espnW: 2012 London Olympics

Rich sports soil at Princeton

October, 22, 2013
Maya LawrencePhil Walter/Getty ImagesMaya Lawrence, a 2002 Princeton graduate, helped the United States capture the bronze medal in team epee at the London Olympics.

Turn the clock all the way back to Oct. 22, 1746, and you land on the day that Princeton University was founded. Originally known as the College of New Jersey, it became Princeton University in 1896 after it moved from Elizabeth to Newark and then, finally, to Princeton. You don’t have to turn the clock back nearly as far to find women making statements on athletic fields. The Tigers, in fact, won the 2013 NCAA title in women’s fencing. In 2012, they became the first Ivy League school to win the NCAA field hockey championship. That followed national championships in 1994, 2002 and 2003 in women’s lacrosse. Individually, several Princeton athletes represented the United States at the London Olympics, including bronze medalists Maya Lawrence and Susie Scanlan in fencing; Michelle Cesan, Julia Reinprecht and Katie Reinprecht in field hockey; and Sara Hendershot, Caroline Lind and Gevvie Stone in rowing.

Shields makes not-so-ideal return to ring

September, 10, 2013
Claressa ShieldsAP Photo/Rick OsentoskiClaressa Shields became the first American woman to win an Olympic boxing gold medal last year in London.

It may be a step back for Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, but at least it lands her back in the ring.

Shields, the lone American to win a gold medal in the debut of women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics, will return to international competition later this month at the Women's Junior/Youth World Championships in Albena, Bulgaria.

The 18-year-old, who recently started her freshman year at Olivet College in her home state of Michigan, was forced to drop down to the youth division due to a rule change in the age divisions by AIBA, the international governing body for Olympic-style boxing.

The ruling, she told the Detroit News, was "devastating."

As a 17-year-old, Shields handily beat 33-year-old Nadezda Torlopova of Russia in the Olympic final. Since then, silence. Struggling to find anyone willing to fight her, a year went by between bouts. Shields finally returned to the ring last month in her hometown of Flint and beat Canadian Alison Greey to improve her record to 34-1 (which includes 15 TKOs).

Shields, who has won two Junior Olympic titles, is seeking her first youth championship. She plans to enter the elite age ranks in 2014 and has her eye on defending her middleweight gold at the 2016 Games in Rio.

The Women's Junior/Youth World Championships begin Sept. 22. The finals are scheduled for Sept. 28.

Happiness is my new priority

April, 11, 2013
Jessica HardyCourtesy of Jessica Hardy Jessica Hardy hanging out with her new puppy, Duke.

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, leading up to the London Games, there was a lot of anxiety in my life. After my suspension just before Beijing, I was afraid I wouldn't get another shot at the Olympics. Even if I did perform well enough to make it to London, I worried I wouldn't perform my best once I was there.

Now, with two Olympic medals under my belt, I treat life differently. In addition to being more relaxed, I've gained a better understanding of the big picture. I've toned down my training a bit (three hours a day instead of six), and if I see a brownie lying around, I might even let myself eat it. Don't get me wrong; I'm still just as competitive as I've always been. But for the first time in my career, I've learned to spend a little more time having fun and enjoying life. I highly recommend it!

[+] EnlargeJessica Hardy
Courtesy of Jessica Hardy"Some of the maintenance a 26-year-old body needs," said Jessica Hardy.

Since I haven't competed at all this year, I've had the opportunity to do things that weren't necessarily available to me before the Olympics, like appearances, photo shoots, motivational speaking and clinics. It's been a blast. I'll be participating in the Toyota Grand Prix pro/celebrity auto race in Long Beach, Calif. I recently spent five days training for the event, and I'm amazed at how much technique is involved. It's like swimming, in some ways: You need the technique before you can apply speed. For the record, racing 105 mph around a track is a great way to get some aggression out of your system.

With all the fun as I'm having out of the pool, it's tough to get excited about the daily training grind. On one hand, I have three more years until the hard work really matters again at the Olympics, but I also have some things I'd like to accomplish at the world championships this summer. Over the past couple of years, I've been about a tenth of a second off the world record in the 50-meter breaststroke. I'm a little superstitious when it comes to sharing my goals, but that's one record I would love to get my hands on.

Even though I'll be 29 once Rio rolls around in 2016, I definitely believe I can make it there. Maintaining a healthy body gets tougher every year (thank goodness for chiropractors!), but, after missing out on the Beijing Games, I'm hungry for one more Olympic experience.

