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Catching Up With the 1996 Olympic Team: Ruthie Bolton

Ruthie Bolton’s on-court achievements include two gold medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, as well as a First-Team All WNBA selection (1997) and two All-Star appearances (1999 and 2001) during her career with the Sacramento Monarchs from 1997-2004. caught up with her to hear her memories from the 1996 women’s Dream Team — which she said still “feels like yesterday” — and learn more about her efforts today as an important voice behind raising awareness of domestic violence.

Catching Up With the 1996 Olympic Team: Jennifer Azzi

On her memories of the 1996 gold medal run:

“It was an epic experience. With the National Team leading up to the Olympics and having the whole year together to prepare us, every day we were reminded of our responsibility and that we are in a unique place and that we can change the face of women’s basketball by what we do in the Olympics.

Our goal was the gold, and coach [Tara VanDerveer] made it certain that if anyone thought anything else but the gold then let her know. … I remember she took us out to this field where the Olympic medals would be awarded and we watched a three-minute highlight of teams that had lost in the past and then we watched three minutes of athletes that had won. Obviously there was a big difference: the agony of defeat versus joy and excitement of winning.

So we stood and she asked us which one we wanted to experience and of course everybody said, ‘Win.’ We stood exactly where the podium would be in the arena once it was built and we were standing on the gold medal podium, so I thought that was so profound. We stood there and claimed that spot and claimed victory, so if we ever got discouraged then we could think back about wanting to win and not lose. It really kept us focused, determined and disciplined to win that gold.”

On the current USA team in Rio, looking to capture a sixth straight gold:

“It’s a new generation of players that are unbelievably talented. Without a doubt, I know they have the team to win the gold. I was just watching the Select Team play them a couple weeks ago in L.A., and the Select Team almost beat them — they lost by four points. That really shows the talent in the WNBA. You have a young team that almost beat the Olympic team.”

On her current work raising awareness of domestic violence:

“ESPN did a 30 for 30, Mighty Ruthie, which I named it because my nickname has always been ‘Mighty’ and what makes me ‘Mighty’ is not just basketball but also a ‘Mighty’ spirit in life. I’ve been going around speaking and through the documentary sharing my story of perseverance and resiliency.

I did a 10-city WNBA tour last summer, speaking up on domestic violence, and the women were in awe that I actually went through some of the things I did. But it felt good to be vulnerable and transparent and share my past with them. I was hoping that it will empower them. … It was unbelievable, the connections and emotions in that room. So I’m thankful for that opportunity and to help me heal.

To be able to be a voice for women and give women a voice has been huge. Women have reached out to me and both given me closure and empowered them. They say, ‘We always knew you were physically strong, but knowing what you endured during the Olympics and you still came out fighting with a smile on your face is mind-blowing.’

I’m doing a campaign where I flex my muscles; it’s something I’ve always done, but now it’s a flex your muscles not just physically but internally to a new you. Flex your muscles to let go of the past or learn how to love yourself. It’s taking action steps. Be strong. Take your life back.”

On her upcoming books and other aspirations:

“I’ve got two books coming out, Ruthie Bolton: The Truth and a book for middle school kids, Ruthie’s Personal Playbook On Keeping Your Mind In Power. The first book is parallel to the documentary and the other book is more for middle school kids. I’ve been coaching, too, and doing player development. I want to get my masters in sports psychology, as well. That is something I’ve always been interested in and I would also love to be able to coach at the WNBA level. That would be a dream come true, and then still be able to pursue my other passions during the offseason.”