Aural histories of Olympic champions
August, 15, 2012
By Dan Friedell | ESPN The Magazine
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsAllyson Felix will never forget hearing the Star-Spangled Banner with Olympic gold around her neck.The 2012 Summer Olympics, from its avant-garde opening ceremony to the fireworks-filled closing, was packed with sights we’ll remember for the next four years. But what about the sounds that come with winning a gold medal? We caught up with five of London’s champions to hear about everything from their introductions to the Star Spangled Banner.
As the gold-medal match or race was about to begin...
Katie Ledecky, 800-meter freestyle: Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain was the favorite, so there were a lot of cheers for her. It was really loud. I was worried I wouldn’t hear "take your mark" and the starting beep, so when they called us onto the blocks, I got right into position.
Aries Merritt, 110-meter hurdles: The British athletes got the loudest response during introductions. The crowd just roared, and you heard the clicking of cameras. Then you heard the command “on your marks” and all your competitors doing their pre-race rituals. Some let out a grunt or a scream or something in their language. I take a deep breath and say to myself, “just like practice.” But after you hear “set,” it’s all still. There’s no sound -- complete, dead silence.
Misty May-Treanor, beach volleyball: I definitely heard more this time [than in 2008 and 2004 finals] because it was an all-USA final. In Beijing, we were playing against a great Chinese team, so everyone was cheering, but the crowd in London was more into the game. I want to say we had the louder cheer when we ran out, but it’s tough to judge when everyone’s cheering for the same country. But 15,000 people chanting “U-S-A”? I bet they heard it back in the Olympic Village.
During the competition...
Ledecky: You get one ear out of the water when you breathe, so during the race, I could hear some noise and cheering. I don’t hear much when I swim, but I could definitely hear more than any other race I’ve been in.
Merritt: Normally I don’t hear anything during my race, except maybe the clicking of hurdles, but I was in Lane 6, and Dayron Robles was in Lane 5. He pulled his hamstring and let out a loud yell, and I was like, “What the hell was that?” I thought maybe he was making a surge, so at that point I was just frantically trying to get to the line.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, beach volleyball: It was so loud before that last ball went down, and then there was a collective gasp, then dead quiet, and then you heard every single voice in that stadium go crazy. It’s such a beautiful thing to feel that energy, because it’s not just sound -- it’s a vibration you feel. It’s overwhelming.
As they finish...
Ledecky: I wasn’t really paying attention to the sound when I finished, but I think there might have been a roar. The fans were still cheering because Rebecca Adlington was still swimming. I couldn’t really tell which cheers were for me, but it was definitely loud.
Allyson Felix, 200-meter sprint, 4x100 relay, 4x400 relay: When you’re running, it’s all blocked out, but the moment you cross the line, you kind of get back into it. Winning a relay is different from an individual sprint -- it’s an even bigger celebration. It’s not just people yelling your name, it’s “U-S-A.” It’s not just one of us, it’s four of us, so it becomes grander.
Merritt: When I crossed the line, I heard the cameras clicking and the crowd cheering. I couldn’t even hear anyone telling me to come get the flag; I could just see them signaling. I don’t even remember what the man who gave me the flag said. I was so excited. I just took it and started taking pictures, and it was a loud click, click, click, click.
Ledecky: I saw a lot of U.S. fans yelling down to me and people I didn’t know cheering for me. That’s the difference between the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. At the trials there’s a group of people for each swimmer, but at the Olympics everyone from the U.S. is cheering for you.
At the medal stand...
Merritt: The medal ceremony was amazing. First you hear everyone who medaled introduced in French and in English. Then the crowd just goes crazy as they get their medals. When it was my turn, the crowd erupted as soon as I got on the podium. I felt chills. Hearing your national anthem is just amazing. You know you finally made it.
Felix: It’s almost a solemn moment on the medal stand. You want to take it and keep it forever. When I heard the anthem, I just closed my eyes and never wanted to forget that moment.
Ledecky: Hearing the national anthem was a great moment. I tried to sing along, but I started tearing up.
May-Treanor: There’s nothing like hearing your national anthem. You stand up a little taller. Heading into the Games, hearing the anthem is our goal. That means we stand on top of the podium.
The cheers didn’t end there. Thanks to cell phones and social media, athletes got two more waves through voicemails, texts, tweets and videos: First from people watching live or reading news reports and second from the American audience watching on tape-delay...
Felix: I didn’t think I knew that many people. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
Merritt: The night before the race, my Twitter was going crazy, so I had to turn my phone completely off. I don’t have anywhere near 100,000 followers -- maybe more like 5,000. But now that I’ve won gold, people have paid attention to me and realized I’m here.
Walsh Jennings: It’s really a cool time to be an athlete. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, we got to see people watching with every match and supporting us all the way. It was really a highlight to go home each day and read all those messages and cheers.