[+] EnlargeJessica Hardy
Courtesy of Jessica Hardy "On my stand-up paddle board, loving my downtime," said Jessica Hardy, who's had a more relaxed training schedule this past year.

Until then, my priority is my happiness. I recently decided to move back to my hometown of Long Beach. I could live without my one-hour commute to the pool every morning, but I'm reaping the benefits of living near family and friends. In my downtime, it's so nice to be able to hang out at the beach or have dinner (preferably Japanese or Mexican food) with a group of old friends. I'm also the proud new owner of a puggle puppy named Duke.

On top of everything else, I'm excited to be marrying my fiance, Swiss swimmer Dominik Meichtry, this fall. Our schedules make for a lot of time apart, so it will be nice to make things official. I'm happy to report that wedding planning hasn't been quite as nerve-racking as I was anticipating.

It's fascinating to see how a change in perspective has freed me up to enjoy my sport and my life in a new way. During and after my suspension, I struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress. Now, thanks to some therapy, some work with a sports psychologist and even some brain training, I've learned that there is nothing to fear. If I put my mind to something, I know I can accomplish it.

Already looking toward Rio

December, 13, 2012
Lashinda DemusEric Feferberg/Getty ImagesTBD BY EDITORIAL

The best part about winning an Olympic medal? Knowing that you represented your country proudly in international competition. The next best part? I'll be honest: I'm enjoying the recognition. It feels so good to know that what you do -- all the training and everything you go through behind the scenes when the TV cameras aren't around -- isn't in vain.

Since the Olympics I've reveled in that feeling. I got to meet President Obama with the rest of the U.S. Olympic team, and people I've never met have told me they were cheering for me in London. Moms especially have randomly come up to me and said I've encouraged them to work out after they had their own children.

I always knew, even when I was pregnant with my twins Dontay and Duaine in 2007, that I would return to running. Of course I doubted whether I could be as fast as I had been, but I could also take comfort knowing that my mom Yolanda had gone through the same thing.

[+] EnlargeLashida Demus
Christian Petersen/Getty Imagestbd by editor

Track is in my blood. My mom was a 1980 Olympic hopeful, and she had my older sister when she was young. She didn't get to live her Olympic dream, but her love of the sport has remained intense and real.

After I didn't make the 2008 Olympic team, I went looking for a new coach. I didn't find a good fit, so I turned to my mom.

I have to admit, she was a last resort. When I asked if she wanted to train me, she was like, "Me? You want me to train you? Really?" I said we should try it out -- and I could always go somewhere else if it didn't work.

But it did work, and everything about my running has improved. Under her (and between you and me, she's a tough coach!), I'm in the best shape of my life. It's paid off with the best results of my career, including the world title in 2011, and that beautiful silver medal from London this past summer. One of the biggest honors I've received recently is my current hometown in Palmdale named a day (Sept. 6) after me. It was extra special because that also happens to be my mom's birthday.

I have no plans to stop now. I started training again about two months ago, and am looking forward to the 2013 season. It would mean a lot to be able to compete in Rio in 2016. Someone asked me recently if it was tough being 29 in a sport where the top runners are often younger; but, believe it or not, track and field athletes tend to peak between the ages of 28 and 33. I'm in my prime right now, and I plan to go out that way -- hopefully with an Olympic gold medal or world record (or both!) in my pocket. Four years from now, I'll be 33 years old. Edwin Moses, the great 400-meter hurdler, retired on top at 33, and I plan to do the same. What comes next are the golden years -- literally, I hope.

Trip to Rwanda provides firsthand insight

December, 13, 2012
Natalie CoughlinCourtesy of Right To PlayKids at the schools welcomed the group with big smiles, singing and dancing.

It may have taken me two days and six flights (SIX!) to reach Rwanda for my very first field visit as a Right to Play athlete ambassador, but the jam-packed four days I spent in Africa were well worth the travel craziness. During that time, I visited several schools, met some adorable children, saw the program curriculum in action and spent some quality time with local gorillas (no joke). More importantly, I was able to see firsthand who I had been supporting through my involvement with Right to Play.

I first heard of the nonprofit organization at the 2004 Athens Games from my suitemate, Jenny Thompson. She was collecting auction items for a Right to Play fundraiser. Four years later in Beijing, they had a program in place called "Hearts of Gold" through which Johnson & Johnson would make a contribution to RTP for every medal won. But there was a catch: You had to go to the RTP headquarters in the Olympic Village and sign a pledge of support for your medals to count. I may or may not have accosted other athletes in an effort to make them stop by and sign, ha! My six medals that year translated to $85,000 for Right to Play, and I knew I didn’t want to stop there.

