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16 Olympic And Paralympic Medalists On The Advice They Wish Someone Had Given Them

By Lisa Costantini | April 14, 2016, 11:49 a.m. (ET)

Very few people know what it’s like to win an Olympic or Paralympic medal. So it’s hard to imagine how life changes after stepping off that podium. And with the 2016 Rio Games less than four months away, it won’t be long before we have a whole new cast of Olympic and Paralympic medalists. Unfortunately, that shiny hardware doesn’t come with a handbook telling them what to expect next. So we asked 16 Team USA medalists — who have a total of 61 medals between them — to share the advice they wish someone had given them before they won. But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to appreciate these words of wisdom.

1. Alex Morgan: Soccer, 2012 Olympic Gold

“Embracing the journey — as cliché as it sounds — is probably the biggest thing I had to tell myself over and over, every day. Because you can only control certain things: like your preparation going into it and your attitude in the end. But it’s the most fun adventure.”

2. Meb Keflezighi: Track And Field, 2004 Olympic Silver

“Be yourself. Just have fun. Enjoy it. Be charismatic. Be you. Celebrate. Give back. Give back to the kids. Interact with them because there are so many people who look up to us. Use that platform to be the best that you can be.”

3. Jamie Greubel Poser: Bobsled, 2014 Olympic Bronze

“I would say to future medalists that you couldn’t begin to imagine how winning a medal will touch so many people. Enjoy the big moment, but also cherish the small conversations and the stories people continue to share about where they were, how they watched or what they were doing when you won the medal. This is the special part of winning a medal for your country — sharing the moment with everyone and realizing just how many people make up Team USA and were cheering you on and believing in you.”

4. Tatyana McFadden: Para Track & Field/Nordic Skiing, 11 Medals

“Just being a Paralympic and Olympic athlete leads to something great. Not a lot of people can say they are Olympic and Paralympic athletes, but to medal — even less people can say they are a medalist. So stay true to yourself. Don’t be flashy. Have fun! You’ve been working incredibly hard for the past four years to get the Games. Make sure to look around you and soak in the moment.”

5. Erin Hamlin: Luge, 2014 Olympic Bronze

“This advice is for the ladies. Races require a good amount of sled work for luge athletes and our hands get pretty dirty — totally black. Right before leaving for my medal ceremony I happened to take notice of my nasty stained fingernails from consecutive days of race sled work. I frantically grabbed some nail polish (that we actually got from P&G that week) on the way out the door, painted one hand on the gondola ride and one in the car! Pictures with your medal generally involve holding it up, which means your fingernails are front and center! My advice: Make sure they don't look too rough because those pictures show up everywhere!”

6. Joe Berenyi: Paralympic Cycling, 2012 Gold, Silver And Bronze

“My advice is to appreciate it. For me, it was such a new thing and I didn’t expect to win. Absorb it. It took a while for it all to sink it. Probably not until the next year when I was injured and not winning very much did I appreciate how hard it really was to get. It seemed like it came easily, but it really didn’t.”

7. Kim Rhode: Shooting, Five Olympic Medals (1996-2012)

“Soak it up. Go do everything you can do. Go enjoy the different events, go see the sights. Just really try to do it all. As my dad says, it isn’t a dress rehearsal.”

8. Brady Ellison: Archery, 2012 Olympic Silver

“From my experience, don’t be upset if you win a medal and you don’t get any media coverage. The U.S. is huge. We have a bunch of amazing athletes. The reality is if you win a bronze or a silver medal, you’re probably not going to get that much media attention — and that’s OK. From the things I’ve seen and heard, if you win a gold medal, you’re going to have a lot of good opportunities. So surround yourself with the right people so you can make the most of it.”

9. Brad Snyder: Paralympic Swimming, 2012 Gold (x2) And Silver

“London happened so fast and I had so much pressure on myself that it overshadowed a lot of my other experiences. My goal for Rio is to just take one thing at a time. I’m only going to get one go at Rio, so I have to enjoy it as much as possible. So my advice to athletes is: Don’t let the pressure overshadow the moment. Enjoy each moment as much as you can.”

10. Vincent Hancock: Shooting, 2008 And 2012 Olympic Gold

“Prepare for the best and the worst. You are going to have people who are patting you on the back, and you are going to have people who are gunning for you no matter what. Being on the top of the pile, you’re always going to have a target on your back — and that’s no pun intended in my sport. You’ll never forget the experience of winning an Olympic medal. But a medal is just a piece of metal. It means nothing. It’s the experience that you get with it — and the knowledge and experience that you can pass on to the next generation.”

11. Mariel Zagunis: Fencing, Olympic Gold (x2) & Bronze ('04-'08)

“Thinking back on the whirlwind that happened after I won in Athens and Beijing, I would say to remember to sleep when you can, and take time for yourself. Because I think after you medal, everybody wants to interview you and have a piece of you. That’s great — that’s what it should be like. But just remember this is your time too, and it’s OK to kind of step back and revel in it. It’s a whirlwind in the best way possible.”

12. Tyler Clary: Swimming, 2012 Olympic Gold

“Don’t be so wrapped up in the end result in being a medalist that you lose the unimaginable experience of being in and around the Olympic Games as an athlete. It’s seriously life changing and humbling seeing a conglomeration of that amount of talent in one spot — where everybody is watching and while everybody is trying to do the same thing. It’s an amazing experience. I think a lot of times people go into the Games too uptight and focus too much on the outcome and not the journey.”

13. Shannon Miller: Gymnastics, Seven Olympic Medals (1992-96)

“I competed pre-cell phone and social media, so I wish someone had reminded me take more pictures and write things down. I have many wonderful memories but I know there is a lot I’ve forgotten.”

14. Sarah Hammer: Cycling, 2012 Olympic Silver (x2)

“Be in the moment and enjoy it. That moment is such a small window, not just in your career, but being at the Olympic Games and being on the medal podium. Soak it in. It’s special.”

15. David Boudia: Diving, 2012 Olympic Gold And Bronze

“Enjoy the moment the medal gets placed around your neck. Use it to reflect back on all the people who have helped you get to that point and then thank them.”

16: Jessica Long: Paralympic Swimming, 17 Medals (2004-12)

"Take your time. There’s no rush. It’s crazy because we train for races for four years, but that medal lasts forever. So take it all in.”

Related Athletes

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Alex Morgan

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Mebrahtom Keflezighi

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Jamie Greubel Poser

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Tatyana McFadden

Nordic Skiing
US Paralympics
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Erin Hamlin

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Joe Berenyi

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Brady Ellison

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Bradley Snyder

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Vincent Hancock

Shotgun Shooting
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Tyler Clary

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Sarah Hammer

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David Boudia

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Jessica Long