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Gold Standard

Gold Standard

From trailblazing for women’s soccer to officiating for men’s basketball, Knights reminisce about their Olympic memories.

Summer 2021 | By Jenna Marina Lee

Since the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1896, Knights have represented Brazil, Antigua and Barbuda, Portugal, Greece and, of course, the USA, embodying the spirit of the Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger).

Former Olympians are head coaches for UCF’s athletics teams, accomplished athletes and even game officials.

Although they have been delayed a year due to the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics, set to take place July 23 through August 8, are no exception. At the time this story went to print, several Knights are in the mix to compete, where they will represent their country and alma mater on the world’s biggest stage.

We highlight a handful of UCF’s Olympic participants from years past and their stories.

Michelle Akers ’89

Team USA women’s soccer midfielder
1996 Atlanta Olympics (gold medal)

“When that final whistle blew, I just remember standing there and putting my arms in the air and thinking ‘We are the best.’ … It was the first time women’s soccer was included in the Olympics. I understood the importance of it. We had been fighting to develop the game to a point where it was actually a credible sport with the same opportunities [that] men’s soccer enjoyed. We had already won one World Cup but hardly anyone knew about it. The Olympics is kind of what put us on the map as a sport.”

Michelle Akers ’89 on: perseverance and trail blazing

Interviewer: This year will mark 25 years that you stood on the podium with the gold medal around your necks. Can you still teleport to that moment? Do you remember what you felt or thought then?

Michelle Akers: Absolutely. Those were the moments that I watched as a kid, too. I always wondered what was that like standing up there, you know, what were they thinking about? And sometimes you knew a little bit about their story, but I had always wondered what that would be like.

So to actually do that — to walk out with the Olympic music going, it kind of like crashes up against you because there’s these memories and emotions already from past years of watching these incredible athletes accomplish these amazing things and then you’re actually doing it. So it’s just a surreal experience.

So after it was all over, after we had won, with my particular challenges going on, I was out of body with it. But at the same time, just incredibly present. The Olympic gold medal, they put around your neck and it’s really heavy. And so it kind of like bangs up against you. You don’t realize the heaviness, the weight of it. And then, you’re standing up there with your teammates, which makes it, for me, incredibly special, to have gone through all of that with them. And then we, we actually did it.

It’s almost like the greatest joy you can experience with the greatest amount of relief that is over and you did it and thank God it’s over, but also you don’t want it to end.

Interviewer: You mentioned the particular challenges you had going on during those games. You had to receive post-match IVs because you had a blood pressure disorder and I know you were battling with some other physical injuries. Just how challenging was that time for you and what kept you motivated to push yourself to continue to compete?

Michelle Akers: So for me that Olympics, gosh, I had multiple physical challenges going on. In the ’95 World Cup, the year before — we actually we lost that and came in third place — I was injured in the first five minutes of the first match in it in a head collision. I got a concussion, but while I was in the air on the head-to-head collision, I got the concussion and then I was knocked out. And when I landed, I wrecked my right knee.

So I was out a few games during that World Cup, but then ultimately I tore my MCL, PCL really bad. Since they don’t do surgeries typically on that, I just was rehabbing it to try and come back for the Olympics. So that was one thing going on.

And then the other thing was I had been diagnosed with this orthostatic blood pressure disorder called neural immediate hypertension and actually was diagnosed maybe a month prior to the Olympic games, which was a godsend. However, I couldn’t take any of the medication that they recommended to help the disorder because they were all banned substances. So I found out what was going on, but then it was a bummer I couldn’t take any medicine to help me while I was playing.

And then that doctor said, hey, there’s this elimination diet you can go on that will help determine if there’s any allergies caused by this immune system dysfunction thing that was happening along with the neural immediate hypertension. So I went on this elimination diet and lost so much weight.