When my agent mentioned the possibility of a field visit to Rwanda, I said yes right away. And by right away, I mean without even talking to my husband or my family first. I was all in from the very beginning.

We hit the ground running the second we arrived in Africa (water polo Olympian Heather Petri was traveling with me). Our group visited three or four schools each day, and without fail we were welcomed with big smiles, singing, and dancing. We were also met with shouts of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” which means white person. Blonde hair is definitely not something those kids see very often!

At some of the school stops, children would perform skits or speak about how Right to Play has affected their lives. At others, we got right into groups and started playing some of the RTP games. Even a simple game of tag can be geared toward teaching children certain survival skills, like how to avoid getting malaria. And statistics have proved the strategy is working.

One of the things that has stuck with me was how affectionate the kids were with someone they had just met. I would sit down on the ground, and they would immediately be crawling all over me. It was great! My digital camera was also a source of fascination. One by one, the children would ask me to take their picture. With little or no access to mirrors, many of them were seeing themselves for the first time on the camera screen. It’s amazing what we take for granted, right?

Our “gorilla trek” through the Rwandan bamboo forest was also quite an experience. In September, I swam in open water with great white sharks and somehow felt more comfortable than I did around those gorillas. They are unpredictable, not to mention huge and powerful. The idea was to stay at least 20 feet away from them, but by the end of our adventure, I had brushed up against a silverback and backed into another gorilla (whoops!). To top it all off, I actually got kicked by one of the babies. At one point I just told myself, “Whatever happens, happens!” I put my life in our guide’s hands, and luckily we emerged in one piece. On the plus side, I can now say I’ve been kicked by a gorilla. Yes!

My trip to Rwanda seemed like the longest week of my life, but it was also one of the best. No matter how dedicated a supporter you are of a cause, your perspective changes when you see things from the front lines. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to use my swimming background to help Right to Play accomplish its mission: “To use sport and play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities.”

Right to Play is an international organization dedicated to using sport and play to empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Read more here.

Who's ready to play?

December, 12, 2012
Tobin HeathPatrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty ImagesTobin Heath is feeling great after London and wants to continue playing soccer -- day in and day out.

I know that most Olympic athletes looked forward to a break after London, but I was not one of them.

I have such a passion for soccer; it comes easily and naturally to me, so of course I want to keep it going. It's actually been hard for me not to play as consistently as I'm used to in these months since the Games.

I've watched my teammates get married, see their families, settle down emotionally and allow their bodies to heal. But, personally, I just want to play all the time. My body feels the best it ever has, which I'm really thankful for (and a little surprised about since we're coming off the 2011 World Cup and London Olympics). I'm in a good place and ready for more.

Since London, the U.S. team has been city-hopping on a nationwide victory tour. It works like this: We fly to a city, have one open training session and play a game. We also get to see the city, interact with fans, and catch up with friends and families.

Our first tour game was in Abby Wambach's hometown of Rochester, N.Y., and it was very cool to see her whole crew out there supporting her and the sport. It wasn't just her friends and family, either; let's just say there's a walkway outside the stadium named after her. The crowds have been great everywhere we've been: Portland, Chicago, L.A. We've sold out a lot of the venues, and more people than I expected have shown up for our open trainings.

Seeing this level of enthusiasm and support post-Olympics has made us feel great. Everyone is still feeling an emotional tie to the team, and it seems people really want to see more women's soccer. I've seen a massive increase in fan interest and overall popularity of the team in the time I've been playing, and it's been really cool.

As a female athlete, you definitely don't come into your sport thinking you're going to be a superstar and make a lot of money. U.S. Soccer is not the NFL. You really start playing because you love it. I've never felt underappreciated because I've never really looked to outside things to verify my love of soccer. You just play the game and enjoy it, and keep playing it because you're enjoying it.

But I do think we're continuing the path for the next generation -- we're allowing young girls to continue to dream and helping create opportunities that weren't there before. The moments we've had at the World Cup and Olympics have created this growth in women's soccer, and I also have a lot of appreciation for the people who played before me, the generations of the '70s and '80s and '90s. The success they had paved the way for us.

Now that I'm in their shoes, I want to give back to this sport as much as I can. So, is anybody up for a game?

President Obama and McKayla Maroney? Not impressed!

