Carmelita Jeter has discovered a little trick to help her get through long airport lines and overcome any questions that might arise about overweight luggage.
After winning gold, silver and bronze medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games—then embarking on a long, zigzag tour of Europe to compete in the Samsung Diamond League and other high-profile meets—Jeter just digs into her backpack and pulls out her shiny souvenirs to share with airline employees and security officers.
“You pull your medals out and everyone’s excited, and then your luggage goes through,” she said, laughing. “They become a magic card, exactly.”
At this point, anything to make traveling smoother is a blessing for Jeter, who—like many other U.S. Olympic track and field athletes—has yet to come home.
Following the Closing Ceremony in London, Jeter was off to Lausanne, Switzerland, then went back to England to race in Birmingham before flying to Zurich, Switzerland, and then making a final stop in Zagreb, Croatia.
She’s been joined in her European adventures by many other Olympic teammates, including such standouts as 400-meter hurdler Angelo Taylor, sprinters Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix, triple jumper Christian Taylor, 400-meter specialists Sanya Richards-Ross and Dee Dee Trotter, 100-meter hurdlers Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, shot putter Reese Hoffa and distance runner Galen Rupp.
“It’s been a long trip and I am exhausted,” Jeter said from Croatia Monday. “I’m really excited about coming home.”
It’s been such a non-stop dash that Jeter says she hasn’t had a chance to savor her Olympic experiences.
“I don’t think everything that I’ve accomplished has really sunk in yet because I’m still in competition mode,” she said. “I’m sure when I get home and I’m actually in my own house, I’ll be like, ‘Wow.’”
In London, Jeter earned a silver medal in the 100, finishing second to Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and took a bronze in the 200. She also anchored the women’s 4 x 100 relay, which included Felix, Tianna Madison and Bianca Knight, to earn Team USA’s first Olympic gold in that event since 1996. Their world-record time of 40.82 seconds shattered a mark (41.37) run by East Germany that had stood since 1985. The image of Jeter, mouth agape and pointing to the clock on the field, was one of the most iconic American moments of the Games.
Jeter, 32, said winning gold, silver and bronze medals in her first Olympic Games was like getting a “full house” in her first hand.
“When you train so hard, you definitely want to come home with something,” she said. “That’s always the plan, to come home with something, and I was fortunate enough to come home with three medals of different colors and a world record.”
Since the Games, Jeter continued to shine, winning the 100 meters three times (in Lausanne, Birmingham and Zagreb)—beating Fraser-Pryce twice—and taking a second to Fraser-Pryce in Zurich.
Jeter said it was imperative to keep focus on her performance even after the Games. While the Olympic Games are the pinnacle, she’s a professional who needed to keep giving her best and maintain the edge she took into the Games.
“Of course it’s different,” she said of the post-Olympic travel. “You’ve used up a lot of your mojo. You’re just trying to maintain.”
Even with all the travel, the checking in and out of hotels and the constant rhythm of competition, she believed she had a job to do.
“You have to fit time in for certain things, no matter how tired you are,” she said. “Yes, you’re traveling a lot, but, when you get off the plane, you try to get to the track and do the things you need to do to keep your body together. And when you’re doing those things, it’s not just for now, it’s for the next year, to make sure you’re keeping everything together. Those are things that you have to do.”
Still, Jeter was counting the hours until she could get on one more flight—the one home to Los Angeles. She was due home late this week.
She was looking forward to spending time with friends and family, going to a spa, getting her nails done, getting a facial and just putting her feet up—instead of running on them.
Also ahead is a “Carmelita Jeter Day” ceremony at her alma mater, Bishop Montgomery High, in Torrance on Sept. 11, and another ceremony for her in October by the city of Gardena, where she lives.
For Jeter it’s been a year of highs, travel and training, and one she’ll never forget.
“This year has been a great journey for me,” she said. “It’s been a learning year. You’ve got to take some things away from it when you go back to the house and you’re sitting around and thinking about the year.”
Such as: Always carry your Olympic medals when traveling.
Sometimes they come in handy.