|GOING FOR THE GOLD|
September 12, 2000
Ray Suarez talks to Olympic athletes about their hopes for Sydney.
RAY SUAREZ: Over 600 Americans are participating in this month's Olympic games in Sydney, Australia, competing in 300 different events. Some are veterans, some are first-time Olympians four members of the U.S. team share their thoughts on the Olympics with us.
Dot Richardson plays second base on the U.S. Women's softball team. She won a gold medal in Atlanta as a member of the 1996 Olympic team.
Kim Batten is a member of the U.S. Track and Field Team. She holds the world record in the 400-meter hurdles, and won a silver medal at the 1996 games.
John Godina will compete in the discus throwing in Sydney. He won a silver medal in Atlanta in the shot put.
And Tom Pappas is a decathlete participating in his first Olympic games. He placed first at last month's Olympics trials, and was NCAA champion in 1999.
Well, I guess when mere mortals, like the rest of us, look on Olympic athletes, we wonder, why do you do it, how do you do it, how do you stay at that elite level of competition year after year after year? Dot Richardson?
|A competition that can be touched by none other|
DOT RICHARDSON: Well, first it begins with a passion. If you have a passion for what you're doing, then you want to excel in it. And with that passion is just a love of the sport. And there's something about competing at the highest level of athletic competition, the Olympic games, that cannot be touched by any other competition.
RAY SUAREZ: Kim Batten?
KIM BATTEN: Well, I've been involved in sports pretty much all my life. I've dabbled in a number of sports-- basketball, track and field, of course, and volleyball. And by the time I decided, you know, I was going to go to college and pursue an education, I pretty much narrowed down my decision to be a track and field athlete. And like Dot said, it's just the passion of it. For me, it was a wonderful way to, you know, expend a lot of energy that I had and just have a good time.
RAY SUAREZ: How about you, John Godina?
JOHN GODINA: Well, I remember way back... And Dot talked about passion. I remember way back in junior high and high school, we would go to visit the Olympic training center, because I lived in Wyoming and it's just in Colorado Springs. And that's where I really developed my passion for it. I remember one time doing a camp with the youth development program there, and they had an actual award stand at the track there. And I was just screwing around in the middle of the night one night, and got up and went out there and stood on it and pretended like it was the Olympics, and threw my arms up and pretended like I had won the gold medal. So, you know, how we do it, why we do it, I mean, that's exactly it. It's just... It's all about what can you do, how good can you be, and it's just the love of the sport.
RAY SUAREZ: And Tom Pappas, you're our first... our only first-timer on the panel, and you have a very, very demanding event in the decathlon. What pushed you to the Olympic games?
TOM PAPPAS: Probably about just what we've been talking about, about passion and competing in the decathlon. I mean, it's... really you have to treat it just like a job. I mean, that's basically what it is. You're out there hours and hours and hours every day on the track. And, you know, this is, you know, what a lot of us try and do for a living, and you have to love what you do. And, you know, it's great to go out to the track every day and, you know, it's exciting to try and make a living at something that you love doing. And, you know, just to say that you went to the Olympics, I mean, that's pretty much every kid's dream. You know, that's as big as it gets, you know, to make it to the Olympics. So it's exciting.
RAY SUAREZ: But with ten events, are there tough days where you just say, "why am I doing this?"
TOM PAPPAS: I guess there's some days when you're just... you kind of get a little burnt out, but that's the neat thing about the decathlon is it's ten events, so you can have a few events that are going bad for you, and so you just go and you work on some of the events that are going great for you. And so there's a tradeoff. I mean, doing all ten events, it's really hard to get bored out there. But especially after, you know, making the Olympic team, every single day, if you get tired, I mean, all you have to do is just think, I'm going to the Olympics, and that's just motivation in itself right there.
|Building the Olympic dream|
RAY SUAREZ: Have you known for a long time, maybe since you were in elementary school maybe, that this is what you wanted to do?
TOM PAPPAS: No, not at all. I was... I was fairly athletic in high school, but I, you know, I was always interested in watching the Olympics and stuff on TV, but I... you know, you hear a lot of stories about, you know, "it's been my dream since I was a kid," but for me, it really... I never thought I had the talent to be in the Olympics. And it probably wasn't until two or three years ago that I realized, hey, you know, your score is good enough to go to the Olympics. And from there I started to take it really serious.
RAY SUAREZ: Dot, how about you?
DOT RICHARDSON: Well, when I was a little girl, I dreamt of representing the United States of America at the Olympic games. In fact, I saw the Olympics on TV, and it was Bob Seagram when he had won the pole vault. And when he jumped up and his arms were extended up in the air and U.S.A. was across his jersey, I was like, that is what I want to do. I want to represent the United States of America at the Olympic games. And in high school I played volleyball, basketball, softball, track and field, and tennis, but it was softball that opened the doors for me to become an orthopedic surgeon, getting a great education, and representing country in Pan American world championships. But until 1996, we never had the opportunity to the Olympics. And now we had it, we lived the dream, and we're ready for another one here in 2000.