November, 17, 2012

Remember this photo from the 2012 Summer Olympics?

It was U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney's honest reaction after taking home the silver medal in the individual vault competition at the Games, an event she was highly favored to win.

But in the days and weeks following the Olympics, Maroney's "look" became a talking point, especially when the teenager made the rounds on the talk-show circuit. Even Letterman couldn't resist asking.

And yes, Maroney "did that face again" when the U.S. women's gymnastics team visited the White House on Friday, and even President Barack Obama was in on the joke.

ObamaOfficial White House Photo/Pete Souza
Rachel Dawson Courtesy of Rachel Dawson Rachel Dawson hit the road after London -- from San Diego to San Francisco, then all the way east to New Jersey.

What have I done in the last three months?

I wish I had a good, clean, heroic answer for you -- something that would knock your socks off and move your heart to dance a jig. I wish I could tell you that life in the past three months was perfect, pretty and certain, like an impeccably painted image of Olympic triumph narrated by Bob Costas. I'm sorry. I just can't give you that. But life has been a beautiful, winding road for me.

Three months. It's amazing to think it has been that long since the Games. I thought time would stop after the Olympics. We had a very disappointing Games -- 12th (last) place, in fact -- and I rationalized maybe the triumphant return of the Spice Girls and Annie Lennox's closing ceremony theatrics meant the apocalypse was finally here.

But the world didn't end. Time spun madly and chaotically, and with it, I carried on down that winding road of life, feeling a bit like Jack Kerouac, having "nowhere to go but everywhere." So from one unexpected adventure to another, I've "just [kept] on rolling under the stars."

After the Games I said goodbye to teammates who'd become family, coaches who'd become confidants and dreams that'd become reality. I said goodbye to a part of myself that had been clothed for years with an immediate sense of Olympic purpose. Naked, vulnerable, and unsure of what was next, I stepped forward on the road to wander the great unknown of "life after the Olympics."

OK, that's a little dramatic -- I had clothes on -- but there's truth in it. The road is scary. I had no after-London plan. Most of my life had been paved with plans, but, this time, I craved the unknown. I was ready to trust in the winds of God and let life unfold.

[+] EnlargeRachel Dawson
Courtesy of Rachel DawsonRachel Dawson, left, with her younger sister Meghan at the Champions Challenge Tournament in Dublin -- Meghan's first game on the U.S. national team.

So literally, I hit the road. I packed my apartment in San Diego, hopped in my car and drove with one of my best friends -- first north, up the California coast on Pacific Coast Highway, then east. Over the next 12 days, America's vast and beautiful terrain unfolded before our eyes. The road meandered from Santa Barbara to Monterrey, to San Francisco, to Tahoe, to Vail, to Denver, to Iowa City, to Ann Arbor, and finally, all the way to New Jersey.

The further east we drove, the more I felt an impending sense of purpose. I longed for home. I missed my family, and the time was nearing for me to give to them what I had so long given to myself: me. At my mom's house in New Jersey, I have a small, closet-less room. I arrived, and immediately unpacked. I was ready to settle in.

But the next day I got a phone call from Nick Conway, the (former) WNT assistant coach and head coach of the junior team. He was in a bind, and needed to find a quick replacement for a recently vacated junior team management role. He thought I'd be the perfect fit for the job. He asked if I'd go to Mexico as the team's video coach and mentor.

Sure, I was flattered he asked, but the truth is, I didn't want to go. I was tired, and I wanted to stay in New Jersey for awhile.

That night though, something fortuitous happened. From my mom's living room I listened as Michelle Obama delivered a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention. She spoke of family, hard work and humble sacrifice, and the passion of her words struck a deep chord inside of me.

I knew what I had to do. For so long I'd been given kindness and limitless opportunity and now I needed to give back. I long to be the type of American who makes the First Lady, and the rest of our nation, proud -- proud not for the glamorous and celebrated role of Olympian, but as an unglamorous and uncelebrated simple, hardworking, do-what-I-can-for-my-country American.

Two days later, I was on a plane to Guadalajara. The team, a young group of enthusiastic college girls, was competing in the Junior Pan American Championships. On the line was a qualification spot in the 2013 Junior World Cup.

I spent 12 days in Mexico propped behind a computer screen and camera lens filming games and scouting opponents. It was quite an interesting juxtaposition with the last time I was in Guadalajara less than a year ago, when we'd earned an Olympic berth by upsetting world champ Argentina to win the Pan Am Games.

