English Gardner, United States, 100-meter Dash
Q: How often do people ask you about your name?
A: If my mom could get a penny every time somebody asks, she would be the richest woman in the world. She said that she wanted to give me a name that was hard to forget, that stuck with people, that opened up a room before I walked in, that sounded cool on an intercom. It lives up to everything that she said. Growing up, I got teased about it so much, I was called every language in the book. Every now and then I’m still German, French, and Spanish, but, English, definitely.
Q: People have been asking you questions for months. What is the question that nobody asks you? What do you wish someone would ask?
A: Honestly, it would be, how’d you grow up? Where are you from? Just general story questions, because it’s hard as an athlete to have a life outside of what we do, so mostly people ask about your last race, or they ask about how did it feel to get all the way to the finals but you didn’t medal. I get those questions all the time but people don’t really understand the process that it took to get me here because those questions aren’t asked. It wasn’t really until this year that my story got out and people heard who English really is. I did interviews where I allowed them to come into my life and I said in order for people to understand why I’m so passionate about this sport, they have to understand me. So I let them in and was able to talk about stuff other than running down the track. Normal-people stuff.
Q: That’s the opposite of what I thought you were going to say. I read several stories about adversity you had growing up; what your parents had to go through—homelessness—and I thought you were going to say, “I’m not talking about that anymore. It’s none of their business,” or something like that.
A: Half the stuff that was in the articles my agents didn’t even know about me. It was stuff that I kept to myself. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to make excuses for why things are the way they are and why I turned out the way I turned out so when I got that opportunity and I finally let it out it was like, phew. That felt great. That felt awesome!
Now when I’m standing on the line, they don’t just see me as a runner who can medal. For instance, I came into the Olympic Games number two in the world and I left seventh, and still on my Twitter, seventh is meaning so much to people more than seventh would have meant if I had never let them know my life. So now, when I do take my losses, it’s—considering what she’s done, and already done, that was a heck of a race.
Valerie Adams, New Zealand, Women’s Shot Put, Silver Medal
After a discussion about her public persona:
A: I’m pretty much an open book. There are some things behind closed doors but a lot of it is open book because in my situation I want to tout my story as openly as I can so many young people around the world, especially young women around the world, can see my story and inspire themselves to be amazingly the best they can be, that’s why I do what I do. Instagram, social, Facebook, Twitter, everywhere, I’m all out there. My baking, my training, my sleeping, my physio-ing—everything.
Q: You’re so outgoing and you welcome us into your world and your story, but the one place nobody can get you is on the plane home. They can’t reach you. They talk to you, they can’t reach you, and it’s your time—what are you going to do with that time?
A: I watch movies and sleep. That’s the only time in one’s life, especially my own life when I can turn off the whole world and I can just focus on Val—push the seat back, and let me have some food and just relax. And that’s the only time I never put my phone on because let’s be honest here, as much as everybody says “Oh my gosh, I’m off my phone, I’m off my phone” that many times, everybody’s got a phone and everybody puts it on every second.
Wayde van Niekerk, South Africa, Men’s 400-meter, Gold Medal (World Record)
Q: You’ve said that you never envisioned breaking the world record, but people often say that no one can achieve a goal they haven’t first visualized. How have you managed to accomplish something you never even imagined?
A: I think it was the wording. Of course I envisioned setting a world record one day, but it was not on my mind to do next. What was on my mind was to win the gold medal. I had done it last year at the World Championships, and that was my goal again this year, to win gold. And then…the world record…someday. I thought, I’m young, I have time, that will come later. I don’t think about what I will try to accomplish in the future. I keep my mind on what is in front of me.
Q: In the last few days you’ve spoken a great deal about the influence of your 74-year-old Namibian coach Ans Botha. What is the one thing you don’t want to hear her say?
A: Oh, I hate it when she says we have to do distance runs! I don’t want to do it. I want to run away. But I know she is asking me to do the right work for my training, so I will do it. But I have a look on my face while I am doing it. I get through it and then I move on to the next task I enjoy more. But distance! I wish I never had to do it.