USA Weightlifting Celebrates Italian Heritage Month
by USA Weightlifting
October is National Italian-American Heritage Month and USA Weightlifting is recognizing some of those in our history who have impacted our sport over the years. Primarily emanating from the New York and New Jersey area, the Italian-American community has long provided a great line of Weightlifting athletes, including the first and most recent US Olympic male Champions and continues to provide contributors to USA Weightlifting today.
As always, this list is not exhaustive but is intended to recognize some of the legendary Italian-Americans that have made a real difference in our community.
For inclusion next years list please send your suggestions to email@example.com.
Danica Rue (Frenchtown, NJ) – World Team Member, Hall of Fame Athlete, 8x National Champion
Rue, part of the Les Petit Animaux and Metropolitan Elite groups, was almost ever-present on the top of the national podium during the 2000’s. She added four World Championship appearances to her resume during the same period, most recently in 2011, when she also appeared in the Pan American Games.
Across an outstanding career at the very top of USA Weightlifting’s female elite during the period, Rue also set the American Record at both 63kg and 69kg in 2001 and 2005.
To cap her outstanding achievements, Rue is the most recent inductee into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, and will formally be inducted during the 2019 National Championships in Memphis, TN with her family and former coaches present.
Joe Triolo (Brooklyn, NY)
Long time Technical Official, Joe Triolo, has most recently been the Chair of the USA Weightlifting Technical Committee, responsible for the training and testing of our national officials as well as presiding over officiating at USA Weightlifting events. Joe is also a regular ITO at international competitions.
Joe’s contribution to weightlifting goes back many years as he is also a member of the USA Weightlifting Masters Hall of Fame. Joe is also an alumnus of the FDNY where he continues to give back to the community.
Bob Giordano (Belleville, NJ) – 1980 Olympian
Growing up in a very competitive era for US Weightlifting, Giordano was one of the best 110kg athletes of the late 70s and early 80s. His career is highlighted by a second-place finish to Mark Cameron at the 1980 National Championships and being name to the 1980 Olympic team, which unfortunately was not permitted to compete.
Giordano at one stage of his life owned an Italian Restaurant, and thus earned the name “the World’s Strongest Pizza-Maker.”
As with many on this list, after retirement Giordano gave back to the sport by coaching Team New Jersey for many years.
Phil Grippaldi (Newark, NJ) – 3x Olympian & Pan Am Games Champion
Grippaldi is known for having amongst the largest arms of any successful Olympic Weightlifting athlete in history. Owing this to his first coach, Mike Gubliano, being best known for his exploits in Bodybuilding, before converting to a full time Weightlifter under Butch Toth.
The 90kg athlete qualified for the Olympic Games three times and won the Pan American Games. He set a World Record in the press at the Junior level before his retirement.
Anthony Terlazzo (Los Angeles, CA) – Olympian, World Champion, Hall of Fame Member
Anthony Terlazzo was born in Patti, Siciliy in 1911, but later became the first Olympic Champion for the United States at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. Terlazzo also won a bronze medal at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, CA.
Away from the Olympic platform, Terlazzo became a 12-time National Champion, a two-time World Champion and set five World records during what remains one of the greatest careers of any American weightlifting athlete. Later in his life, Terlazzo gave back to the sport by coaching before passing away in 1966.
Juliana Riotto (Leesport, PA) – World Junior Medalist
Originally a soccer player, Riotto was spotted by USA Weightlifting after winning the CrossFit Games 15.1a Clean & Jerk competition.
Following a period working with Power & Grace Performance, Riotto moved to Pennsylvania to work with Garage Strength. A move to the new 90kg category provided Riotto the opportunity to write her name in the history books.
Riotto took the first World Junior gold for an Italian-American by winning the snatch competition at the 2018 IWF Junior World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. She went on to earn a bronze medal for her clean and jerk, and a silver medal for her 224kg total at Junior Worlds. Riotto and her seven female teammates would go on to take first place in the team competition at Junior Worlds. Jourdan Delacruz, Kate Vibert, Meredith Alwine, Ashamarie Benitez, Kuinini Manumua, Megan Seegert and Hayley Reichardt also contributed to the team’s success.
Joe DiPietro (Paterson, NJ) – Olympic & World Champion
Perhaps the greatest small lifter ever produced by the USA, DiPietro competed in the original 56kg category.
DiPietro was one of the shortest international athletes to ever compete for the USA, and he often posed together with much larger athletes. He won the 1947 World Championships, the 1948 gold medal at the Olympic Games and the 1951 Pan American Games while also setting world records in the press.
Joe Micela (Mesa, AZ) – Olympic Games Coach
Originally from the New Jersey area, Micela runs the Performance One Weightlifting Club in Mesa, AZ. His club has developed many weightlifting athletes including Sarah Robles, and more recently Dennis Tan, Kaija Bramwell and Dr David Meltzer, the Masters World Champion and Physicist behind the Sinclair-Meltzer-Faber formula.
Micela then acted as Team USA’s co-head Coach at the 2012 Olympic Games, coaching Sarah Robles at the event.
Micela is currently also acting as the strength coach for the Arizona Rattlers, the indoor football team based in the Phoenix area.
Mike Gattone (Libertyville, IL) – Coach of Tara Nott Cunningham
South-side Chicago native Gattone, now on USA Weightlifting’s staff, is a well-known figure in the world of both weightlifting and strength and conditioning. Gattone began his sporting career as a thrower before falling in love with the iron game. This would begin a 30+ year love affair with the sport.
Gattone became a key figure at the 1996 Olympic Games, acting as the Competition Manager for the weightlifting event, one of two people on USA Weightlifting’s staff to act in such a capacity. At that Games, he would meet Tara Nott Cunningham, who was working for the Soccer event. Together, they would set off on a journey via the legendary Coffee’s Gym and Sayre Park Weightlifting teams leading to Tara Nott winning the first Olympic Gold medal in the history of the sport. Nott is now a member of both the USA Weightlifting and IWF Hall of Fames.
Outside of weightlifting, his strength coaching career would take him to some very notable positions, including with the Chicago Bulls and United States Olympic Committee before returning to USA Weightlifting for a second stint in 2017.
Angelo Bianco III (Las Vegas, NV) – World Team Member
Perhaps best remembered for his signature mullet and “that” singlet at the 2016 Olympic Trials, Bianco was also very well accomplished on the platform, notably including a medal winning performance over 330kg in the 77kg category at the 2017 Pan American Championships, a lift that was critical in assisting the United States to field its’ largest Pan American Games team since 2003 in the coming 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, PER.
Joe Puleo (Detroit, MI) – 2 x Olympian
Puleo represented the United States at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games and then was selected to represent the USA once more at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow following coming out of retirement in 1979, but was not permitted to compete at the time. Since Puleo did compete in China that year, he holds the record for the longest international career for any senior athlete at 18 years.
Chuck Vinci (Cleveland, OH) – Olympic Champion
Along the way, Vinci also won 7 National Championships and 2 Pan American Games while setting World Records in the Snatch, Clean & Jerk and the total.