America’s other Olympians may win gold, not big glory
Athletes outside the most popular events – gymnastics, track and field, and swimming – win about one third of America’s Olympic medals.
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“A lot of the young guys step up and say, ‘I’m glad you all won, but I’m here,’ ”
says heavyweight Dremiel Byers, a 2007 world bronze medalist and 2002 world gold medalist. “These guys are going to fight you tooth and nail. I like that.”
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Coach Petkovic agrees that this is what makes American wrestlers unique. “In Yugoslavia, you are used to there being things that you can’t get,” he says. “But here the mentality is, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ That gives us an advantage.”
Before the Olympics, recent world championship results are often read like tea leaves. From them, experts try to discern the medal tables to come.
Steven Roush, the US Olympic Committee’s chief of sport performance, says with some consternation that China “won more gold medals than any other country” at the world championships held in 2006.
But within Americans’ successes are also story lines for the month to come.
Jennie Reed, an elite cyclist for a decade, became a world champion for the first time this year, passing two competitors in the last turn of the women’s Keirin race. By contrast, Beezie Madden lost her gold medal on the last jump of the World Equestrian Games in 2006, settling for silver. It was only the second fault her horse had made in a week of competition.
By the measure of gold medals at world championships, however, America’s best return outside the Big Three comes from rowing, with three golds, a silver, and a bronze in 2007.
One of those gold medals came from the women’s eight, who also won in 2006. Its success is a curious alchemy of competition and teamwork.
“I think oftentimes people wonder how we do it, because most of the year we’re competing against each other, as well as with each other, to make the boat,” says Caryn Davies, who made the women’s eight boat for the Olympics, as well as the past two world championships. “But we’re very good at competing when it’s necessary, and as soon as we get on the dock, as soon as we get home, we’re friends again.”
It is this connection that gives her confidence, Ms. Davies says. “I remember the first year that I spent rowing with this group of women – I was in the 2006 women’s eight – and I remember sitting on the starting line and literally just thinking, there’s nobody else that I’d rather have in my boat.”
She adds: “I just felt so much trust for everybody in the boat, and I knew that everybody was going to give it her all, so I think that’s the most you can ask for, really, of your teammates. It’s great to be friends, but it’s really about the trust.”