As a swimmer growing up, I dreamed of making it to the Olympics. I even knew where my Olympic rings tattoo would go (on my hip, just below my suit). As I grew up, I became more realistic and realized I wouldn’t be going as an athlete. I have always really loved coaching, though, so I decided there would be nothing more rewarding then going to the Olympics as a coach. I can still remember listing in my bio for one of my theater productions that I planned to be an Olympic swim coach. Ever 4 years I got excited and wrapped up into the spirit of the Olympics. Yes, I watched swimming, but I also closely followed gymnastics, track, water-polo, volleyball, skating, cycling and more. I lived for those couple weeks each summer where I got to watch the world’s best battle it out.
I don’t know why, maybe because it was on home soil/maybe because I was at an impressionable age, but the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta still stands out in my mind as the one I remember the most from.
Amy Van Dyken was one of my swimming favorites at the time, so watching her win 4 gold medals was amazing. Amanda Beard was in her first Olympics swimming breastroke at the age of 14, and Jenny Thompson was still kicking butt on relay teams. I remember Podkopayeva won the women’s all around, Kerri Strug, literally hopped to a team victory and Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller were my favorite gymnast at the time. I remember Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis ripping it up on the track, women’s softball winning gold, and so much more!
The funny thing for me now, is even after all these years of watching Olympics, I didn’t even know archery was a sport until the 2012 Olympics. Being married to an All American rifle shooter who tried to earn a spot at the Athens Olympics, I spent a lot of my college days learning about the shooting sports, but this did not include archery. It wasn’t until he decided to randomly watch some archery in London, that I was introduced to it.
Anyways, back to the Olympics. As an avid Olympics viewer and a competitive athlete growing up, I’ve met my fair share of Olympians. This year is different for me, however. This year I am watching the very people I traveled with all year compete on the World’s largest scale. During this past spring I spent more time with these teammates then I did my husband. I consider them not just my teammates, but my friends. And it’s not just the US competitors. I am watching the same people compete in the Olympics that I have seen at every major international tournament over the last 2 years. It makes watching the Olympics a whole new experience for me, and it brings a flood of emotions. I want to be there supporting them and cheering them on from the stands. I feel helpless sitting behind my computer (or tv) watching matches with ZERO control of the outcome. I may not be able to influence a match in person, but I feel like the individuals know I am supporting them when I am physically there, which I can’t do this time around and that’s frustrating.
Due to my place in the sport, I was invited for Olympic week to some kindergarten classrooms in RI. It was awesome to not only introduce the kids to the sport of archery (and Team USA archers that would be competing in Rio), but to the Olympics in general. When I asked if anyone remembered where the last Olympics was held, I got a bunch of dazed and confused looks before I remembered at 4 and 5 years old this essentially was their first Olympic experience! The highlight of my visit was showing a small group the London gold medal men’s team match. I’ve never seen anyone who isn’t part of the sport get so into archery. They were yelling at the computer, some cheering on the US and some for Italy. They would jump up and down and fist pump each other when a 10 was shot, they would scream when an arrow went in the red, it was the Olympic spirit I’ve always had, shown to me through the eyes of children. It was an awesome experience!
Rio is different for me, but also in a good way. I watched our men’s team shoot consistently well through qualifications and on team day. I watched them work together as a team and talk to each other, just like I have seen them do in person. It was a whole new feeling for me when they won the silver medal. It wasn’t just Team USA winning the silver, it was Brady, Jake and Zach, my teammates. I know I had nothing to do with their win, but I felt like I could share it with them. I know they earned it not just for themselves, but for Team USA, their families, fellow archers, and so many others. I then watched Mackenzie in her first Olympics, and I was proud of the hard work she put in to get there.
Watching Jake and Brady shoot their first elimination matches was truly amazing. They both were shooting as good, if not better, than I had ever seen in a tournament. It was heartbreaking to know as good as they both were shooting, only one could move on because they would meet each other in the next round. Having shot against my teammates at World Cups (which are nothing compared to the Olympics), I know the emotions that go through your head. For me this is something I’ve really struggled with in the sport, so to see them have to go through this at THE OLYMPICS was just gut wrenching for me. They both handled it phenomenally, and it was a good match with both having some good shots, and some I’m sure they would have liked to get back.
The following day I got to watch Zach and one of my favorite archers, Crispen Duenas (team Canada) compete in their first round matches. Zach made it easy on my nerves, winning 6-0 his first match, while Cripen had to draw it out, winning 6-5 in a shootoff (drilled a 10!). Much like the previous day, I now was conflicted on who to cheer for, as Zach and Crispen had to face off against each other in the second round. It’s the Olympics, so naturally I had to stick with Team USA, knowing if Zach won that guarantees us a spot in the top 8, since the winner of that match would face Brady on finals day (can anyone say WORST bracket EVER!). Even though I was rooting for Zach, I was happy to see Crispen shoot well and the two had a good match.
