Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Home News
Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 | 12:05 a.m.
Marcelo Figueiredo is the Bela Karolyi of Brazil.
The Southwest Las Vegas resident was his native country's national gymnastics team coach for 15 years. He trained Brazil's finest female gymnasts to three Olympic games, two Pan American Games gold medals and 10 South American Games championships.
But unlike Karolyi, the former United States coach who worked with notables like Mary Lou Retton and Dominique Moceanu, gymnastics isn't all that defines the 40-year-old Figueiredo. For years, he led a double life as DJ Talla, a disc jockey who has performed in some of America's famous clubs.
The lucrative nightclub business is what lured Figueiredo away from gymnastics after he coached Brazil in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He moved to Los Angeles to be a full-time disc jockey. Figueiredo relocated again to Las Vegas in 2003, when he was offered a job as resident disc jockey at Krave nightclub.
But Figueiredo, who coached gymnastics since he was 16, missed the sport and grew tired of being DJ Talla on a regular basis.
"You change your life," Figueiredo said. "You're up nights instead of days. You sleep late. You wake up and eat lunch instead of breakfast."
After about a year living in the desert, Figueiredo picked up the phone book looking for gyms that needed coaches. The first one listed was Brown's Gymnastics, which happened to be about a mile from his residence at Rainbow Boulevard and Russell Road.
After realizing who he was, it didn't take long for Brown's owner, Dayna Waroe, to hire Figueiredo. He has been training athletes at the gym ever since.
Under his tutelage, Brown's has had five gymnasts qualify for the USA Gymnastics Talent Opportunity Program, a training ground for the nation's elite gymnasts. The gym never had a gymnast qualify for the program in its seven years before Figueiredo arrived.
"In the 10 years we've been open, I've had probably eight male coaches," Waroe said. "But none as serious and committed as Marcelo is."
Asi Peko, likely Brown's top gymnast after making the junior national team this summer, said Figueiredo has inspired her.
"He wants us to be our best at all times," Peko said. "Even when we're sick, he still wants us to come in and train a little bit to see what we can do so we don't waste a day. He's focused, and he has a good heart."
Figueiredo got involved in gymnasts at the age of 10. Initially a youth diver, Figueiredo first walked in a gym to work on his jumps and flips when pools were closed during winter months. He immediately fell in love with gymnastics.
As a competitor, he was forced to quit the sport at 16 due to financial reasons. Figueiredo continued to hang around his gym, and soon parents of younger athletes urged him to begin coaching.
His reputation as a up-and-coming coach then earned him a spot working with the national team at age 17.
Ironically, coaching gymnastics is also what got him into being a disc jockey.
"Early on, I didn't know why my kids had deductions from judges in dance, so I began doing dance classes," Figueiredo said. "I began to appreciate music and had good dance teachers that brought a lot of fresh, soulful music."
Waroe said Figueiredo's musical experience helps make him an elite coach.
"Usually a male coach does vault, bars and tumbling, but the female does dance and choreography," Waroe said. "But with his extensive dance background, he can single-handedly produce an Olympic gymnast by himself."
Though he can make more money as DJ Talla, Figueiredo has since quit the nightclub scene, only appearing at special events a few times a year, so he can focus on coaching.
"It's not easy being in a country that's not yours," he said. "But the first day I coached at Brown's I felt welcome. Now I feel I have a family in America that I never had before."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].