Welcome Back Olympic Winners

August 28, 2008 | by Ericka Sanders

Six Olympic medalists from Beijing were a part of Thursday night's Fever festivities (l to r): Bridget Sloan, USA gymnastics (silver); Erin Phillips, Australia basketball (silver); Samantha Peszek, USA gymnastics (silver); Tully Bevilaqua, Australia basketball (silver); Tamika Catchings, USA basketball (gold); Mike Thibault, USA basketball (gold).
The thing that is so special about the Olympic Games is that for three weeks the best athletes in the world come together in sports’ brightest light to compete for top honors.

The Indiana Fever sent two star players to Beijing and they each came back with a medal. While Tamika Catchings returned for the U.S. with her second gold, teammate Tully Bevilaqua playing for the Australian squad for the first time, came home with a silver medal.

It was Bevilaqua, who arrived in China and put on her uniform for the first time, that says playing in the Games truly hit her.

“It was quite emotional for me and it finally really hit home that it was really happening,” she said. It was also emotional for her parents who proudly wore their “Aussie gear” to support their country and their daughter.

“Seeing them in the stands waving, giving me the old, ‘Come on you can do it’ was pretty unique and they enjoyed every minute of it,” said a grinning Bevilaqua.

Catchings who stayed in a hotel room with her mother, sister and nephew calls her Beijing experience, “a great time among teammates.”

“We had a lot of fun on and off the court,” she said. “We had a lot of intensity and focus going in knowing that anything less than gold was unacceptable.

“Off the court,” Catchings continued. “The bus rides were always full of laughter and fun. It was a great time.”

For Connecticut Sun Coach Mike Thibault, whose team beat the Fever Thursday, 84-58, his three weeks spent away from his team as the U.S. assistant coach was highlighted not only by the gold medal, but by how well the ladies played together with little time to practice.

“When you get a chance to coach 12 of the best players in the whole world and they all get along and bond quickly for a common goal, it makes your experience great,” said Thibault whose Sun player Erin Phillips won silver along with Bevilaqua. “Everybody on that team contributed at some point to winning. Off the court we were treated great, as well, so you couldn’t ask for a better experience.” With the 2012 Olympic Games upcoming in London only one Fever star says she has it in her to dedicate another four years to capturing another medal.

“If I can find that youthful pill to take,” joked Bevilaqua, 37, who called herself the Antique Opal of the Australian team. “I can’t visualize myself for sure going for another four years because there is too much training involved. I’m just going to be proud to say that I had a great opportunity to participate in one (Olympics) because not too many people get to do that. I’m very happy.”

Catchings on the other hand, at 29, believes she has enough gas in the tank to compete again.

“I want to. I would love to play one more,” she said. “I say that mostly because I would like for the rest of my family to be able to go. We've got four years to save up some money to get to London because it was expensive in China.”

Basketball players weren’t the only Indiana athletes to bring home Olympic medals from Beijing. USA gymnasts Samantha Peszek, from McCordsville, and Bridget Sloan, from Pittsboro, both 16, each brought home silver medals.

“It was an awesome feeling being on the podium,” said Sloan.

Peszek added that she couldn’t wait to get back to school.

“It feels good to be home and to be recognized for all of our hard work in the community and at school,” she said.

Although Peszek was unable to compete because of an ankle injury she said hearing the National Anthem is “more meaningful” to her after her Olympic experience.

Asked if they would make another experience at the 2012 Games in London, Sloan answered for them both saying, “Right now we’re going to continue to train and participate in more competitions, and see how it goes.”

Thursday was a disappointing evening for the Fever on the basketball court, but for Fever fans, the "Welcome Back Night" was a rare opportunity to see, and thank, and offer appreciation to six returning Olympic medalists under one Indianapolis roof.