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

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