Olympian Carrie Tollefson was the only American athlete selected for the Women’s 1500-Meter Event at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. As the Run Lead and Coach of Wellbeats’ Strides Channel, and with the Summer Olympics starting tomorrow, Carrie took us behind-the-scenes of her Olympics experience.
Qualifying for the Olympics is a Herculean feat itself, and surprisingly, Carrie felt greater pressure in the Olympics trials than in the actual Olympics. “In my sport there are so many different championships,” Carrie explains. “There are world championships, national championships, indoor championships, outdoor championships … even though you’re always thinking of the Olympics as the ‘Grand Event,’ as a world-class athlete I was always thinking, ‘What’s next?’” But always, as the Olympics trials approached, those other competitions “were kind of like dress rehearsals for the big dance.”
Every country has its own Olympics qualification standards. “In the U.S., it’s pretty cut-and-dried,” says Carrie. “You’re in the top three, you have the time, you go.”
She took a step back to explain: “In America, there are three people from each event in track and field. In my event, to make the Olympic team you have to meet an Olympic time standard (an average time taken from the previous Olympics and the World Championships) and you have to place in the top three in America.” That’s why the pressure is so intense at the Olympics trials.
Carrie emphasized: “Once you make an Olympics team, you are forever an Olympian. It’s like you have that ticket punched, and then you can go to the games and just be that athlete that you are and let it rip at the Olympics.”
Host nation Greece
For the 2004 Summer Olympics, Carrie spent a total of five weeks in Greece. “The U.S. track team stayed at a beautiful 5-star resort on the island of Crete,” says Carrie. “We arrived about two weeks before the games started, and we had our own private track and Secret Service around us at all times.”
Carrie’s parents, husband, sisters, and their husbands all traveled to Greece, as well. “I took a train to surprise them when they got off their train,” says Carrie. They arrived after the opening ceremonies. “I got to see them briefly before my event, and then my parents and husband were able to join me in the Olympic Village.” Athletes were allowed a small window of time when three guests could visit them in the Village, “so they were able to come see the Village and have lunch with me.”
The Opening Ceremony “was pretty amazing,” says Carrie. “I remember being overwhelmed with the flashing lights, the cameras, flags flying, the crowd. It was deafening when we walked out.”
A favorite memory of the five-hour event was her proximity to NBA players and LeBron James, who had just started his NBA career. “They put us taller track athletes in front of the NBA players,” Carrie explains. “I remember panning around with my camera and I had to pan up a little because LeBron is so tall. I remember seeing tears running down his face, and I thought my gosh, this young kid (it was his rookie year at age 19), who obviously has made it with his athletic career, is still as proud as I am.”
Did you watch events other than your own?
“I didn’t see any other events. My event was during the second half of the Olympics so I spent a lot of time in the Village training, resting, and getting treatment done. I watched everything on TV with the other competitors. As a distance runner it takes a lot of energy so you just nap, train, fuel, get treatment, nap again …”
What are a few standout memories?
“I remember the opening ceremonies; getting my USA uniform; seeing famous athletes in-person like Yao Ming (7’ 6” Chinese basketball player), the Williams sisters (tennis players), and Michael Phelps (most decorated Olympian with 28 medals).”
Carrie’s mom and dad each reminded her to pause a moment and take it all in before her first race. “They told me, ‘Don’t go out there and think it’s just like every race. It’s not.’” She heeded their advice and is glad she allowed herself to revel in the moment. “When you put your jersey on and go out on the track and you stand there, that is a moment I will never forget. I remember looking around and just being wide-eyed. I caught myself on the jumbotron. It was amazing.”
Running for many
“One thing I will never forget is the roar of the crowd and knowing that millions of people were watching,” says Carrie. And at that moment, she knew that she was running for many more people than herself. “I can remember thinking my best friends from my tiny little hometown of Dawson, Minnesota are watching. I’m not running for me, I’m running for them, I’m running for Minnesota, I’m running for my family, my coaches, my training partners … and I’m running for the U.S.”
Thank you for the great behind-the-scenes peek at your Olympics experience, Carrie! Wellbeats is proud that you are on OUR team.