Limping and out of medal contention after the falling barbell on her second lift struck her left leg, Tara Cunningham (inset) could have passed on her final lift, a clean and jerk of 95 kilograms (about 209 pounds), and no one would have blamed her. But Cunningham, 32, who was known as Tara Nott in 2000 when she became the first American in 40 years to win a weightlifting gold, never considered quitting last Saturday at Nikaia Weightlifting Hall. She made the lift to close out her international career with an 11th-place finish in the 106-pound division.
"The Olympics are about walking away knowing you gave your absolute best on that given night," said Cunningham, fighting back tears. "That's how I feel."
As Cunningham gathered her gear and prepared to leave, two of her teammates, women's heavyweight Cheryl Haworth and men's heavyweight Shane Hamman, came by to give her some love. Haworth wrapped the 5'1" Cunningham in a bear hug, and Hamman, who could lift 95 kilos with one hand, shook his head in wonder at Cunningham's final effort. "Getting that 95, Tara, man, that was awesome," he said. "Truly awesome."
Sometimes there's pure gold in 11th place. --Jack McCallum