight Shane Hamman, who was ranked 14th in the world.  Shane took seventh place in the Olympics and set two American records.  He clean & jerked 523 Ĺ pounds and snatched 418 pounds for a total of 941 Ĺ pounds. 

Shane Hamman is now officially the strongest man in the history of USA Weightlifting.  Many of you may have seen Shaneís All State Insurance commercial where he lowers the weight and it crashes through three levels to the parking basement below and crushes a car.  Fortunately, that was the figment of some ad agency's creative genius, but it was also a great way to illustrate what a remarkable competitor Shane is!

Despite my efforts here, let me again say it -- words hardly express what itís like to be part of the Olympic Games.  It was especially satisfying since they were held in Athens, Greece, the home of the Modern Olympics, and the hallowed site where the Olympics were born in 776 BC.

I still get excited recalling my Olympic experience. It was tremendously gratifying to represent the United States, but most of all, to feel the pride and support expressed by my friends back home in Baton Rouge, and my friends from my days at Northwestern as a basketball player and student. Before I left for Greece, there was a dinner given in my honor in Baton Rouge and many of those people gathered. I was touched to see Dr. Chris Maggio and Coach Mike McConathy, among others, representing Northwestern.

A couple of days after my return from Athens, we were back at work in the gym, because the training never stops. But we'll take a little break in mid-October to come home to Northwestern for homecoming, and then, I hope I can share with you in person some of my pride in representing you, and the USA, at the Athens Olympic Games.

By Coach Gayle Hatch (NSU '62)