Justine Henin, Athens 2004

I had a bad virus – I had CMV, cytomegalovirus – for a few months, and at a certain time I thought the Olympic Games are not going to be for me this time. But then I decided to go because it was an experience you maybe live once, twice, in your career. I said I’m going to go and in Athens, it’s going to be so special to be back where the history of the Olympic Games is.

Match after match I was winning and I couldn’t believe what was happening. In the semifinals I came back from nowhere, losing 5-1 in the third and I won the match. And then I played the final and I won and it was just, phew, when they played the national anthem I was so proud. Yeah, I was so proud to feel the whole country behind me. We have the Grand Slams and, of course, with tennis the Grand Slams are very important. But the Olympic Games, I never thought it would be so emotional for me and it was so different from what I lived all the time on the tour.

Usually I keep my emotions for me, but there was a lot of joy. There was a lot of surprise, of sharing with the Belgian delegation. All the athletes were there. I didn’t cry, but I did sing. And I was so very, very proud. After the match and the ceremony I came back to the Village and all the athletes were waiting for me in the Belgian house and we celebrated together for an hour. Everyone was so happy and it’s just a great memory.

I stayed in the Village. I wanted to be in the Village. Some players stay in hotels to be away from all the atmosphere because it takes up a lot of your energy. I’ve been very impressed with the Olympic Village, all these athletes from different sports, the restaurant where you have 10,000 athletes from different countries. Also, especially, individual sports are very difficult if you are alone. Of course, you have your team around you, but it’s only you, and in the Village you feel the energy from all the other athletes, and the tension and that they were anxious also when they started their competition. And we could also talk about that.

When I went to the Olympic Games I never thought I would be so proud of the medal and I think today there is my first French Open and right behind it is the Olympic gold medal in my memories. Just the experience was so fun and the fact that for me, I was coming from nowhere. Two or three months before the Olympic Games I couldn’t practise for an hour and a half, and there, it was just like magical, something happened that is very hard to describe.

I think I won the gold medal at 10 in the evening and the day after we were flying at 7:30 in the morning. But at the airport there were a lot of people waiting for me. The whole country was behind me. It’s not in Belgium that we win a gold medal every day – it’s a small country – so there was a big celebration there at the airport.

It’s the experience you have to live once in your career. And, of course, you want to win and to have a medal, but just the humanexperience is unbelievable, and you see all the athletes and you feel a little bit more normal because you are in the middle of so many thousands of athletes. You open your mind to so many different things, and I remember from my experience my eyes were open like this (opens them really wide) all the time, looking at everything.

Source: ITF Olympic book

Andre Agassi, gold medallist, Atlanta 1996

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.

It does feel good to be an Olympic medallist. At the time, I was quite disappointed in 1988 with the bronze medals. I was really looking for the gold medal. I gave it a shot in 1992, clay court wasn’t my best surface at the time and I got knocked out there. It wasn’t the end ofthe world.

Looking back, it was very nice. I remember five or ten years ago, my kids were in school and they could bring some medals to the school because it was an Olympic year. I took the medals to the school to show them and they could have a look at them and see what the real thing is. I told them about when I was playing in the Olympics.

You could come out and show the young people some real Olympic medals which probably a lot of school kids hadn’t seen. It was a nice thing to tell a story about being part of the Olympics. You are part of history in the Olympics. It was the local school where I live now in Vaxjo.

I started in Los Angeles at the tennis demonstration event. Great experience in Los Angeles winning the gold medal but it was not official at the time. In Seoul, I won singles and doubles bronze medals.
Obviously, at the time, great to get a medal but I felt I wanted to go for the gold. I felt that I had a good chance to win either singles or doubles but it didn’t quite turn out that way. Overall, I still got a medal there which is nice to have.

The opening ceremony in Barcelona was pretty special – I carried the flag for the nation, which is a big honour. What I remember from that one, you have to put your suit on, your tie on and you have got this special belt. You have to wait quite a long time before you get into the stadium and we ended up waiting somewhere in the tunnel and it was extremely hot. You can just imagine when it is 35 degrees, a lot of people and you have to stand there with the flag, suit and tie… I was sweating floods. We were probably there for an hour or something.

It was a relief getting out, carrying the flag and getting some air. I remember the other athletes thought I was going a little bit too quick with the flag because they wanted to stay as long as possible on the track. My pace was probably a little bit too quick for their liking, for the people coming behind that wanted to wave and be on there as long as possible. It was incredibly hot. There was no sweat left when I walked out.

The big difference was being part of the Olympic movement, the Village, being able to see athletes from other sports and other countries. That was a neat experience to be part of the nation in the Olympics. Playing on the court, there was not that much difference. You are still two people out there, doing the job you are supposed to do to win.