So all this was happening during the Olympics. I don’t even know how I made it through aside from being so inspired and excited about being an Olympic athlete in the Olympic Games. And also when we lost that World Cup in ’95, we had just focused on revamping our team, refocusing , and coming back and winning that Olympic gold medal as kind of vengeance against Norway, the team we lost, but also to reprove ourselves that we were the best in the world. And so there was this entire range of motivations and also challenges during that Olympics and it turned out to be the most incredible experience.

Interviewer: What is your best memory on the field at the 1996 Olympics?

Michelle Akers: When that final whistle blew. There’s actually two. The first one is that when the final whistle blew in that gold medal game and I had been, gosh, I was physically just wiped out because of that incredibly horrible elimination diet for the allergies I was on strictly during the Olympics and the knee injury.

I was just exhausted and wiped out and I was on fumes. So when that final whistle blew, I just remember standing there and putting my arms in the air and thinking oh yes, I did it. I got through. And that we did it. We did it. We are the best. So that was the first one.

And the second one was when we were, I think it was the semifinal and we were in overtime. It was golden goal and Shannon McMillan came on as a substitute and scored the winning goal for us to go through. And that to me was so special and so exciting and so like nail biter. To have Mac come in and score that goal was amazing for her because she had been used to being a starter her whole career, and here she was playing as it was super sub role for our team, which would have been incredibly difficult. And she just embraced it. And then because of that, she came on that field and just exploded and scored the goal that, I mean, without her, we wouldn’t have gotten through to the final. So I just I loved seeing her have that success.

Interviewer: A few years ago, you decided to auction your gold medal to raise money for the work that you do now on your farm, the Michelle Acres Horse Rescue. How difficult was that decision?

Michelle Akers: This is going to sound kind of crazy, but so personally — so we won the Olympics, you go home, you have this medal. For me, you know, the hardware that you win in these events, there’s a lot of stuff acquired and I never have been one for stuff. But the Olympic gold medal was like the thing that everyone when they came over, they wanted to put it around their neck. That was the only thing they ever asked, out of all this stuff I had. And the funny thing too is, I always forgot where I put it. My son was only one who knew where that Olympic gold medal was for years and years, which I think is hilarious.

So, I rescue horses and animals. I have a sanctuary and I raise money and take care of these animals who’ve been abused and abandoned and I have come across them in some capacity and I either help them find a home or I try to care for them at my farm. So I actually auctioned off my Olympic gold medal to raise money to take care of more animals and finish my barn that was flooded in 2009 here in Georgia.

When I look down and see these horses who have come out of horrible conditions, and I mean, bad conditions and they are out there happy and healthy, and I look at my gold medal that half the time, I didn’t even know where it was, it’s a no brainer and very easy to give it or sell it to someone who is really going to enjoy it, you know?

Cause I already did all that. I did it. I was there. I don’t need that medal to remind me or make it real for me. So I sold my medal to do something that I love. So that’s, I know not usually part of anyone’s Olympic story, but that’s definitely part of mine.

Interviewer: You experienced a lot of success over your career and are one of the most decorated players of all time. Where does the experience of the 1996 Olympics and winning the gold medal rank for you among your accomplishments?

Michelle Akers: I think it’s one of the top, handful of highlights, to play in the Olympics for your country in your own country. And especially there’s something about being in that first one that, at that time, I was well aware of.

It wasn’t just us trying to win the Olympics. It was the first time women’s soccer was included in the Olympics. And so I understood the importance of it. We had been fighting to develop the game to a point where it was actually a credible sport with the same opportunities as men’s soccer enjoyed. So this was one of the big accomplishments and big hurdles that made our sport and women’s soccer credible and exciting and, I guess more aware and recognized within the public.

We had already won one World Cup and hardly anyone knew about it. The Olympics is kind of what put us on the map as a sport. So that plus the Olympics, the athletes that I watched stand in on that podium, and I got to experience it here in the U.S. that, you know, as a USA athlete, there’s just nothing like it.

