Weight and see
Four years ago, Tara Nott packed her bags and headed down under with no expectations.
She returned from the 2000 Australian Olympic Games with a gold medal, lifting a combined 406 pounds (185 kg) in the snatch and the clean and jerk competitions in the 105-pound (48 kg) division.
Now the newly married Tara Cunningham, 29, who has relatives in Colusa, said she heads into Athens not expecting much more than she did going into her first Olympic experience.
"I don't have any different expectations. I went into 2000 with the attitude of competing the best I could, and that is the same attitude I have going into Athens," Cunningham said in an interview conducted a few days before she left for Greece on Aug. 2.
Billie and Jim Mark, Cunningham's great-aunt and -uncle, said they will follow her progress from their Colusa home anyway they can: television, newspapers, the Internet, and family e-mails.
"We had so many relatives (in Australia) - I think 14 or 15 - so I was getting e-mails almost as soon as something happened," said Billie Mark.
"My sister is going to be (in Athens), and of course Tara's mother and father are going over there, but I don't know what kind of access they are going to have over there."
Cunningham will compete in the same weight class. The competition for her begins Saturday.
Because of that early start, Cunningham said she won't participate in today's opening ceremonies.
"It's a little too hot in Athens, and with me competing the next day, standing on my feet for six hours isn't a very good idea," said Cunningham, who will be lifting what amounts to nearly four times her own body weight over her head.
Cunningham said she would actually like to be going to Athens as a spectator - a cheerleader for her husband, Casey Cunningham, who is a wrestler who failed to qualify for the Games.
"I really wanted him to make the team because I already have been to the Olympic and I wanted him to have his Olympic experience," said Cunningham, who also competed in Athens during the 1999 World Championships.
The couple make their home in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., although with competitions and training
at the U.S. Olympic center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Tara Cunningham has spent only about five months at home since her wedding in July 2003.
At that point, she was thinking about retirement.
"There's lot of wear and tear on your body. I didn't know if I wanted to compete anymore," Cunningham explained.
However, because the U.S. needed her to compete at the World Championships in Vancouver, Canada in order to qualify as a team for the Athens Games, she continued to train - mostly on her own.
Cunningham was instrumental in the development of the women's weightlifting program, and felt an obligation to keep it going.
Despite that training disadvantage and coming off a shoulder injury, Cunningham finished seventh at the championships. With the Olympics less than a year away, she decided to give it a go one more time.
Cunningham's mother, Nada Nott, of Overland Park, Kan., said the second time around is just as exciting - and she looks forward to visiting Greece once her daughter's competition is done.
"We are only going to be there for a couple of days, but I am looking forward to watching Tara and then doing some sight-seeing," Nott said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Todd R. Hansen can be reached at 749-4715. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.