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Monday, August 20, 2012
Celebrating gold! Now back to work...

By 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.

Tamika Catchings
Tamika 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.