Andre Agassi, gold medallist, Atlanta 1996

1996 Atlanta Olympics: Gold medal for Andre Agassi

From Agassi‘s autobiography Open:

As the Games begin, sportswriters kill me for skipping the opening ceremonies. But I’m not in Atlanta for opening ceremonies, I’m here for gold, and I need to hoard what little concentation and energy I can muster these days. The tennis is being played in Stone Mountain, an hour’s drive from the opening ceremonies downtown. Stand around in Georgia heat and humidity, wearing a coat and tie, waiting for hours to walk around the tack, then drive to Stone Mountain and give my best? No. I can’t. I’d love to experience the pageantry, to savor the spectacle of Olympics, but not before my first match. This, I tell myself is focus. This is what it means to put substance above image.

With a good night’s sleep under my belt I win my first-rounder against Jonas Bjorkman, from Sweden. In the second round I cruise past Karol Kucera, from Slovakia. In the thris ound I face a stiffer test from Andrea Gaudenzi, from Italy. He has a muscle-bound game. He likes to trade body blows, and if you respect him too much he gets more macho.
I don’t show him any respect. But the ball doesn’t respect me. I’m making all sorts of unforced errors. Before I know what’s happening, I’m down a set and a break? I look to Brad. What should I do? He yells: Stop missing!
Oh. Right. Sage advice. I stop missing, stop trying to hit winners, put the pressue back on Gaudenzi. It’s really that simple, and I scrape out an ugly, satisfying win.

In the quarters I’m on the verge on the elimination against Ferreira. He’s up 5-4 in the third, serving for the match. But he’s never beaten me before, and I know exactly what’s going on inside his body. Something my father used to say comes back to me: If you stick a piece of charcoal up his ass, you’ll pull out a diamond? (Round, Tiffany cut). I know Ferreira’s sphincter is squeezing shut, and this makes me confident. I rally, break him, win the match.

In the semis I meet Leander Paes, from India. He’s a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands. Still, he’s never learned to hit a ball. He hits off-speed, hacks, chips, lobs – he’s the Brad of Bombay. Then, behind all his junk, he flies to the net and covers so well that it all seems to work. After an hour you feel as if he hasn’t hit one ball cleanly – and yet he’s beating you soundly. Because I’m prepared, I stay patient, stay calm, and beat Paes 7-6 6-3.

In the final I play Sergi Bruguera, from Spain. […]
From the opening serve, I’m pounding Bruguera, moving him from corner to corner, making him cover a parcel of real estate the size of Barcelona. Every point is a blow to his midsection. In the middle of the second set set we have a titanic rally. He wins the point to get back to deuce. […]
Even though Bruguera has won the point, Gil sees, and I see, that winning the point cost him the next six games.

As I mount the review stand, I think: What will this feel like? I’ve watched this on TV so many times, can it possibly live up to my expectations? Or, like so many things, will it fall short?
I look left and right. Paes, the bronze winner, is on one side. Bruguera, the silver winner, is on the other. My platform is a foot higher – one of the few times I’m taller than my opponents. But I’d feel ten feet tall on any surface. A man drapes the gold medal around my neck. The national anthem starts. I feel my heart swell, and it has nothing to do with tennis, or me, and thus it exceeds all my expectations.

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