Marc Rosset, Barcelona 1992

It’s something that’s special because I’m proud to be Swiss. I love my country and when you have the national anthem, like when you play Davis Cup, you feel something special. It’s unique, because you have the gold medal, and the fact it was the only medal for Switzerland in ’92 meant it was even bigger. You feel proud.

For sure, it was surprising (that I won). I’m not stupid. I saw the draw and I said the first match was okay, it was against Karim Alami. The second match was a tough match against Wayne Ferreira, but I managed to win in straight sets. And then I had Jim Courier, two-time winner at Roland Garros and No. 1, so I was like, “Okay guys, you know what, soon I’m back home,” and I beat him in three sets. And then I started to say, “Whoa!”

I was starting to play more and more my best tennis, and then I was one match away from making a medal. It was against Emilio Sanchez, he was the matador and, for sure, I didn’t want to lose that game. Then I beat Goran [Ivanisevic] in the semis and then I ended up in the finals. Against [Jordi] Arrese I was two sets up but physically, I was roasted, but I managed to finish in the fifth. I can tell you honestly that after the match point, my first feeling was not, “Whoa, I won,” but it was like, “Whoa, it’s over.” I was exhausted and I didn’t realise I won the gold medal, it was, “That’s it, no more tennis to play,” because it was more than five hours I played.

It’s my No. 1 achievement, not only in my career, but I would say in my life because it’s 24 years ago and still now, I meet Swiss people, and they come back to me, “Congratulations for your Olympic medal.”
The funny thing, and the weird thing is, they come and say I remember I was in Spain, or in Italy, or in Switzerland, I was somewhere, and I remember that day. You have the feeling to share one day of your life with plenty of these people.

All of those people remember what they were doing on that day. It’s a title you keep for all of your life. They can always introduce you as a gold medallist and you will be forever an Olympic champion.

Before the Olympics you receive all the materials from the Swiss (Olympic) Committee, the training suit, the t-shirts and this and that. I received two training suits and it was 35 degrees in Barcelona, so I called the Swiss
Committee and said, “I’m sorry but this is the first time I come to the Olympics, do I wear the suit from the Swiss Olympics or can I bring my own stuff.” It was military and they said, “You have to wear this, you have to wear that,” and I said, “Okay.”

Then I was in the Village and I met Dano Halsall, he was a Swiss swimmer, and it was his third Olympics and the guy is wearing his own clothes. I was wearing the training suit and he said, “No need to do that.” So the first day I went to the physio and I ask for the scissors and I cut my training suit to make it short. When I saw the face of the chief responsible for Swiss Olympics, it was like if I was in the army and I forgot my gun.

I really enjoyed the Olympics, being in the atmosphere in the Village. It’s the thing I remember the most, maybe even more than the victory because it was a good occasion to be with other Swiss sportsmen that I never met all year long. For ten days, two weeks, you can talk about their career, their sports, you can share things with them.
It was a nice feeling. For me it’s what was helping me to win. I took this fun energy that I was happy to meet other guys, see other athletes; I was super happy to be there and I think that’s why I won the Olympics because I took this energy.

Source: ITF Olympic book

Tennis Olympic medalists, Seoul 1988

Steffi Graf, who took home 3 Olympic medals (gold and bronze in 1988, silver in 1992), shares her Olympics memories in the ITF Olympic book:

There’s no comparison in tennis for the feeling of standing on the Olympic podium listening to your country’s anthem. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and pride. It was a moment I certainly will never forget.

It’s the same game, same format, yet entirely different [to other tennis experiences].
For example, in the Fed Cup you play for your country on a team. In the Olympics you play for your country as an individual. Winning for something greater than oneself in tennis is a privilege that only the Olympics can provide.

We have the pillars of our sport and the Olympics. Each is difficult and rewarding for its own reasons. It is impossible for me to separate all that was asked and given. The special feeling of winning for my country allowed millions of people to share in that moment with me.

After all this time, to be an Olympic gold medallist feels… How can I say this? Incredible! I keep my medal in a very safe place.

My fondest memories are of taking part in the opening ceremonies at Seoul and Barcelona and staying in the Olympic Villages. It was fascinating to be able to talk with the other athletes from all the different sports, cultures and backgrounds. We had a lot of fun guessing which country and sport they represented.

I also loved being a spectator at some of the other sporting events. Being able to see the events live was thrilling. As a big fan of track and field watching the 100 metres final was a highlight. The team spirit, and seeing the athletes give everything for their sport and come together to support one another, is to this day very inspiring.