There’s a special feeling shared by a select group of UCF coaches every four years when the Olympic Games roll around. Three members of the Knights’ coaching staff have represented the United States as competitors in the Games.
Head women’s soccer coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak won an Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer in 1996. Head women’s track and field coach Jeanette Bolden was a member of the gold-medal winning 4×100-meter relay team in 1984. Assistant track and field/cross country coach Johnny Gray won a bronze medal in the 800 meters in 1992. Bolden was also the U.S. Olympic team’s head women’s track and field coach in 2008.
They are looking forward to watching the competition over the next few weeks. There’s a good chance that seeing the competition in Rio de Janeiro, the medal presentations and the opening and closing ceremonies will bring a flood of great memories back for each of these Olympic Knights.
“It’s an experience that is so hard to put into words,” Bolden said. “It’s a feeling of ultimate accomplishment because you’ve dreamed about it, you’ve sacrificed for it. It finally came true. You’re in the opening ceremonies and you’re just in awe. That’s all you can do is say ‘Wow!’ and be in awe of walking with the USA [gear] on.”
After winning her gold medal, Sahaydak and her teammates were sent back to the locker room to change into their medal presentation uniforms. She said returning into the stadium was surreal.
“I remember coming back out on to the field, I will never forget that moment,” she said. “With all the fans in the stadium and all the cameras flickering, it looked like stars shining in the night. It’s something you dream of. It was pretty intense.”
Gray had a rather pragmatic view on the experience.
“You see all of these other countries and you’re actually representing the U.S. of A,” he said. “We go out and we have friendly competition with other parts of the country in a sport that is giving to the world. We’re sharing with the world that we don’t have to fight like we see on television. It’s about just trying to perform at the best of your abilities, and then afterwards, everybody shakes hands…at the end, we’re still human. We’re still one as a people, and we can still love and exist together. Love one another and exist together. That is the feeling that I got from the Olympics.”
While Bolden, Gray and Sahaydak all competed in the Olympics more than 20 years ago, those experiences certainly help their respective UCF programs in a number of ways.
“The culture that we have here at UCF, a lot of that has been developed through my experiences with the national team,” Sahaydak said. “We had unbelievable leadership, not just from the coaches but also from my teammates. That is where I learned my leadership skills. I rely on those experiences every day in order to be the best coach I can be.”
Gray doesn’t bring up his Olympic experience, but focuses his recruiting pitch on what UCF offers a prospective student-athlete. But that’s not to say it doesn’t come up in conversation. Gray has also coached Olympians, which can resonate with recruits.
“These kids weren’t born when I was running,” he said. “Once they find out that I’m from the Olympics, it definitely helps. That’s definitely something good to have on your resume. I say ‘Not only am I a coach, but I’ve been where you are as an athlete. I know what you’re feeling; I know what you’re going through. I know what it takes to try to win.’”
Bolden said when she talks to a student-athlete who has the ability to be an Olympian, her experience competing and coaching in the Games makes an impact.
“When I talk to them, I tell them ‘I didn’t read about the Olympics; I experienced it firsthand. That’s something that I can tell you that some of the other coaches can’t tell you,’” she said. “Being a coach in the 2008 Olympics, I can tell them what goes on from the coaching side. So yes, I definitely use that.”