Phil Dalhausser ’02

Team USA beach volleyball blocker
2008 Beijing (gold medal), 2012 London, 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympics

“It feels like it was yesterday. It’s crazy to me that it was 13 years ago. It was probably, at the time, the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ll never forget that we beat two Brazilian guys that we had been battling with on the world tour for a couple of years at that point. The blocker — the big guy — was crying, and I always wondered, ‘Were they tears of joy that he won a silver medal or that he lost the gold medal?’ ”

Phil Dalhausser ’02 on: winning gold and motivation

Interviewer: When did you first dream of becoming an Olympian?

Phil Dalhausser: It was never even, I never thought of it really — not really until I was a few years into my career. I started playing with Todd Rogers, who I ended up winning in gold with, and his whole thing was that “I’m playing with you because I want to go to the Olympics and win an Olympic metal.”

And I was like huh, I guess that maybe should be my goal as well, then. And that’s kind of how it started.

Interviewer: This year, you qualified for your fourth Olympics. What has been your best memory so far while competing?

Phil Dalhausser: By far winning Olympic gold is my best memory. When we won on that final point, that’s something I’ll never forget. It feels like it was yesterday. It’s crazy to me. That was 13 years ago.

It was probably, at the time, the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. And I’ll never forget we beat two Brazilian guys that we had been battling with on the world tour for a couple of years at that point. The blocker, the big guy, was crying. I always wondered were they tears of joy that he won a silver medal or that’d he lost the gold medal? I was just curious what the tears were for.

Interviewer: What is your best memory off the sand at the Olympics?

Phil Dalhausser: In 2012, we got bounced kind of early. We took ninth place and my wife and I were able to be fans of the Olympics. So for about a week or so I got to check out all the events I’ve always wanted to check out. And it just happened to be in London, and tennis is one of my favorite sports. So we got to go to Wimbledon and watch some tennis, which was awesome.

I got to see Usain Bolt run in one of his preliminary races, which was super cool. It was great. I got to be a fan of the Olympics, but unfortunately at the same time, it kind of sucked because we were out of the tournament, our tournament was over. But I try to remember the positive part of every story.

Interviewer: What keeps you motivated?

Phil Dalhausser: What keeps me motivated is I’m 41. Both myself and my partner are 41, and we’re competing against guys in their mid-20s or 20s and early 30s. I just want to prove that, you know, age is really only a number and you can still be a pretty good athlete later into your years.

Interviewer: When you look back over your career, what do you feel you have learned as a player that you can apply to your life?

Phil Dalhausser: Well, I learned a lot. It’d be hard to put it all in a couple of sentences. But I think the most important thing that I’ve learned would be anything you’re doing — whether it’s playing volleyball, or even writing an email or whatever it may be, hanging out with the kids — I’ve learned that trying to stay in the present moment, focusing on what is in front of you rather than letting your mind wander or worrying about something that you need to do, whatever. For example, on the volleyball court, if I made a mistake that played before I try to learn from it and real quick. We have like seconds in between each point. I learn from what had happened and then move on in the present moment. So I think that probably the biggest, most important thing that I’ve spread over into my daily life as well.

Steve Anderson ’05 ’07MA

Men’s basketball referee
2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympics

“I worked the bronze medal game between Australia and Spain [at the 2016 Rio Olympics]. I had the game-deciding call with [five] seconds left that put Spain on the [free-throw] line down 1 point. They made both free throws. Spain [won]. Everyone that I talked to said, ‘That’s a good call. You needed to make that call.’ You never forget that because those are the plays you want to have. Those are the plays that make or break your career.”

Steve Anderson ’05 ’07MA on: a referee’s road to the Olympics

Interviewer: What spurred your interest in officiating?

Steve Anderson: What’s funny about that is even as a teenager watching football on TV, I would always try to predict what the call was going to be, what the referee is about the call — even before I was a referee, even before I went to UCF and got into the officiating program. So I don’t know if that was what sparked me, but I always had that rule type mindset as a kid. And when the opportunity at UCF came about that they had job was referee, I was like, let me give it a shot.

Interviewer: So what is the process like for qualifying as a referee for the Olympics?

