By Lisa Costantini | Oct. 26, 2016, 6:09 p.m. (ET)

Even though many athletes on Team USA went to Rio with a one-track mind — bring home a medal — some left with more than unforgettable memories and a precious medal or two (or five!). Here are the stories behind the friendships eight Olympians and Paralympians made in Brazil.

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English Gardner, Track and Field

“I definitely mingled when I was in Rio. I met a couple of people and made some very good strong-standing relationships. I was just glad for the opportunity to be able to meet people outside my sport. The whole rowing team is awesome. I ran into [Michael] Phelps, by accident. I got lost in the athletes’ village and he showed me the way to go. I met a couple of fencers. Ibtihaj Muhammad, her and I are supposed to have a seafood date when we go back to New Jersey.”


Josh Brunais, Paralympic Soccer


“Some of the sitting volleyball guys I’ve talked to and we’ve become friends on Facebook, talking back and forth a little bit. Honestly, every athlete — especially the Paralympic athletes — I just look up to them so much. What they’ve overcome impresses me the most. I just enjoy getting to know each and every one of their stories.”


Katie Ledecky, Swimming

“Throughout the whole Olympic experience, I got to meet a bunch of people: in the cafeteria, walking to and from the athletes’ village, up and down the elevator. It was fun to hear what everyone was doing, and how they were doing in their sports.

Two of the swimmers – Simone Manuel and Lia Neal – are on my Stanford team, so I’m getting to train with them every day and that’s been a lot of fun.”


Tatyana McFadden, Paralympic Track and Field

“I got to meet lots of athletes throughout the year, especially before the Games and we stayed in touch during the Games. When I was training in Chula Vista I got to meet the rowing team. We stayed in touch and really followed each other through our Rio journey, which was really cool. It was a great experience.”


Lex Gillette, Paralympic Track and Field

“I met Tyler Merren from goalball, Katie Holloway from sitting volleyball, Matt Stutzman from archery. There were so many amazing athletes.”


Laurie Hernandez, Gymnastics

“I was able to meet some of the Netherland group of gymnasts. I met Usain Bolt from Jamaica — that was incredible. I met some track runners, some swimmers. It was really nice seeing all the different sports around me and seeing how everyone could come together for the Olympics.”


Michelle Carter, Track and Field

“Every time I was in the athletes’ village, I was like ‘Hi, my name is Michelle. I’m on the track and field team. What do you do?’ So it was great. I got a chance to meet the whole gymnastics team in the elevator, but I didn’t get a picture!”


Kari Miller, Sitting Volleyball

“It was really cool, because in the villages everyone is like a family. So like right next door was wheelchair basketball, people from Greece, so we made friends with people from the Netherlands and we’re still Facebook friends. I still get requests and I’m like, Oh, you remember me. Hey buddy. And I would go and sit and eat with people and I wouldn’t even know how to communicate but it was cool.”