Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Olympian Interview: Summer Sanders

At age 19, watching the Barcelona Olympic competition on NBC, I admit to dreaming of one day waking up with swimming gold medalist Summer Sanders. Today, it finally happened! Sort of.

Thanks to the dutiful publicists at Schwinn, who contacted me with an offer to interview Sanders by phone for the little Olympic blog that could, my arm was twisted and April 26, 2011, began with an early morning alarm and a phone call with the Olympic champion.

Sanders was patched in from Park City, Utah, where she now resides with her husband, two kids, and (I am guessing) a garage full of Schwinn bikes.

Before sharing a few notes from our conversation, let me just write here that Sanders was and is among the friendliest Olympians met to date. She is also among the smoothest and best skilled spokeswomen yet interviewed -- she had Schwinn plugged in at all the right places during our conversation (as a publicist on my end of the line, I typically offer up the first couple of minutes to "get all of the messages out on the table" and Sanders delivered, but found a way to bring it all around to bikes again at least twice during our conversation). Game on!

"Though I was a swimmer by trade, I was biking to practice," said Sanders. "A bike was my mode of transportation in college, as it [provided] the fastest path from the pool to food."

Sanders said she vividly recalls learning to ride a bike -- on a pink Schwinn with a banana seat -- telling her father "You can let go now" and finding herself down the bock, sans training wheels, for the first time.

I searched online for a Sanders photo with pink bikes, but nothing popped up yet -- hence, the 1990s-era photo on this post, which I suspect is from the college days Sanders mentioned.

Before the interview, also stumbled upon a circa 2000, pre-Sydney Olympic Games live-chat interview Sanders completed with USA Today, during which she stated, "I don't think I want to do a triathlon because I don't have the time or desire to train ... and I'm too competitive to do it half-way."

This statement drew my interest considering the Schwinn folks mentioned Sanders' recent triathlon activities. Sanders cheerfully explained her change of heart.

"In 2000, that was my 30-year-old self talking," said Sanders. She added that now, as a mother of two, having a "mommy head is like a reality check; it takes the pressure off.

"Back then I was running in marathons, living and working in Manhattan, and it was harder to find places to swim," Sanders said. "I did my first triathlon last summer, training sometimes with two toddlers or taking awesome longer rides and meeting for a social hour with 'mommy girlfriends' -- [sometimes] my legs felt like cement starting up, but I love the feeling of challenging myself."

Sanders' trademark competitive spirit came up several times during our conversation. When asked about her days with "The Celebrity Apprentice" she mentioned the competitive atmosphere and the pressure to win. When asked about her take on Trump's potential presidential run, Sanders brought up The Donald's competitive nature as well.

"Donald Trump is an amazing person, a straight shooter who says exactly what he is thinking," said Sanders. "He's smart, [and] probably one of his goals [in hinting at a presidential bid] is to get people thinking."

Sanders also expressed that one of the most frustrating elements of the "Apprentice" gig was the long van rides in rush hour Manhattan traffic.

"We would beg, 'could we please take a bike?' but we had to stay in the car," said Sanders.

I smiled and believed her, as she did not bring up Schwinn at this stage of the conversation.

Sanders was happy to talk about her Barcelona Olympic experience as well, explaining that during the weeks between the 1992 Olympic trials, the team spent time training in France before driving into Spain and directly to the Olympic Village.

"We bused into Barcelona, and I remember looking out the window seeing the first [street] signs for the Village," said Sanders. "That was when it hit me it was real."

Sanders added that the Village was "just barely" completed as athletes arrived, and the swim team's rooms had no air conditioning.

"There was a rumor that only Team Spain had A/C" said Sanders, chuckling about the experience. "To sleep we took cold showers to keep cool."

When our conversation turned to future Olympic Games, Sanders said she is just starting to figure out what options might work around London in 2012.

Sanders appeared in the current edition of Shape magazine, and she mentioned there is an upcoming show in the works with Yahoo! Sports that starts shooting in July (Sanders and Olympian Dominique Dawes will interview athletes, splitting the nation with East and West Coast beats).

A follow-up Olympic commentary gig with NBC might fit, too, while Sanders said her five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son are a priority.

"I'm happy to be working with Schwinn for two years," said Sanders. "I love the partnerships I have that fit with who I am and my [family] lifestyle, providing time to focus on the joy of life."

It was indeed a joy to chat with Summer Sanders.

Photo via Stars Base

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Big-Time Sports

During my college days at Mankato State University (now Minnesota State at Mankato), the school was known more as the location of the Vikings training camp than our local student athletes.

So low was my interest in college sports then (and now), I think there were only two or three events I attended, including one football game (dragged there as a freshman), one hockey game (as part of an SID work study assignment) and, all lumped together as one complete match, a collection of women's tennis events (my beat for the sports section of The Reporter).

Even Tom Wolfe's college sports fiction "I Am Charlotte Simmons" could not hold my interest a few years back. And I usually love Tom Wolfe texts (check out "Hooking Up" if you have not yet read it).

But recently, thanks to publicists at Cambridge University Press, I gave it another shot by scanning a review copy of Charles T. Clotfelter's new book "Big-Time Sports In American Universities."

The verdict: Still not a college sports fan here, but the book was interesting (affirming many of my longstanding hangups with university athletics), and I think the die-hard college sports fans around me should read it, particularly those in sports marketing.

Clotfelter examines four key roles fulfilled by college sports, as a consumer packaged good, business enterprise (which tees up conflicts of interest for academic institutions),as an instrument to forge relationships, and as role in education. The author's research delves into the positive, neutral or negative outcomes of commercial sports at universities, and provides detail for discussion by those who are critics or fans of the college sports machine.

Not one page of the book delves into Olympic athletic endeavors -- mostly NCAA basketball, college football and other larger sports are explored through Clotfelter's research -- so the book was not as relevant for my interests. But I'll cheerfully loan my copy to those who are interested.

Photo via Amazon.com

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Olympic News Is Everywhere

The last couple of weeks yielded an array of Olympic headlines.

Sadly, a mix of work and personal projects kept me away from the computer, er, away from blogging time.

Here's a grab bag of five-ringed headlines, in case you missed them:

Make it an Olympic day!

Photo via FreakingNews.com

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jumping For Joy

Delighted to read in The New York Times and USA Today that women's ski jumping will debut as an Olympic sport at Sochi 2014. Ski jump is one athletic feat that always intrigued me, but never enough to drop fund for an Olympic ski jump ticket. I plan to check it out when we get to Russia in three years. Photo via The Ski Channel website

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