The US had no women in the archery tournament on Thursday, so I was able to cheer for anyone I wanted, which was fun! It was great to see a few non-Korean archers that I know have worked hard, make it further than they ever have at an Olympics. Lisa Unruh (Germany), Alejandra Valencia (Mexico) and Naomi Folkard (GB) are three that come to mind. I also watched swimming beginning with the women’s 200M breaststroke. Next up was the men’s 200M back. Newcomer, Ryan Murphy, continued the US’ dominance with another 100/200 double Gold, winning fairly easily! Then it was time for the men’s 200M IM. This is a race Phelps had won at 3 straight Olympics, and Ryan Lochte was always right there on the podium with him. Phelps crushed his breaststroke lap and hammered home in the free to leave no doubt on whether this would be win #4 in a row for him. Lochte on the other hand finished in 4th, just off the podium, after he seemed to just sort of run out of gas near the end of the race. Finally, the women’s 100m free. Simone Manuel swam her little heart out in this race, beating out the heavy favorite, Sarah Sjostrom, along with Penny Oleksiak (they had tied for Gold). Many watching this race probably have no clue the true significance of a black girl winning a swimming race in the Olympics, but I can tell you as recent as 15 years ago I saw the VERY few black swimmers who were on my team treated with complete disrespect when we visited other pools. I still remember a swimmer refusing to swim her race when we competed overseas because she would be swimming in the lane next to Shana and feared the “black would rub off in the water onto her.”
This lead me to Friday, the day I would find out if one of our two remaining men from the US would be able to capture an individual medal. Zach and Brady had to face off in their first match, which meant we would be guaranteed a spot in the top 8. Minus two fliers by Zach, the two were pounding the target, making it a really exciting match for everyone watching. I was so nervous for both of them, I had trouble sitting still. Brady came out on top 6-4, moving him to the next round. Knowing Zach, I know he will be disappointed in the match, but I think he should hold his head up high for doing as well as he did in his first Olympics. I have faith we will see more of him in the future, standing on podiums around the world.
Next Brady faced Takaharu from Japan, and took the win 6-2. At this point I knew he was in a medal match. I was sooo excited for him, but I knew he still had work to do to secure a medal.
I knew how badly he wanted this, and I struggled to even be able to watch his match with Ku Bonchan (Korea). Each end they tied, I became more and more nervous. 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, then in the 4th set I was crushed to see Ku take the set, putting him up 5-3. This meant all he needed was a tie in the 5th and final set to win the match. Come on Brady, I was yelling at my tv, show them why you are the best, drill a 30 here! Luckily a 29 was all he needed to clinch the final set, which put them into a shootoff. At this point I knew Brady was going to win. I’ve seen his shootoff arrows in the past, and I just knew he was going to win. Unfortunately, he let the shot get away from him and shot an 8, allowing Ku to win the match with just a 9.
Now Brady was in the bronze medal match, which meant win and get a medal, lose and go home once again without his individual medal. He was facing off against Netherland’s Sjef Van Den Berg, who appeared to struggle in his last match. I once again talked to Brady through my tv (yes, I know he can’t hear me, but it helped calm me down!). I knew it would be tough to come out and shoot immediately after what just happened, but I knew Brady could do it. You could actually see him recollecting himself as the match went on, and in the 3rd set we got to see a beautiful 10, 10, 10 by Brady! This put him up 4-2, and it only took him one more set to win 6-2 and claim the bronze.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get teary eyed seeing Brady win the bronze, but it was the podium that really got me. Seeing him up there with JC (France) and Ku (who gave Korea their first ever gold sweep at the Olympics), I just couldn’t control myself. All those guys had worked so hard to get there, all overcoming major obstacles at one point or another in their archery career, I was just beyond happy for them all! I finished the day watching some shooting events, more swimming, and volleyball. Although archery is now over, I haven’t stopped watching all the Olympic coverage I can get my hands on (track, gymnastics, rowing, etc, etc). As R keeps saying, the Olympics are the one time every 4 years where you just have to suck it up and accept your not going to get any sleep!
So why do I love the Olympics so much? I can’t really give you a good answer to that, but I’ve always been a competitive person, so the Olympics speaks to that part of me. I love hearing the stories of Olympians and what they’ve overcome to get there. I love seeing pure domination by some athletes/countries and then surprise upsets from others. I think one of the things I love most is the sense of team. It’s not about winning yourself a medal, its about doing it for all those that helped you get there AND your country. Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to represent my country in two different sports outside of the US, but every time my team has consisted of people in my sport. To be able to be a part of something so much bigger than you or your sport, I think that’s what I love about the Olympics. And with that GO TEAM USA!!!