Steve Anderson: First things first, you have to be certified by USA Basketball. So they have a program. I think it starts in like January where you have to register with them. Then they can go about certifying you as a USA Basketball representative.

There’s very few licenses they can give to referees. I don’t remember the exact number, but I think there’s maybe 30 and then there’s certain levels of certification. And with that, once you’re a USA Basketball official, you then have to get FIBA (International Basketball Federation) certified.

With FIBA they want you to pass a fitness test and if you’re not in shape, you’re not going to pass the test, especially when you do it in Colorado — Colorado Springs is the home of USA Basketball — being at that altitude. But if you can pass it there, you pretty much pass it anywhere in the world. So you have to do that test. You have to do an English test, which is the language of FIBA, so obviously USA representatives easily pass that. And then a rules test for FIBA as well, and that’s how you become certified to work international basketball.

And then you get nominated to tournaments. Just like any organization, like USA Basketball has a list of their preferred referees that they will submit to FIBA, FIBA will then nominate those officials.

Interviewer: You were the only us referee selected for men’s basketball in Rio. Where does that moment rank for you among your career accomplishments?

Steve Anderson: Oh, it’s definitely high on the list, especially being the only American representing that year. Usually at least two go. And also, just knowing you’re working with the past officials in the entire world, in their countries. Obviously it’s a great feat. Not many people can say “I refereed in the Olympics.” I can say that I’m one of them. So it was, it’s definitely ranks at the top.

Interviewer: What was your experience like in Rio?

Steve Anderson: We were actually sent to Brazil three weeks before the Olympics.

And when we were sent, I don’t remember the exact city, but we were about two and a half hours away from Rio, city off the coast, where we did a pre-competition clinic. We pretty much prepared daily leading up to the Olympic games. We had meetings where we would separate into groups, do different exercises just to team build to help prep for when we were on the court when the Olympics started.

We had a physical fitness test. We’d go running pretty much every day when we were there. And then obviously you got to hang out and meet all the other referees from around the world. And more comfortable with them. It was almost like we were one big family by the time the Olympics started.

In Rio, the referees had a separate hotel away from the athlete village. But throughout the Olympics we were able to go to different events; like I went to a couple of swimming events. I saw Michael Phelps so that was pretty cool. When we got there, we got to go to the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony.

During [competition], we would have meetings at certain times of the day, depending on the games. But we would meet, we would talk about the game, we would talk about plays in the games, anything that could get us better.

Every game was evaluated. They had referee supervisors, as well, that were there that would critique each game. And that would make the officiating better. From the evaluation that they gave, it was decided who would move on and continue to work the higher games.

Interviewer: What is your most memorable memory on the court at Rio?

Steve Anderson: I worked the bronze medal game between Australia and Spain. I had the game-deciding call with 7 seven seconds left that put Spain on the line down one. They make both free throws to win the game. Then Australia ends up turning the ball over or just making a bad play at the end. So Spain wins.

Everyone that I talked to was like, “That’s a good call. You needed to make that call.” And you’ll never forget that because those are the plays that you want to have. Let’s say you don’t call it, and now Spain loses or something like that, but those are the plays that make your career, make or break your career. If you don’t call it, maybe you don’t ever work the Olympics again or you never work another game again in that capacity. Yeah, that’s definitely the most memorable there.

Johnny Dawkins

UCF men’s head basketball coach
Team USA men’s basketball alternate, 1984 Los Angeles; Team USA player personnel director, 2008 Beijing Olympics

“At the time, Kobe Bryant was arguably the greatest player in the game. [Our first individual workout together,] he’s going at it with intensity. A true perfectionist. … Long story short, we end up shooting about 1,000 shots. Most [players work out] an hour and a half, but at three and a half hours in, [I had to shut it down]. I was having a hard time passing him the basketball because I couldn’t get my wrist to operate anymore, which [had] never happened to me in my life. He looked at me with such disgust, like I disappointed him. I had a great understanding of who he was after that. He definitely made us a better team that year.”

