Olympic gold medalists Ryan Lochte, Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Aly Raisman were not only happy to be on Ohio State’s campus yesterday evening for their question and answer panel, “Winning Gold,” sponsored by the Ohio Union Activities Board, but happy to be in the presence of each other.
Students were encouraged to use the hashtag #winninggold to tweet questions to the athletes during OUAB’s sold out panel hosted by Don Stenta, PhD., recreational sports director, in the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom. Questions from Twitter ranged from obesity problems in America to pre-competition rituals and crazy fan stories where Lochte had the crowd in hysterics with his stories about love-struck fangirls.
In a pre-show interview with The Lantern, the athletes were candid about their lives and what is up next for their careers.
“I haven’t been on a college campus in a long time, and to just walk on today was really fun, and this is such a prestigious university,” said Walsh-Jennings, three-time women’s Olympic beach volleyball champion and Stanford University graduate. “I was so excited to get the call, and who I found out I’d be sitting with on this panel, I was really excited because I’m really big fans of both theirs. I’m a big fan of Team USA in general, so I want to learn from them.”
Lochte, who was in attendance to Walsh-Jennings and volleyball partner Misty May-Treanor’s final, gold-medal match in London, said that he has given many talks at the University of Florida in Gainesville where he trains and is an alum.
Lochte made his first Olympic appearance in 2004 in Athens where he won his first gold medal alongside teammate Michael Phelps in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
Life after the Olympics has been “crazy” according to Raisman, member of the “Fierce Five” women’s gymnastics team who won gold at the London games in 2012. She wanted to emphasize to students working hard is the key to success.
“Everyone sees us on TV once every four years, and we’re smiling, and we’re happy, but I think that what they don’t realize is how many hours of hard work and dedication it takes, and it’s not always fun—most of the time it’s really hard and stressful and difficult— but obviously worth it,” Raisman said.
Lochte, five-time Olympic gold medalist, came through last night on what he said about being casual with his fans, as he was spotted hanging out watching football at a campus bar, Chumley’s located on High Street, after tweeting to students asking where to go.
“I don’t treat (fans) any differently. I hang out with them if I can by doing appearances like this…. just being normal, not trying to have bodyguards all around me, just hanging out with them,” he said pre-show.
Walsh-Jennings also interacts with fans, but more virtually.
“(Fans) are wonderful. I think with social media—it’s changed everything,” she said. “I think with Twitter and Facebook, people feel very connected, and they feel like they know you, and there’s a little bit of ownership, which is a wonderful thing because you have so much access to people that you admire.”
Raisman remembers idolizing the “Magnificent Seven” of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, as the women’s gymnastics team was referred to that year, and sees a lot of that in her own fans.
“When I train at the gym (in Boston), I’m the oldest one there, so I have little girls that are seven and eight, and they’re so cute. I always love meeting little gymnasts. I feel so lucky, because I see myself in them. I remember being that little and wanting to go to the Olympics more than anything,” she said. “It’s very cool and very humbling.”
With a combined 10 Olympic gold medals and numerous world and national championships to their names, Lochte, Walsh-Jennings and Raisman aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. All three have aspirations of competing and winning gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
Walsh-Jennings said Rio is likely to be her last Olympics.
“Eight years is a long way away,” Walsh-Jennings said.
However, Lochte is unsure.
“(Going to Rio) is my next, biggest goal, and then after that I told everyone if I’m still having fun in the sport, I’ll keep going,” said Lochte.
Raisman, 19, just start training again a few days ago after giving herself a year off after the Olympics and is starting college soon, but she cannot compete at the college level because she is a professional gymnast.
“I’m going to be doing training and school at the same time,” she said. “The school I’m going to doesn’t have a gymnastics team. It’s 15 minutes from my house, so it’s easy.”
Walsh-Jennings said something that all three Olympians agreed with, “The next three years are really important to my life, and I’m excited for the (challenge).”