RAY SUAREZ: John Godina, a longtime dream?
JOHN GODINA: Definitely. I remember in my first real remembering of the Olympics at all was I remember my dad was watching the hockey team in 1980. And we weren't a big hockey family, and obviously living in the middle of the country, you don't get a lot of that. But even at age six, you knew something really big and really special had happened. So from that point on, you know, I thought, wow, it would be great to get in do something like that someday. That would be the most incredible thing. And I remember running out and pretending like I was a hockey player. I had no idea what the sport was all about, even. And from that point on it was, you know, just... Even if it wasn't an omnipresent thing where you're always thinking about it, in the back of your mind, everybody wants to do that.
RAY SUAREZ: But between the 1980 Olympic victory for the hockey team and kidding around and getting on the winner's stand as a youngster, and you getting on the plane for Sydney, thousands of hours of training, and in a kind of solitary pursuit -- discus is one of those things. It's you and the disc and the measuring stick, and over and over and over again.
JOHN GODINA: Yeah, it's not one of those glamorous things that you would think about. You know, the crowd isn't there all the time. And in our sport, a lot of the times the crowd isn't even there at the competition. So it's something that over time you can get discouraged, you can get tired of it, or you can just put your nose to the grindstone and keep pushing through and pushing through and pushing through. And then your payback comes when you show up at the opening ceremonies and there's 100,000 people there cheering you just for getting there. That's something that's amazing and unique, I think, to our sport.
RAY SUAREZ: So you still feel that sense that the country's pulling for you, even though you're in a sport where you yourself said sometimes the stands aren't even full?
JOHN GODINA: Oh, definitely, definitely. And I think that it's amazing this year how much a recovery our sport has made in general. The crowds have been there this year. It's been incredible. The Olympic trials set all kinds of records for any sport's national championship for attendance. And man, oh, man, it's been support from day one this year. It's been great.
RAY SUAREZ: Kim Batten, I don't know if it's the opposite problem, but there's never any shortage of people cheering at the track events.
KIM BATTEN: Definitely; it's wonderful. I think the most memorable experience for me was definitely, you know, being in Atlanta and just seeing the crowd and just hearing the roar walking out, and knowing that, you know, the majority of those people were cheering for you, you know. And that was a very exciting time for me. You know, but to go back to answer your question on early experience with the Olympics, it's kind of ironic, but I didn't start thinking about the Olympics until I was in college. And so it was kind of a late start for me, but once I started to realize that it was possible, it became my biggest priority in the forefront of my mind and the center of my sport, the center of my desires.
|Competition from older athletes|
RAY SUAREZ: Did you have the luxury of coming to that decision a little later, not until college, because of the fact that Olympic careers are getting to be a little longer? You're 30 years old now. It's a time when a lot of people would have already hung it up.
KIM BATTEN: Right. Well, when I started out in track and field, I was 16 years old. And I had heard all of the big names in terms of the Olympics-- Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-- but it really didn't apply to me in my eyes. And I think, you know, because I started out in track and field and I dabbled in a number of other sports, that it kind of, you know, solidified once I got to college and those desires came a little bit stronger.
RAY SUAREZ: Dot Richardson, I don't want to be telling tales on you, but you are knocking on the door of 40. What kept you involved? You mentioned that you finally got a shot at the Olympics because softball was allowed in. But you've got a demanding career, and no one would have blamed you if you framed your gold medal and said, "this is it for me."
DOT RICHARDSON: Well, as a little girl, to have the dream, and to see it held right in front of you, the possibility... When I graduated from medical school at the University of Louisville, my fourth year, that is when they announced in the Olympics, softball for the first time in history, the first time in the history of the Olympic games. And for me, my career had captured everything except that Olympic level. And I always kept telling myself, "well, the world championships are like the Olympics, or the Pan American games are similar." But there's nothing like the Olympic dream, and I lived that in 1996. And when we captured that gold medal for our country, there was no greater feeling in the world. And now, in 2000, one of our greatest challenges of all is being faced. We're facing our number-one challenger in their backyard, and that's Australia. They're second in the world. So for me, that thrill of Olympic excitement and the thrill of an athlete to be challenged one more time is something that kept bringing me back.
RAY SUAREZ: Some of your teammates were probably toddlers when you played in your first international competition over 20 years ago.
DOT RICHARDSON: Actually, quite a few of them have. I've been playing for over 28 years. My birthday, actually, is during the Olympics. I'll turn 39. But for me, it's not a question of age. I think, as Kim was saying, that, you know, when you really have that passion and drive, that you have set your sights on achieving a goal and you're willing to work hard for it, it can happen, and you can do it.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Dot Richardson, John Godina, Tom Pappas, Kim Batten good luck, stay healthy, play well.