I didn't mind the work, or the new perspective, though. Actually, I found it purifying. My heart grew in gratitude for those who'd created such seamless competitive experiences for my teammates and I over the years. And the work helped me find something that I'd lost somewhere in the pressure, expectation and heartache of the Olympic year -- my love of the game.

In Mexico, I found love in simple moments: in the girls' enthusiastic singing, in their wide-eyed, bushy-tailed love of one another and the game and their devout support of the USA boys team. I saw it elsewhere, too. In Guatemala's epic and exuberant celebration of their country's first international goal. In the eyes of each of our staff members -- Conway, Shellie Onstead and Carrie Lingo. I saw a devoted passion for the game and a willingness to share it and sacrifice for it. I saw love in the impeccable technical brilliance of the Argentines. As I watched game after game, I saw new things, and I learned from them, and as I learned, my love grew.

I think I found that love at the perfect time. I left Mexico and hit the road back to California for a short national team training camp prior to the Champions Challenge Tournament in Dublin. It was an impromptu training camp; of the roster's 18 members only 12 were in camp, including four national team newbies. We felt like the field hockey equivalent of the Bad News Bears -- a hodge-podge group of unwanted athletes.

Yet somehow, the adversity made it more exciting. We had something to prove. We worked hard to prove it, and spent long, intense hours on the turf. We found joy in the work, and it bonded us. Excitement pervaded the group. Nothing was taken for granted. Somehow and from somewhere, each of our roads had led here, and we were thankful for it, because each of us was doing what she loved.

Then, two days before we left for Ireland, in an odd, long-awaited stroke of fate, my 23-year-old little sister Meghan got the call up to the national team. My heart swelled with pride. It's funny how the road works itself out when we least expect it. Sure, I was a little nervous for Moo, but mostly, I was thrilled.

I'm not sure what it was, but there was something magical about the trip to Ireland. Maybe it was the imperfect perfection of it: With all the cards stacked against us, we could have easily folded, but we didn't. We chose to stand. We chose to work for one other.

We gritted through games and won ugly. We made it to the final and got pummeled by Australia. But I didn't feel like we had failed. Maybe we'd actually succeeded greatly, having exercised one of life's most valuable lessons: We enjoyed the beautiful struggle of it all.

When I look back on these past three months, I am incredibly thankful for them, and for the imperfect brilliance of the winding road I've traveled. And here's the truth, at least as I see it: Life is full of hardship, full of lessons, full of joy, full of crossroads and full of goodbyes. We can't control everything on the road, but we can control how we travel it. So all I can do is pack up my values, and journey with a mindful head and open heart, trusting the road will lead me where I am meant to go. I am OK with that, because wherever the road leads, I'll trudge happily along.

So maybe I'll see you in Rio, maybe I won't. Who knows what the road has in store.

On to the next race

November, 13, 2012
Jessica HardyBoris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty ImagesJessica Hardy has had a smile on her face since her Olympic dreams came true in London.

I didn't expect winning Olympic medals to feel quite this good!

Since I started swimming, I've dreamed of competing at the Olympics and earning medals with the U.S. team. Seeing those dreams become reality this past summer has brought me immense satisfaction. Life since London has been more relaxed, and I have a big smile on my face all the time. I'm extremely grateful, and in many ways, fulfilled.

But I'm not done. Having those Olympic medals has not changed how I love swimming and the racing lifestyle. I'm a competitive person (some would say super-competitive), and even now, with my suits hardly dried out, I feel a strong urge to continue.

[+] EnlargeJessica Hardy and Dominik Meichtry
Courtesy of Jessica Hardy Jessica Hardy and her fiancÚ, Dominik Meichtry, get their feet cleaned by fish while in Singapore for the final leg of the World Cup series.

I did take a break after London -- I took a month off and did some inspirational speaking and clinics with children. I was part of a parade in my hometown of Long Beach, Calif., and traveled to the White House with many other members of the U.S. Olympic team.

I missed training, though. You get into this structured routine, and you begin to feel strange when you're not doing it. It was weird not to have a purpose. Sure, I could sleep as late as I wanted, but at the same time, I began to wonder: now what?

That feeling made it easier to return to the pool. My training regime is a bit lighter than it was before the Games: I had been doing three hours of dry land -- what swimmers call cross-training -- per day, and now I do two hours of dry land a couple times a week. But I still get up at 6 a.m., drive an hour to practice, and am in the pool at 7:30.