Johnny Dawkins on: Kobe Bryant and lessons learned

Interviewer: Coach Dawkins, you were an alternate on the 1984 Olympic team. What exactly does that role entail?

Johnny Dawkins: As an alternate, you do everything that the players are doing. You have to go to every practice, every workout you’re involved with everything. It’s just as if you still on the team. The only differences when they head to the Olympic Village, you can go if you want. But of course you’re not going to be in there because that’s just for the Olympians at that point.

So you do everything up until the point of competing, basically. So before we went to Olympic Village, I elected to leave California and come back to North Carolina because the only way that an alternate is going to have a chance to play a set for someone to get injured. And the last thing you want to do as a competitor is see one of your fellow competitors get injured for the spot. So I was like, let me remove myself from the situation. But loved that experience.

Interviewer: What are some of the things that you took away from that experience?

Johnny Dawkins: For me, it was great. I was an underclassmen coming back for my junior year of college. So I just finished my sophomore season. So to be amongst those players was incredible. We had like 70 something, some odd players trying out for that team and to see those players dwindle down to where it was just 14 players to 12 guys who actually made the team and two alternates, it was something that I’ll never forget. Looking at the competition — [Michael] Jordan, every single day, every practice I tell the story all the time: Not only was he a great player, but he practiced that way. Every practice he left his mark on it. Every practice he did something in that practice that stood out like, my gosh, this guy — he’s not taking a day off.

And that’s something that I really admired. As a competitor, you admire that. And other great players on the team — Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, you can go on and on and on. So to be a part of that experience, It was really special for me.

Interviewer: You served as the player personnel director for Team USA’s Redeem Team that won gold at the 2008 Olympics. The late, great Kobe bBryant was on that team and I’ve been told you have a great memory of him from that experience. I was hoping you could share it with me.

Johnny Dawkins: We were sitting at a table similar to this except four times as long, which means it was a long, rectangular shaped table, probably 30 or 40 people. We were sitting there having our introductory dinner with Coach K at the head of the table and Jim Boeheim to his left, and then Mike Dunleavy to his right, then myself and Nate McMillan. And it goes all the way down for the entire Olympic staff. And so it was a great experience. Kobe knocks on the door and I was like, “What’s going on?”

And Kobe said, “Yeah, I’d like to speak to you for a second Coach K.” And Coach says “Sure, grab a seat.” So he grabbed a seat and he said, “I just have one question for you, coach.” Coach was like, “Sure, what’s that?”

“I want to guard the other team’s best player for you. I’m going to destroy him.”

That’s what he said. And a coach, he looked down and said, “Sure, Kobe. You got it.” And so then he looked at me and he said, “Coach Dawkins, can you work me out tomorrow morning?” I’m like, “Sure, absolutely. What time?” He said, “8 o’clock.”

So of course 8 o’clock comes and I’m down there at around 7:50. He’s already there. So we leave and we go to the gymnasium, which is about 10 minutes away, really close. So we get there, and we’re on the court starting to go at about 8:15.

We’re practicing. And he’s working hard and, and I’m like, “OK, we’re going to be in here working and there’s certain things you’re going to have to do because you’re not going to get double-teamed as much because we have so many other good players, they can’t bring double teams. So let’s work on this type of shot or this ball handling move or this ball screen move.”

Whatever we worked on me, he worked on it so hard. And that’s amazing to me because at the time he’s arguably the greatest player in the game in 2008. And so he’s going at it with intensity. You know, when I’m giving him scores to meet, he’s not meeting the score, he’s upset with himself. He’s trying to get the score that he wants to have. A true perfectionist, wanting to be great at it.

And long story short, we end up shooting about 1,000 shots. The last 45 minutes, of the workout, mind you, I had a hard time moving my wrist — it was that stiff from passing the ball, and all I had to do was pass. I had guys rebounding for me. I had guys setting screens and doing whatever I need them to do for him to get his workout.

Three and a half hours later, now, he didn’t ask for any water. The whole workout I would stop every 20, 30 minutes and say, “Hey, you want some water? You want some Gatorade?”

