“I’m proud to be a part of that great group (of American Indian Olympians), especially Jim Thorpe.” Gayle Hatch, former U.S. Olympic weightlifting coach
WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Olympic weightlifting coach Gayle Hatch is among the former athletes and coaches receiving recognition Thursday and Friday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall.
The Baton Rouge coach is among the American Indian athletes participating in Friday’s opening of the museum’s new exhibit, “Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics.”
Hatch, whose father was a member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma, said he is greatly honored to be a part of the new exhibit opening.
“My heritage is the most important thing in the world to me,” Hatch said.
While his father taught him strength, hard work and ethics, he said his grandmother taught him everything about his American Indian heritage, including giving him a book on track, football and baseball star Jim Thorpe when he was a child.
Thorpe was American Indian and Caucasian, like Hatch. Thorpe is still considered by many to be the world’s greatest all-around athlete.
“That was it,” Hatch said of first reading about Thorpe.
“I was hung up on him and hung up on being an athlete.
“I’m proud to be a part of that great group (of American Indian Olympians), especially Jim Thorpe,” said Hatch, while wearing a U.S. weightlifting hat and an LSU pullover.
As for coaching in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Hatch called it the “summit” of his career.
“There is nothing higher,” he said. “It was the greatest honor.”
Hatch also speaks proudly of his many protégés, including the strength and conditioning coaches for six BCS National Champion football teams, such as LSU’s Tommy Moffitt.
Moffitt said he was proud of the recognition Hatch is getting from the Smithsonian.
“Anytime someone gets in an exhibit in a Smithsonian museum, it’s a huge deal,” Moffitt said. “It’s amazing.”
Calling Hatch a “phenomenal person” who “never met a stranger,” Moffitt said Hatch is responsible for Louisiana once having more registered weightlifters than any other state.
“Coach Hatch has been a tremendous asset to me and to the whole staff at LSU,” Moffitt said of Hatch, who previously coached at LSU.
Among his many honors, Hatch was inducted into the inaugural USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame, is in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and, earlier this year, was named a Louisiana Legend by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
Hatch started out as a record-setting basketball player at Catholic High School and Northwestern State University before playing briefly with the Chicago Majors of the American Basketball Association. He then began his career as a weightlifting and strength conditioning coach.
Hatch, 73, is still coaching today.
“At my age I still have a passion and look forward to going to the weightlifting gym every day,” he said.
While his American Indian heritage is largely responsible for his honor this week, Hatch also credited his wife, Peggy, of 51 years and his Irish mother for having the “courage” to marry an American Indian during times of much greater discrimination.