Remember those commercials where the winner of a Super Bowl or Olympic gold medal would be asked where he or she was going next? The answer was always "I'm going to Disney World!" During the months since London, I've traveled all over the world -- almost everywhere except Disney World, in fact.

I just got back from the World Cup series, and I'm very happy with how I did. I started off stronger than I expected after the nice post-Olympic break, and swam myself into even better shape by the end, ultimately going best times in the world for this season so far in the 50- and 100-meter breaststrokes. I ended with lots of medals, and lots of experiences from around the world.

I traveled as a "mentor" with the U.S. junior national team in Europe, so I had a lot of fun meeting the up-and-comers in our sport. They taught me about the iPhone app Snapchat (it's all the rage, apparently!) and we saw some amazing things like St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and the Berlin Wall in Germany.

The last part of the World Cup series was in Asia, and since I've been to Singapore, Tokyo and Beijing before, it was a more relaxed sightseeing schedule. My fiancÚ Dominik (a Swiss swimmer) and I visited friends in Japan and enjoyed awesome cuisine -- from teppan to sushi on a conveyer belt. In Singapore, we had our feet cleaned by fish, which tickled almost to a point of being painful! It was a nonstop, whirlwind trip, but was so much fun too.

Now I'm setting my sights on South America. Four years from now, Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Games. Though it's still very far away, the London experience got me hooked, and I already know that I want to try to make that team to Rio. I'm the world-record holder in the breaststroke, an event I didn't even compete in at the London Games. So that's one goal: to compete breaststroke in Rio. And to keep pushing myself, because there's more I want to do in this sport.

Tamika Catchings Tamika Catchings Tamika Catchings celebrates Team USA's gold at a postgame party in London.

On my flight home from London, gold medal in hand, I ended up taking pictures with just about every person in business class. Even the pilot came out to take a look at the hardware!

Less than 24 hours before that trip back to the States, I was celebrating Team USA’s fifth straight gold medal with my family, friends and teammates at our hotel in London. Other than the drug test I had to take immediately after the game (crazy, right?), that night was an amazing end to weeks of hard work. I got only two hours of sleep before I had to head to the airport, but soaking in such a special experience was more than worth the sleep deprivation.

Our team may not have had much practice time leading to the Olympics, but each lady did her part to get the job done in London. We compared it to a puzzle: If each piece fit where it was supposed to, we could complete the picture. Likewise, if each one of us brought the one thing we were really good at to the table, we would go home with gold! While everyone back at home thought this would be a piece of cake, those of use who were a part of the 2006 world championship team used our bronze medal there as a reminder never to underestimate our opponents.

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Courtesy of Tamika CatchingsTamika Catchings' newest medal up close. Catchings has now won three consecutive Olympic golds with Team USA.

The energy in the arena certainly helped us stay focused. Often when you are in the lead by a big margin, you can see the crowd (and sometimes even your teammates) start staring off into the clouds. That was definitely not the case in London. In addition to the loud fans, I could scan the bench and see each of my teammates cheering and screaming until the end. It doesn’t get much better than that.

We didn’t stay in the Olympic Village, but we did get to spend some time there before the opening ceremony. Walking into the cafeteria was quite the experience. Imagine a school lunchroom, then imagine every seat being taken by the best athletes in the world. I didn’t know many of them, but it’s still incredible to think that the person sitting next to you is the best in his or her country at a given sport. That’s inspiring enough, but then there’s the food! There are 50 or 60 different vendors in one room preparing everything from Vietnamese food to Mediterranean food to, of course, McDonald's. I’ve never seen so many options in my life!

With a busy practice schedule and lots of family in town, I didn’t have time to actually attend any of the events (sounds lame, I know). We were able to watch quite a few competitions on TV, though, and I loved my time in the U.K. In fact, I didn’t really want to leave London. It’s such a cool city.

I made sure to bring home some souvenirs -- USA pins and U.K.-themed toiletry bags -- for my teammates in Indy, and it was fun to hand them out before the WNBA season started back up Thursday. I remember being a newbie on the Olympic team eight years ago and having a tough time refocusing on the regular season after our gold-medal performance in Athens. Now, three Olympics later, I have plenty of experience in getting back to business as usual.

People have asked whether I’ll try to play again in Rio, but we’ll just have to see how things shake out. I know Diana [Taurasi] mentioned the idea of competing in 2016 in one of our interviews, but I was thinking Whoa! Calm down for a second! You’re riding a wave of emotion after winning a gold medal, and it’s easy to say, “See you in Rio!” Then you realize that four years is a long way away. For now, I’m just trying to live in this crazy, awesome moment.

