Justine Henin, Athens 2004

Justine Henin: There is my first French Open and right behind it is the Olympic gold medal in my memories

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

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