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8 Olympic Greats Describe What It's Really Like To Stand On The Winners' Podium

"Even when I retire as an athlete, it will drive me for the rest of my life."

It’s that moment that all Olympians hope for. The gold medal brushes gently against the athlete’s uniform as he raises his hand to his heart; his national anthem begins to play, his country’s flag begins to raise and pride ― and perhaps some tears ― begin to overwhelm him. Standing on the winners’ podium is a dizzying moment of national glory, but what exactly does it feel like for the Olympic greats who have earned this rare honor?

Eight Olympic athletes recently tried to put into words what they felt when they took their places on the podium. Hear all of the powerful descriptions straight from the Olympians in the above video, but below are a few particularly poignant reflections from some of these celebrated icons. 

Carl Lewis, Track and Field

9 gold medals, 1 silver //  ‘84, ‘88, ‘92, ‘96 Olympics

“The beginning, it was like, ‘I can’t believe it’s happening. I’m finally here,’” he says. “It wasn’t like, ‘I earned this.’ It was like, ‘I did what I was supposed to do and I feel great that I’m here being able to share that moment with the rest of the world.’” 

Misty May-Treanor, Beach Volleyball

3 gold medals  //  ‘04, ‘08, ‘12 Olympics

“Whenever I hear the national anthem you stand up a little straighter,” she says. “Each person that cheered, ‘Go, USA!’ or every person that turned on their TV and watched us, this medal ― really, if I could cut it into a billion pieces ― it really belongs to everyone.”

Dara Torres, Swimming

4 gold medals, 4 silver, 4 bronze  //  ‘84, ‘88, ‘92, ‘00, ‘08 Olympics

“You are so overwhelmed with joy and satisfaction. It’s just all going through you at once,” she says. “You almost wish it would last longer so you can keep enjoying it.”

Greg Louganis, Diving

4 gold medals, 1 silver  //  ‘76, ‘84, ‘88 Olympics

“When it goes to ‘land of the free, home of the brave,’ the last two lines of the national anthem, it’s like, ‘Wow, I feel pretty brave,’” he says. “I’m a firm believer you don’t achieve greatness on your own. There’s always someone there. And, for me, at that moment in time, it was a lot of my teammates, my family and friends.”

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball

3 gold medals  //  ‘04, ‘08, ‘12 Olympics

”It’s a feeling that just is profound. Profound joy and gratitude and appreciation,” she says. “Even when I retire as an athlete, it will drive me for the rest of my life. Because whatever I’m doing in my life, I want to keep chasing that feeling, which is just total pride.”

Another Olympic reflection:

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