Summer Sanders: Let the Summer 2012 Olympics Begin!

Summer Sanders has fire in her eyes, and for good reason. The Olympic gold-medal champion swimmer recently carried the torch to help kick off the Summer 2012 Games in London. Read the edited version of our phone interview with her below about what it was like for her to be chosen for this great honor. Plus, she dishes on how she stays fit now and what it was like to retire at 21 years old.

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
summer sanders image
Photograph: USA Swimming

More: You were tapped for a very important job.
Summer Sanders: Yes. I carried the torch on July 10 in Windsor. Now I will stay on to cover the games for Yahoo beginning July 22.

More: How were you chosen?
SS: I have had a long-standing relationship with Coca Cola, which has been an Olympic sponsor since the beginning. About a year and a half ago they asked me if I wanted to run the torch.

More: How big a deal is that?
SS: I had tears in my eyes as they asked me . . . You can’t ask for this opportunity, you have to be sought out. This was so awesome, you have no idea. I mean, I was jumping up and down like a kid going to Disneyland when I got the call.

More: How far did you carry the torch?
SS: I think it was 340 meters. Let me say, I was soaking up and milking every minute of it.

More: This must take you back to when you were a competitor?
SS: I get so emotional about the games. Now I am holding the Olympic spirit right in my hands. I love everything Olympics and I tend to dive into the emotion of it all.

More: What does going back to the Olympics as a commentator mean to you?
SS: It brings back old memories, ignites the dreams I had when I was a child and be the Olympian I always wanted to be.

More: Because of this huge honor, do you feel like you have come full circle?
SS: I do. This summer has been quite extraordinary for me. It is the 20th anniversary of my Olympics in Barcelona. Would you believe it took me 20 years to get on a cereal box? I finally ran the torch. Now that I am where I am, I really appreciate what my parents did to help get me there.

More: Running the distance should not be a problem for you--you took up the sport of running after you retired.
SS: Yes I did. The moment I hung up my Speedo I put on my running shoes and did the campus loop at Stanford University, which is a little over four miles. Slowly I began to build up my stamina by running in different places all over the country. Eventually I did two New York City Marathons and the Chicago Marathon.

More: And you're finally running pain free, right?
SS: Yes. I used to suffer from varicose veins. Walking around and being on my feet, especially covering the games, used to be so painful. I finally decided to have a 45-minute procedure done to eradicate the problem, and I feel like a whole new person. I am telling everyone to log onto to learn why this is not a sign of aging but something that is common and that you can easily get rid of.

More: Was it hard to retire from the sport that made you a household name?
SS: Not when I did it. I was 21 years old and I just felt it. I even remember the day I made my decision. I was in the middle of the 50-meter pool doing a set for my coach. It was the first time in 17 years I questioned why I was doing this. It was then I knew. I opened up the book and began to write down my pros and cons about going further.

More: Were you scared as to what the future held?
SS: No, I wasn’t scared. If anything, I thought: Life is going to be amazing. I am about to open up this whole new world of opportunity, including finally being able to see friends and take classes I was always interested in.

More: I never thought I would hear the words “retire at 21” in the same sentence.
SS: (laughs) I know, but what else do you call it?

More: Did you have a game plan before you pulled the plug?
SS: I always loved television and I knew that was an area I always wanted to pursue. To make a career out of two things I love makes me feel so grateful.

More: So you plotted out your agenda ahead of time?
SS: . . . You need a direction, otherwise you will feel lost, and that can be scary coming from a world of so much structure.

More: There are some older athletes competing in this season’s games. Can age work to their advantage?
SS: I think it can. I think those athletes appreciate the moment a lot more. The younger kids tend to think, here is what I do next and next and next. While the older athletes like Janet Evans, Dara Torres and Amanda Beard didn’t make the team, they stood up there on those blocks at the Olympic trials and made a huge statement. You could also tell how grateful they were, and enjoying the moment. It was very powerful.

More: Why powerful?
SS: What is more powerful than having your little kid in the stands cheering for you? It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

More: Do you think these women will encourage other older athletes to follow in their footsteps?
SS: I think what it does is it motivates people to start training for something. It is really fun to go out there and do something that scares you a little bit. Look, at this point we are pushing ourselves to the extremes. These people are such great role models, and people should look up to them. I think Dara and Amanda really wanted to make the Olympic team. As for Janet, I think her message was, “I want to go out there and race on that stage again.”

More: Even though they didn’t make the Olympic team, do their performances send a positive message to the public? 
SS: It sends a great message, because it encourages others to sign up for something and coveys the message, “Hey, get your juices flowing again!” There is such a sense of confidence sports gives a person, because it allows you to push yourself and get inspired.

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First Published Mon, 2012-07-16 21:30

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