Here's a year-end look at post-Olympic life for our local medalists, from equestrian Amy Tryon to Storm players Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird.
It’s enough to give you psychological whiplash.
As is often the case, many Olympic athletes who could barely escape the eye of television cameras — and 4 billion worldwide viewers — at the Summer Olympics in Athens are toiling away in relative anonymity only four months later.
Emphasis on the “relative.” A checkup on Athens medalists with Washington state ties shows that players of mainstream sports, like basketball, can turn their medals into longer-term fame — even cash — while other medalists struggle just to find a place to train.
But all of them share one thing: a strong desire to get back to the next Games and do it all over again.
Here’s a year-end look at post-Olympic life for our local medalists:
Amy Tryon is back at firehouse No. 81 in Sammamish after going to the White House to get the Olympic bronze medal for equestrian eventing that she didn’t get that sultry night in Athens.
Duvall’s Tryon, the unlikely Olympian who rode a horse purchased via a Seattle Times classified ad, was part of one of the major controversies at the Olympics.
Her American team finished fourth behind Germany, France and Great Britain, until the lead German rider, Bettina Hoy, was belatedly penalized for taking too much time to negotiate the show-jumping course. She missed the start and had to start again.
The Americans were bumped into third, but after hours of debate, the decision to penalize the German was reversed. The Americans left the stadium without a medal.
Later, a sports court of arbitration reversed the outcome once again, giving the Americans third.
“We just wanted the rules to be followed correctly, whatever the outcome,” said Tryon. “I didn’t necessarily miss getting the medal that night for myself, but I did for all those who have supported us and wanted to watch us on the podium.”
Tryon was fantastic, guiding her enthusiastic mount, Poggio II, to a perfect finish in the show jumping. She finished sixth in the overall individual competition even though her steed — who once carried hikers around the Cascades — hadn’t done well in dressage.
“He surprised a lot of people that he could be competitive at that level,” said Tryon, “He is improving leaps and bounds in dressage. He’s got a better performance in him.”
Tryon qualified two horses for the Olympics, but chose Poggio II over My Beau. My Beau, 15, has since been retired from elite competition and will be ridden by Leigh Mesher of Seattle.
Tryon has purchased two new horses, Woodstock, 10, and Devon, 5, both of whom started out at the race track, like Poggio II.
She wants to compete again in Beijing in 2008, when Poggio II will be 15.
“All I know is I’m eternally grateful to those who helped make this possible,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for people pulling my shifts at the firehouse, I never would have competed.”
Mill Creek’s Brett McClure could almost see his dream — an individual Olympic gymnastics medal — coming true in Athens. But a fall in his specialty, the pommel horse, ended it abruptly. McClure finished ninth in the all-around competition.
But he helped his team to the overall silver medal — the first for the U.S. men in a non-boycotted Olympics since 1932.
Since the Games, McClure did what many other Olympic gymnastics medalists, male and female, did with their time: kept right on training, then took a victory lap, of sorts, around the country.
McClure, who was first attracted to the sport at the 1988 Goodwill Games in Seattle, was part of the T.J. Maxx Tour of Gymnastics Champions, a 40-city Cirque du Soleil-inspired gymnastics show that made a Seattle stop this fall. It was a rare chance, he and other athletes said, to have fun doing what they do best — without the intense pressure of competition.
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McClure, 23, has been living near the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., recovering from a minor knee surgery. He plans to marry fellow gymnast Jaycie Phelps, an Atlanta team gold medalist, in Hawaii in February.
After that, the future’s unclear. McClure would be 27 — an old-timer, in gymnastics terms — when the Beijing Games roll around. But he said the mind is still willing if the body can keep pace.
They were part of one of America’s best days in Athens, when out on a man-made rowing course near the plains of Marathon, the U.S. won a gold medal in the men’s eight-oared final and a silver in the women’s eight.
Former Washington rower Matt Deakin rowed in the No. 5 seat for the men, who won their first gold medal in the eight in 40 years.
In the women’s final, Lianne Nelson of Seattle stroked the U.S. boat that also included a pair of former Huskies, coxswain Mary Whipple and No. 5 Anna Mickelson.
Most of them have come home from Athens to roost, Deakin a volunteer coach at Washington, helping the frosh coach, Mike Callahan, another Husky who was in Athens as a spare for the men’s team.
Whipple is assisting the UW women’s crew as a volunteer coach, while Mickelson, who is from Bellevue, is doing an internship in the fund-raising, Tyee office at the university.
Additionally, the stroke of the U.S. men’s team, Bryan Volpenhein, has joined the band of Huskies, volunteering to help UW coach Bob Ernst with the men’s crew.
Nelson, who took two years off after the 2000 Games in Sydney to give birth to her daughter, Grace, is apparently doing a sequel. According to Eleanor McElvaine, the women’s coach at Washington, Nelson is pregnant.