“No thank you, coach.”

Didn’t drink anything until we finished the entire workout. We’re supposed to have a meeting with the coaches to go over what are we going to do in practice the next day with the Olympic team and that was at 10 o’clock. So we started his workout at 8:15, and most workouts with a guy, you working them out, especially by themselves, and they have to take all the reps — hour-and-20 minutes, hour-and-a-half guys go, “That’s good coach. That’s a good enough workout.”

We’re three and a half hours in, I’m having a hard time passing him to basketball because I can’t get my wrist to operate anymore, which never happened to me in my life.

And I’m looking at him going, “Kobe, well it’s 11:45. I was supposed to meet with the coaching staff at 10 o’clock. We gotta shut it down.”

He looked at me with such disgust, like, okay. Like I disappointed them that we couldn’t continue this workout, and we had already gone three-and-a-half hours — by far longer than any person I’ve ever worked out in my career. And I’ll always remember that.

And that’s why I went when he was competing, I really had a great understanding of who he was after that because when you put that type of energy and that type of effort into what you’re doing and wanting to be the best and wanting to be successful and wanting to win, you want to pull everybody along with you that way. And he definitely made us a better team that year with his presence, with his work ethic. I think it was infectious. A lot of younger players that hadn’t experienced the type of success that he had — just watching his habits, watching how you train, watching how your approach practice. I think his leadership was outstanding during that Olympic experience.

Interviewer: So working with Team USA and the experience of helping that team win gold, what has that added to your life?

Johnny Dawkins: I think it’s added a lot to my life, you know, from the standpoint of being a part of something that special is something that you remember for the rest of your life. Each player provided something that you will always remember, and you can take with you in this profession and coaching. So just some of the things you saw them do, some of the things you heard them say, all those things I think helped make me a better coach in what I do because of the experience of working with those guys and working with the staff.

Can you imagine working with the amount of Hall of Famers that we had a chance to work with? You know, being able to work with them, I think, also helped to make me better at what I do. I’m very grateful for that.

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak

UCF women’s soccer head coach
Team USA women’s soccer defender, 1996 Atlanta Olympics (gold medal)

“The gold medal match was a night game, and it just felt like there were a million shining, blinking stars in the stadium because everyone was taking photos. Stepping onto that podium [to accept the gold medal], I remember Brandi Chastain standing next to me and then putting my hand over my heart for the national anthem. We belted it, singing as loud as we could. It’s one of the happiest moments of my life because I was around my teammates and sharing that moment with them.”

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak on: following your dreams and inspiring others

Interviewer: When did you first dream about becoming an Olympian?

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak: The first time I dreamt about becoming an Olympian was when I watched it on TV for the first time. It was the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and I watched track and field and I was watching gymnastics so that was when Mary Lou Retton won the gold. And she just became an inspiration for me, just like Jackie Joyner Kersey became an inspiration for me.

There wasn’t even soccer in the Olympics back then, but it definitely lit this fire in my belly. And from that point on I told everybody that I wanted to go to the Olympics.

Interviewer: How much of your focus and time and where you spent your energy went towards this goal?

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak: So I would say one of the first steps of helping this dream become a reality was really sharing it verbally with everybody saying, “I want to be an Olympian.” We would have assignments in grade school, and so I actually have drawings that I’ve made of myself standing on Olympic podiums with gold medals around my neck. so I was sharing it really with my teachers, my classmates, my coaches, my family, just anyone that I could.

I was really obsessed with it. And this is so weird because I was in second grade. So I have a fifth grader and a seventh grader, and most people aren’t that obsessed at that age, but something went off inside me, and I really became obsessed with the Olympics and just wanted to be an elite athlete. So it just helped me make choices.

In the next 10 years it was like, I was playing with a soccer ball every single day. I asked my dad for a goal in my backyard so I could strike balls against this net every day. So, you know, the average kid is playing soccer and going to practice. But I was doing that plus thousands of more hours on top of it. And then, for example, like there’s a slumber party or something, and I have a game the next morning. It was like, well, maybe the best thing for me is not to go to the summer party so that I could be my best.

