Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Already the most decorated female Olympian of all-time with 10 medals, including a record eight gold, what is it that keeps American swimmer Jenny Thompson wanting to return to the Summer Games?
Is it the chance for more first-place finishes?
Is it for her to prove that she can make a comeback, even after she stopped swimming and training to focus on medical school at Columbia University?
In the 2000 Sydney Games, Thompson won gold in three relays (400 meter freestyle, 800m freestyle, 400m medley) and a bronze in the 100m freestyle.
Following those Games, Thompson took a significant amount of time off and attended Columbia. However, she soon started to miss swimming. So she headed back to the pool for just for fun, but that soon turned into training at a higher level.
"I think I didn't really believe I had made a comeback until I was at the nationals in the summer of 2001," Thompson said. "That's when I realized this was going to be an ongoing deal."
Thompson was back on track in 2002, winning the gold medal in the 50 meter freestyle event at the Pan Pacific Championships, posting a lifetime best mark. She also took bronze in the 100m freestyle and the 100m butterfly and earned silvers in the 400m free and medley relays. She then won two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona.
|Although she never officially retired following the 2000 Summer Games, Jenny Thompson, now 31, says the drive for her to be in the Olympics for a fourth time is about an opportunity for her to be a mentor to younger swimmers, while satisfying her competitive juices.|
Although she never officially retired following the 2000 Summer Games, Thompson, now 31, says the drive for her to be in the Olympics for a fourth time is about an opportunity for her to be a mentor to younger swimmers, while satisfying her competitive juices.
"I think when I left the sport in 2000, I think I had a lot left to give," Thompson said. "I felt a little bit unfulfilled because of my performances. When I left the sport I didn't give as much as I could back to the sport."
Thompson is the senior member of the women's swim team and in Athens, she hopes some of the younger swimmers will draw on her expert experience.
"I see my role as being one of the wise old women on the team and giving as much as I can to this team and soaking up as much of the Olympic experience as I can because it'll likely be my last one," Thompson said.
"Since 2000 a lot of perspective has changed for me," Thompson said. "The one thing that shines through is my passion for the sport and my love of competition. That's what brings me here."
What also brought her back was thinking what her mother would have wanted. For her entire life, Thompson's mom, Margrid, was an inspiration to her daughter. In February of this year, Thompson's mother passed away due to complications related to esophageal cancer.
"I think she was part of the reason I wanted to come back," Thompson noted of her mother. "I know that my swimming was a great source of joy for her. I know she enjoyed experiencing success with my swimming. I think she's still an inspiration to me."
Thompson said it was a difficult decision to try and find time for both her graduate studies and working back into swimming shape.
"When I came back for my second year of med school, that's when I tried to combine the two," she said. "I would go to school 9-5, swim in the evening, and study at night."
Set to graduate Columbia in 2006, Thompson said she actually stopped going to school last December because her schedule was so difficult and she couldn't devote all of her time to studying while trying to return for a fourth Olympics. However, Thompson said she'll be right back at Columbia this fall.
"I think medical school is quite a task on its own," Thompson said. "People are pretty amazed I can do two things at a high level like that."
At the end of her second year in medical school, during the spring and summer of 2003, Thompson was on overdrive, studying for board exams and also training for the World Championships.
The grueling day would start at 7 a.m. with a two-hour workout. Much of the day was then spent the library and then another workout and more studying until about 1 a.m. before finally falling asleep.
"I didn't have any social life," Thompson recalled. "I barely had time to eat and go to the bathroom."
Actually, Thompson's previous Olympic experience may have been part of the reason why she was accepted to Columbia, not necessarily for her fame but because what she wrote on her application essay.
"I believe that the commitment and the focus that it takes to be an elite level athlete is the same kind of commitment and focus that it takes to compete in medicine," Thompson said. "Those traits of mine helped me get through both."
Thompson said she's more relaxed these days and feels there is little pressure on her going into Athens, even though she is already the top female Olympian of all-time.
"I think that my perspective on things have changed a lot," said Thompson. "I'm having a lot more fun with the sport than I ever have. I'm more relaxed with it. The gold medal isn't the main priority at these Games for me. I would love to do the best I can for my country and I want to swim better than I ever have before. The gold medal isn't waking me up. It's not what's getting me out of bed in the morning."
By Eric Gold, Olympic Editor