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Free Food And Laundry – Olympians Share Their Best Memories

Every Olympic Games I am glued to the television set. Even if it is a sport I have not glanced at since the last Olympics, I marvel at the ability for these high achievers to focus, persevere and excel at their passion. Competing at the Olympics was the next logical goal for these athletes. We see the glory on television, but what are these top athletes thinking and feeling as they step onto the field for the opening ceremonies and what really happens at the Olympic Village?

I study extreme high achievers, and some of the Olympic athletes who appear in my upcoming book The Success Factor shared with me what it is like representing their country at the most watched athletic games with the best in the world.

Caryn Davies

Sport: Rowing

Olympics participated: 2004, 2008, 2012

Medals won: 2 gold, 1 silver

Country represented: USA

Stepping off the plane in Athens for my first Olympic Games, that’s when it hit me: I really am going to be an Olympian. There were flags and welcome signs everywhere.  I had eyes wide as saucers walking through the airport. We went through a special passport processing center just for athletes, where we received our accreditation.

During the two weeks of the Games, your accreditation is your Golden Ticket to Willie Wonka’s factory.  It gets you in everywhere, and everything is free.  In fact, you get so used to everything being provided for you in the Olympic Village that you forget things cost money in the outside world.  I walked by a newsstand in the London subway during the Games in 2012 and almost absent-mindedly swiped a water bottle without paying.

I remember getting in a taxi with my bags the day after the closing ceremony in Beijing and looking out the back window of the car as it drove away and thinking, what a magical place.  I must figure out how to earn my way back.

Iris Zimmermann

Sport: Fencing

Olympics participated: 2000

Country represented: USA

The Opening Ceremonies were the best aspect of becoming an Olympian. Being in a less watched sport, I have never been on the ground in a stadium with thousands of people cheering. My sister (Felicia Zimmerman, two time Olympian – 1996 & 2000) and I were able to walk arm in arm into the Sydney Olympic Stadium and the roar of the crowd and enormity of the situation really struck us. I have never since experienced something like that before or probably ever.

One of the best parts of the Opening Ceremonies was when all the athletes travel to the stadium together. The famous Olympians from basketball, tennis, gymnastics, and track and field all convened together. And at that point I knew, we are all competing together. We are all one team. I am teammates with Serena Williams, Ray Allen, and Vince Carter. I was with these giants and although I felt small, I felt a ton of pride being one team, one nation.

Joe Jacobi

Sport: Canoe slalom

Olympics participated: 1992, 2004

Medals won: 1 gold

Country represented: USA

My 1992 Olympic experience was different than for other athletes. I competed in the whitewater canoe slalom. We raced in rural locations around the world so did not have many opportunities to interact with athletes from the other sports.

When I marched into the Olympic opening ceremony in Barcelona, I looked around the stadium and would see my canoeing friends from other countries and their uniforms. We had a connection with the other canoers more than with the other athletes from our country.

In Barcelona, the paddlers were in a satellite Olympic Village, near their whitewater canoeing venue. When our events were over, we got to be in Barcelona with the other athletes. That is when I truly felt like I was part of Team USA.

Michiel Bartman

Sport: Rowing

Olympics participated: 1996, 2000, 2004

Medals won: 1 gold, 2 silver

Country represented: Netherlands

My Olympic village experience is a little bit different than most Olympians. In 1996 and 2004 the rowing venue was so far away from the village that we stayed in a hotel for two weeks in order to reduce travel time. Rowing is typically held in the first week, so only in the second week did we reside in the Olympic Village. In 1996 in Atlanta, in the Olympic Village we had a movie night with Arnold Schwarzenegger who was promoting his new movie. In Sydney in 2000, we stayed at the Olympic Village initially for a week which was great. We stayed in converted shipping containers, went to the opening ceremony had a lot of interaction with other athletes.

We had great many services like laundry, free vending machines with drinks and snacks, gym, and swimming pool. The most fun thing I remember from the Olympic Village was the food court. It was huge, almost the size of two football fields, and great. So many choices of different and delicious food; you could try every night something else. McDonald’s is one of International Olympic Committee sponsors and were prominently placed in the food court as well. 

Most evening I spent at the Dutch Heineken Holland House where you could lounge, drink and party, it was always great to hang out there and see other Dutch athletes. A lot of other countries had something similar. Also, if you had won a medal, you would be celebrated and honored later that evening. You had hundreds of fans and did some funny and crazy stuff. 

Ryan Millar

Sport: Volleyball

Olympics participated: 2000, 2004, 2008

Medals won: 1 gold 

Country represented: USA

Being fortunate enough to compete in three Olympic Games, the feelings from each were all a little different. My first Olympic experience was in the 2000 Sydney Australia Olympic Games. I was the youngest player on the team and it probably showed. I wanted to soak it all in. I will never forget walking into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. The excitement, energy, and enthusiasm was almost overwhelming. I remember that I had heard that back then, pin trading was a big thing. So I took a number of my “best pins” and pinned them to the inside of my opening ceremony jacket to trade with the other athletes from the other countries. What I did not anticipate was the extra weight these pins would have on my outfit. By the end of the night, I was physically exhausted! 

During the 2008 Beijing China Olympics, I remember walking into the athlete’s village for the first time and being struck by how beautiful it was. Manicured lawns and flowers, little streams running through the village with little bridges going over them. It was like a magical Chinese garden. So different from the other villages in Sydney and Athens. I always love the village vibe because when the countries and athletes begin moving in, they immediately begin “dressing up” their building with their country pride (flags, ornaments, signs, etc.). It is quite the sight.

Good luck to all of the athletes and congratulations on becoming an Olympian. You found your passion, worked had, and perseved over countless challenges, including the delay of the Olympic Games. The world is cheering you on, not only for what you achieved, but for the diligent effort and focus you put into your passion.

 

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