It all feels real now

August, 17, 2012
USA Water Polo Jeff Cable Photography Annika Dries, third from the right, and the rest of her team celebrate the first Olympic gold medal for U.S. women's water polo.

One minute showed on the clock. The score read USA 8, Spain 5. We were just 60 seconds from winning Olympic gold. But by the looks on our faces, you would have thought we were tied, or even down, fighting for our lives in that pool. Sure we had been dominating Spain defensively since the second quarter, but nothing -- and I mean nothing -- was going to stop us from finishing what we'd started. It wasn't until the clock read 0:00 that we realized what we had just done: We were Olympic water polo champions!

I jumped off the bench with my teammates and coaches and into the pool to join the rest of our team in a circle. There was lots of splashing, smiling, crying, kissing, hugging, cheering -- everyone trying to embrace the moment of being in our element, on our stage. In that pool we had challenged teams every second, elevated our level of play each game and fought for one another. There is no greater feeling than fighting alongside your teammates representing the country you love. Every moment was so special, every possession a memory.

As we cleared the pool, flags were passed down from the stands by family members and loved ones. We posed proudly with the red, white, and blue around us. And then I started searching for my family in the crowd. I had waved to my parents before the game, feeling both nerves and the power of the USA behind us.

As I found their faces again, pride and joy overwhelmed me. I reached my mom first. She is the strongest person I know, and I jumped up to give her a hug, full of excitement. And then, as soon as I saw my dad, I lost it. Tears of pure emotion poured down my face. Through all of the times of doubt, loss and hardship, my dad was there. He is my rock. We had one final hug all together, and then I ran back to my other family, the 13 women who had decided to come together to do something amazing.

It was a blur while we changed into our podium gear and chanted USA cheers in the locker room, then we were back out on the pool deck for the medal ceremony. Fittingly, Anita DeFrantz, an Olympian who has championed the advancement of women in sports and who spoke at our team announcement in May, gave us our gold medals. It was such an honor to hear her officially name us Olympic champions now and forever.

Moments later, our anthem started to play. Half crying, half smiling, all of the thoughts, emotions, love, trust, and memories rushed through me as I listened, and watched our flag rise above the pool. While many moments during the three weeks at the Olympics seemed surreal, hearing my teammates sing and standing up there all together made it all real. We did it! Together. One love, one team. Olympic champions forever.

Inspired and reminded

August, 12, 2012

You know not every day is rainbows and butterflies. I had a tough night last night dealing with some conflicts that came up in my life that needed serious evaluation. I need to make wise decisions. I fell asleep exhausted playing the outcomes through in my mind ... and still couldn't make a decision on what to do ... and when I woke up I still didn't know.

Timing is always perfect and I've learned in life that if I still my restless heart and think and pray things through the answer usually is as clear as day.

This was the case for me today.

Jenny FletcherTriathlete Jenny Fletcher walked by Westminster Abbey on the way to the breakfast, where she found clarity.

I walked into the beautiful building of the Central Hall in Westminster. I was invited by Greg Welch to join him for breakfast. But it was not just any breakfast, it was the More Than Gold 2012 Legacy Breakfast. It honored character and influence in the world of sport.

There were two recipients of the Eric Liddell award: Bryan Clay from the U.S., who won Olympic gold (2008) and silver (2004) in decathlon and Debbie Flood from Great Britain, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in rowing (2004 and '08).

Both of these phenomenal athletes have achieved greatness on the field and as individuals making a difference in this world. They have chosen to live a life of integrity and be involved in philanthropic endeavors. They have a deep passion to touch and inspire peoples' lives in a positive way.

For these athletes there is more to life than sport, and I was inspired and reminded at this breakfast of the reason I feel I am in sport itself.

Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) said when he ran he felt God's pleasure. He believed it was God's gift to him and there was purpose in it! The desire to live life to the fullest, with integrity, discipline, and strive to be the best that he can be with all he has been blessed with.

And there is my moment -- as I sit and listen to inspiration after inspiration -- I know the answer to my dilemma. And at once all is at peace within my heart and soul.

I am here with a purpose. I am on this journey. I strive to live life to the fullest and to live a life worthy of every breath I have been given. Life is short, don't let it slip by. Live each moment to it's fullest. Make it a life worth celebrating.