You know, these are decisions I’m making at such a young age, but I think that when you have a goal and it’s something that you want so badly and you’re dreaming about it, and you’re telling everybody about it, it kind of makes your decisions a little bit easier along the way.

Interviewer: This year marks the 25th anniversary of when you won your gold medal. Can you still teleport to that moment? Do you remember what it felt like being on top of that podium?

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak: I’m not even joking, but you just talking about it gives me goosebumps.

So I literally have goosebumps right now, and I can put myself back in that moment. And that’s what can give me the chills and get me really emotional. I’ll highlight a couple of moments that I really can feel.

So we had to go back into the locker room after the match, and we had to go back in to put on our ceremonial jumpsuit, track suit. And so just coming back out of the locker room, going into the stadium and — this was in Athens, Georgia — it was a night game. And it just felt like there were a million shining, blinking stars in the stadium because everyone was just taking photos. And it just felt like this just really, really amazing, magical atmosphere. So just walking out and, you know, you just feel so cool. Because you’re waving at all the stands and everybody’s cheering for you. And obviously it’s in the U.S. so, you know, Americans feel so passionately about the Olympics.

And then just stepping on to that podium — I remember Brandy Chastain, one of my teammates that was standing next to me. And then the next real highlight I remember was just putting my hand over my heart for the national anthem. We belted. We were singing as loud as we could.

It just felt like this really surreal, proud moment. Just being up there with my teammates — it’s like, I can’t believe this is actually really happening. It’s hard to match that moment. ,It’s one of the happiest moments of my life, but it’s because I was around with my teammates and sharing that moment with my teammates. That is something I will never forget.

Interviewer: What has the gold meeal added to your life? What do you enjoy most about sharing it with others?

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak: So I mentioned how Mary Lou Retton or Jackie Joyner Kersey, they were role models for me. And they lit that fire just by watching them. And then we had an athlete come visit us before we went to the Olympics, and he shared his gold medal with us. And so I remember the first time that I held someone’s gold medal and it was so impactful to me. And it’s the same thing.

When I have opportunity to share that medal, the medal with others or young kids or adults for that matter — I just think it’s the source of inspiration the way that watching Mary Lou Retton, like I said, was for me. And maybe it will light that fire for someone, and it doesn’t have to be in sport or now, you know, all of a sudden they’re going to say they’re going to the Olympics. But it’s, it’s like, whoa, someone else can do it. Or they tried to achieve their goals. This is what they worked hard for. Maybe that’s something I should start thinking about or plan to do or want to do, or maybe I should start setting goals for what it is that I want to do.

So hopefully it just provides this inspiration for little girls, especially, getting to see women do what they want to do and do what they love to do and compete at the highest level. It’s just to share that inspiration, hopefully get that fire going for them too.

These Knights have also participated at the Summer Olympics and Paralympics over the years.

Afia Charles-Wilson ’14 ’17MHA

Team Antigua & Barbuda track & field sprinter
2012 London Olympics

Kyle Coon ’13

Team USA Paralympic triathlete
2020 Tokyo Olympics

Ricardo Gouveia ’14

Team Portugal golfer
2016 Rio Olympics

Tyra (Harper) Turner ’98

Team USA women’s volleyball (alternate)
2000 Sydney Olympics

Laurence Heisler ’91 ’97MBA

Team Greece baseball pitcher
2004 Athens Olympics

Aline Reis ’11

Team Brazil women’s soccer goalkeeper
2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Mattie Rogers ’20

Team USA weightlifter
2020 Tokyo Olympics

Chris Seilkop ’92

Team USA men’s sitting volleyball outside hitter
1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney
2004 Athens and 2016 Rio Paralympics

Kristen Thomas ’16

Team USA rugby sevens center
2020 Tokyo Olympics

Chelsea Wolfe ’16

Team USA BMX freestyle (alternate)
2020 Tokyo Olympics