Before Athens, Nelson, 32, said, “I can still hold my own with the 20-year-old. The peak endurance years for a woman athlete come between the ages of 34 and 38. I keep kidding the coaches that I’ll have another baby after this Olympics and be back for the next ones.”
The post-Games days felt pretty much like the pre-Games days to Stanford swimmer and Bremerton native Tara Kirk: Training, training, and more training.
Leaving Athens with a silver medal for her part in the U.S. women’s team medley relay, Kirk immediately set her sights on the indoor World Short Course Championships in Indianapolis.
Expectations were high: Kirk set the world mark in the 100-meter breaststroke in the short (25-meter) pool the previous spring. But she wasn’t as sharp at the Indianapolis event, finishing with two bronze medals.
She remains among the world’s elite breaststrokers, and plans to continue competing. Next up are the U.S. trials for the World Swim Championships, set for April in Indianapolis, with the worlds following in July.
After those short-course races, Kirk, whose younger sister, Dana, also was on the Olympic swim team, did something long overdue — took three weeks off from the pool.
“Really, I just didn’t do anything,” she said. Aside from attending classes at Stanford, which she was able to experience, for once, like any other student, without the rigors of training.
“It was sort of neat to be a regular student,” she said.
Kirk plans to continue training at Stanford and, eventually, launch into grad school there.
This week, she flew from a training camp in New Jersey to her parents’ home in Bremerton for the holidays. Training early Monday morning at a local tennis club pool, the quiet, unassuming swimmer was sort of stunned to realize that everyone there recognized her.
“That was really weird,” she said.
She not only handled it fine, she gave some of the local rec swimmers an unexpected thrill when, fishing around in her bag of gear she’d taken to the training camp, she came upon her shiny Athens silver medal, which came out for a poolside show and tell.
Like a lot of new medalists, she’s not sure what to do with it: The medal spent its first post-Games days stored in an old sock.
The softball stars
Two former Washington Huskies, Jenny Topping, a catcher from Whittier, Calif., and Jaime Clark, an alternate shortstop, helped power the U.S. squad that turned in one of the most dominating team performances in Olympic history.
The U.S. squad waltzed through its nine-game Olympic schedule, and was never seriously challenged by another team.
Topping, who batted .667 in the Olympics, brought home a gold medal; Clark, because she was an alternate, just got a lot of hearty pats on the back, even though she was with the team in Athens through the summer pre-Games tour and the Games themselves.
Since the Olympics, Topping has made a new home in Belmont Shore, Calif., near the ocean. She’s joined other Team USA players for weekend clinics and a training camp called “A Weekend with Gold.” She’s also becoming a volunteer with the Special Olympics.
Clark moved to Chicago this fall for a “change of scenery and something new and exciting.” She says she’ll do some coaching, volunteer at Northwestern University and continue her softball career with the Chicago Bandits. She’ll also be looking at another run with the U.S. national team.
Women’s basketball duo
The Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson found themselves on opposite sides of a bitter Olympic rivalry in the Athens Games.
Jackson, 23, a former league MVP in Seattle, was the focal point for her Australian national team, and proved to be the strongest individual player in the Games, leading all players in scoring. The 6-foot-5 power forward said she wanted to win the gold medal for her mother, whose Olympic dreams were thwarted in giving birth to Lauren.
She came close. But in the gold-medal match, Jackson’s Opals, for the second straight Olympics, failed to keep pace with a deeper, more-experienced Team USA, for which Olympic rookie Bird, 24, played a minor, supporting role at point guard. The Americans won 74-63, capping an Olympics that saw Team USA beat its opponents by an average of almost 24 points.
The medal game was the first bump on what would prove a summerlong roller-coaster ride for both players.
After running around the court with her country’s flag, seemingly celebrating the silver medal, Jackson learned her maternal grandmother was fatally ill. She returned to the states briefly before deciding to pay her final respects in Australia while healing a foot injury. When she returned to the Storm, the team advanced to the WNBA playoffs as a No. 2 seed.
Jackson’s grandmother died the day before the playoffs began and Bird’s nose was broken in the second game of the first round. Both fought through different types of pain to win the WNBA title, bringing Seattle its first major championship in 25 years.
After the confetti was swept aside and the black eye and puffy nose faded, Bird kept busy riding a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, signing books and making speaking engagements. She’s currently preparing for her first stint playing with an overseas team, the Moscow Dynamo.
Jackson returned to Australia and had reconstructive surgery on her ankle. As of last Friday, it was still severely swollen. Her trainer is “delighted” with Jackson’s rehabilitation progress, according to Jackson’s Australia-based agent, but for now she can’t wear shoes and won’t return to the court until May.
And that, of course, is just before the Storm begins a new season — its championship on the line.
Seventeen Athens Olympians with ties to the state will be honored this morning by Washington Gov. Gary Locke in the state capitol. Athletes from track and field, shooting, rowing, swimming and kayaking will be feted for an hour.
Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff reporters Blaine Newnham and Jayda Evans contributed to this article.