The 2016 Summer Olympics are set to for this month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The opening ceremony is Aug. 5 with closing ceremony set for Aug. 21. Many Johnson County residents likely don’t know that we have had three Olympic Gold medal winners in the 21st Century. Christie Ambrosi and Tara Nott Cunningham won gold in Sydney, Australia in 2000 while Shannon Vreeland captured a gold medal in 2012 in London. Vreeland is the only one still competing. Here is a look at our three gold medalists:
Christie Ambrosi – Softball – 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia
“My dad was a huge baseball fan,” she says. “He loved the Cubs and especially loved Ernie Banks. I think he was trying to make me into the female version of Ernie Banks.” Ambrosi spent her first two years of high school at Blue Valley North and moved to BV Northwest when it opened in 1993. She went on to play softball at UCLA. It wasn’t easy to make the 2000 Olympic softball team.
“Every summer, the USOC and ASA invited the top 60 players to a camp for a week, and you were split into teams and played each other,” she says. “From that camp, they picked teams to represent the United States around the world.” Winning the Olympic gold medal was something special to Ambrosi. “I remember it being very surreal,” she says. “When I was a little girl, I remember watching Mary Lou Retton step on the podium to receive a gold medal. She was so inspiring, and I wanted to be just like her. “When I had the gold medal put around my neck, I just kept thinking, ‘Wow, I am literally living my childhood team.” Ambrosi is still involved in softball. She owns the Kansas City Softball Academy in Overland Park.
Tara Nott Cunningham – Weightlifting – 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia
Tara was a soccer player in high school at Blue Valley. “I got started in weight lifting while working in the Olympics in Atlanta (1996),” she says. “I worked for the ACOG (Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games) in the sports department for the sport of soccer. “I was introduced to the sport of weightlifting and decided to try it for a new challenge and to stay in shape for playing (NCAA) Division I soccer.”She became so good at the sport she made the 2000 Olympic team in the 48kg weight class. That is smallest weight class for women. She placed second in the actual competition. “The thing I remember the most was standing on the medal podium receiving my silver medal and hearing my family, friends and teammates cheer,” she says. “Then three days later I received a phone call to say that the gold medalist tested positive (for banned substances), and I would now be awarded the gold medal.”
Shannon Vreeland – Swimming – 2012 Olympic Games in London, England
She got her start in elementary school. “A lot my friends were swimming, either for neighborhood teams or country clubs,” she says. “My neighborhood didn’t have a swim team so a friend suggested trying out for the Kansas City Blazers. I joined the novice group and learned the strokes.” She swam for the Blazers through high school and then moved to Georgia where she had a lot of success. Vreeland finished fifth in the 200-meter freestyle at the 2012 United States Olympic swimming trials, qualifying to swim in the 800-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 London Olympics.The team won the gold medal. “A lot of it (Olympic experience) is just a blur, because I was so excited to be there,” she says. “Watching fireworks out of our hotel room at the training camp in Vichy, France and just letting it sink in that we were about to compete in the Olympics is one great memory. “Finding out that I got to swim on the finals relay and actually swim for a gold medal is another memory that was huge for me.” And the final memory? “Getting to stand up on the podium with one of my closest friends on the UGA (University of Georgia) team and listen to the national anthem, the way I’d watched on TV in awe so many times before, is definitely something I’ll never forget.”