Kalihi's Tony Leiato works out with the Summer Olympics in mind.
Photo by Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

Tony Leiato getting a free lift
to the Olympics

He'll compete in the shot put event for American Samoa

By Mike Fitzgerald

Tony Leiato has already accomplished so much as a drug-free powerlifter.

He not only won his third consecutive national title last year, but added the Men's Open World Championship this past October in England.

But this next dream, which will come true in July, is still hard to grasp for the 1983 Farrington High School graduate.

The 30-year-old California native, who moved to Kalihi when he was in the sixth grade, will take part in the 1996 Summer Olympics - as a shot putter for the American Samoa team.

"I'm ecstatic," he said after a workout at The Gym in Kakaako. "But it probably won't hit me until I walk in that stadium with 100,000 people there."

Leiato, whose ancestry is Samoan, was a member of the football, wrestling and track and field teams at Farrington.

So when American Samoa congressman Eni Faleomavaega called and asked him to represent the country, he jumped at the chance - even though he hasn't kept up with the shot put.

"The last two months have been a crash course, kind of getting back into the shot put frame of mind," he said. "It's real difficult because it's about 85 percent technique and 15 percent power."

Leiato, a petty officer second class in the Coast Guard, said he is planning to bring his wife, Leah, and 5-year-old son, Micah, to Atlanta.

"I'm so happy just to be going," he said.

Leiato - who has arms like tree trunks - said he started lifting at Farrington to train for the other sports and then to stay in shape after graduating.

In 1988, he was working out at the Nuuanu YMCA when friends there said he should try competitive powerlifting.

Later that year, he entered and won a meet in Louisiana, where he was stationed.

"I was really reluctant at first because I didn't know anything about it," he recalled.

He has always stayed drug-free, even in a sport that is filled with illegal steroid usage.

"Steroids is still a rampant problem," he said. "It's so expensive to keep tabs on guys through testing. There are just more steroid users than there are testers."

Leiato said that much depends on which federation you compete under.

"The one I'm in (American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association) is completely drug-free," he said. "Every time you lift, they test you.

"It's just been a way of life for me to stay drug-free, especially being a member of the Coast Guard. I never took them and never will. Ever since I started lifting I wanted to see how far I could go drug-free."

"Then I won a world championship, so I'm pretty happy."

His numbers are impressive.

At the nationals, his squat was 832 pounds, he benched 600.75 pounds and he deadlifted 675 pounds.

But now he is getting ready for the once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Olympics.

"I've had to curb my heavy lifting a little bit because I have to do a lot of stretching for the shot put," he said. "Stretching is real important for the shot put because it doesn't matter how strong you are.

"Shot put is all legs and hips. But I still lift - I can't stay away from the gym."

Leiato has some advice for young weightlifters:

"Number one is to stay away from steroids - don't even think about it. Get to know people who have succeeded drug-free first.

"You don't have to be big and strong to have weights help you with your other sports."

Leiato - who said he works out four days a week, two to three hours a day - paused, resting his his hand on his huge right forearm.

"Find someone who knows a lot about weightlifting - then surround yourself with people who are willing to work real hard drug-free."

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