Finally time to dry off

August, 10, 2012
Jessica HardyKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsWinning a gold medal and a bronze in her first Olympics gave Jessica Hardy plenty of reason to smile (not that she needed one).

My racing is complete, and my suits are drying out for the first time in longer than I can remember.

Swimmers don't get much of a break. We pretty much train full time, year-round, which I have done for my entire career. (I have been on the national team since 2005.) It feels nice to sleep in and worry about when I need a shower rather than when I need to hop into a cold pool. I am enjoying the mental and physical vacation.

My racing went extremely well. I finished my first Olympic Games with two medals, a bronze in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and a gold from swimming the prelims of the 4x100 medley relay. I swam a lifetime best in the individual 100 freestyle, raced in three Olympic finals -- 4x100 freestyle relay, 100 freestyle and 50 freestyle -- and definitely had the most fun of any athlete competing at the Games, if you couldn't tell by the perma-smile I had plastered on my face the entire time.

I raced until the final night of swimming, but I got to do some sightseeing before leaving London. I saw the Williams sisters win doubles gold, the Andy Murray versus Roger Federer final and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings' quarterfinal beach volleyball match. I went on the London Eye and even got to visit some sponsors' houses around the city. I am currently at my fiancÚ’s family house in Switzerland for a few relaxing days before heading back to the village for the closing ceremonies.

I am not sure when I will be getting in the pool again, but I look forward to running, yoga and gym workouts when I get home. It will be nice to stay in shape with some cross-training and not be staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool for a while.

A smashing time at the Velodrome

August, 10, 2012
VelodromeJenny Fletcher

Woo-hoo, I have always wanted to experience the Velodrome -- and this was an experience like no other.

Here are some more photos:

Back at the Oakley Safehouse, Andreas Raelert was in for a bit, and Martina van Berkel does the 200-meter butterfly. I was loving the colored nails!!

Andreas RaelertJenny Fletcher

Then I was able to head to the Velodrome and watch track cycling. It was so fun. I'd never been before and had always wanted to see it. I think I picked the best venue for a first-timer. I'd love to try it, but I definitely would have to wear protective equipment. I'm sure I'd crash a lot at first.

The Brits are smashing the track -- well, actually everything -- and no wonder when you are in the arena with the fans yelling so loudly for you. It's inevitable, you can't go slow. I think I'm gonna try it.

Well, that was another full day for me. Having the best time. Stay tuned for more.

Olympic ParkJenny Fletcher

Failure won't break us

August, 9, 2012
Anita Punt, Rachel DawsonDaniel Berehulak/Getty ImagesRachel Dawson and the U.S. field hockey team suffered key losses to New Zealand and South Africa, and are now fighting for 11th place, instead of the Olympic medal they had hoped to win.

The Olympic experience -- for both the triumphant and the defeated -- is powerful. So powerful, that poems are written about it, songs sung of it and movies made of it, but most of all, dreams are born of it. Long ago, mine were, and, in a way, I believe they always will be.

The Games are an opportunity for common people to seek uncommon greatness through sport. But everyone at the Olympics doesn’t find greatness here. All are not crowned winners. In fact, most fail in the pursuit of gold.

We failed, epically. We came here with a plan, and we failed in that plan. We weren’t good enough, sharp enough or disciplined enough. And for our failure, there is no one to blame, no fingers to point and no criticism to deflect. It is on us. Too often, when we needed to stand up and make important plays, we didn’t. And for our performance, we got what we deserved: a playoff game for 11th place Friday morning.

Though we've accepted our responsibility in creating our fate, digesting our failure has been no less difficult. A few days ago, I didn’t know how I’d be able to take the field again. My soul had been ripped raw and my greatest fear had been given a voice: Perhaps I'd never be good enough to compete with the best.

But somehow, in the days and hours since, my fear has subsided. I've found simple joy in simple moments: lying on the grass with my sister at Hyde Park, watching and celebrating the amazing achievements of others, competing at hockey tennis on the village turf, sharing smiles at the neighborhood coffee stand and, most of all, while training intensely with my teammates.

It seems a great truth has come of our failure. We are incredibly resilient, and our spirit will prevail. Tomorrow, we will throw our shoulders back, stand tall, and we will fight like hell to earn 11th place.

Someday, down the road, I know I’ll be incredibly thankful our Olympic journey didn't go as planned, because I’ve always believed the greatest of triumphs are born of great failure.

Thank you all for reading and supporting us on our journey. I challenge you to always pursue greatness. Failure won’t break you, either.