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Kidsday reporters meet Olympic gold medal swimmers

Olympic swimmers Cullen Jones, Simone Manuel and Rowdy

Olympic swimmers Cullen Jones, Simone Manuel and Rowdy Gaines with Kidsday reporters Jessica Susa, front, Ashley Shiu, left, Isabella Mueller and Brooke Lin on the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. Photo Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We were invited to the Empire State Building to interview three Olympic gold medalists. We were very excited to meet Rowdy Gaines, Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel. We went to the Empire State Building. We were very surprised that we were going to the top. None of us had been there before. When we got outside, there was a section blocked off for us to talk to the swimmers.

The swimmers were here as part of the Make A Splash Tour, which is designed to promote Learn to Swim and Water Safety initiatives. We met Simone Manuel first. Simone is an amazing athlete. At the 2016 Olympics, she won two gold and two silver medals. She was so nice to us and was smiling the whole time.  Simone started swimming at 4 years old, and started competitions at age 5. She started swimming to keep up with her older brothers because she wanted to be just like them. We learned that she doesn’t think that her friends were jealous of her success. She told us if we have that problem, we should just keep going toward our goals and don’t let anything stand in our way. Simone stays healthy by eating lots of vegetables, salads and pasta. She puts in 20 hours of practice a week, which is a lot. When we asked her where she gets her confidence to win, she told us she stays focused on her goals and tries her best. 

We were surprised when she told us that even losses are fun because she feels she learned the most when she lost. We learned that she feels amazing listening to the national anthem and representing her country when she wins.

Simone didn’t really get to celebrate after her first gold medal because she had another race to prepare for but couldn’t go to sleep because she was so excited. She told us that she liked being a part of the Goggles On program, which is a foundation through USA Swimming, because it helps save lives. Simone told us that her definition of trying your best is giving 100 percent at everything you do. She told us the best part of being famous was meeting aweomse people like us! We were excited to hear that.

After talking to Simone, Cullen Jones came over to us. Cullen was part of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team that holds the world record. He was part of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic swim teams.

Cullen told us that he swam with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, very famous swimmers, and told us Ryan was one of his favorite people to train with because he trains hard. When he was tired and ready to give up, Ryan was there to keep him motivated. 

Ryan was the best man at Cullen’s wedding! Cullen said he Olympic teammates were his friends and his family because he is an only child. He misses them now.  On the scale of 1 to 10, when asked how brutal the sport of swimming is, he responded with an 11. It is a pretty tough sport because you can’t play swimming like you can play basketball or play baseball.  It taught him to cherish his friends because he can only talk to them when they are at the wall, not when they are swimming. Cullen only rubs his hands on the wall. that is his only superstition before a race. Cullen heard that he could go to the Olympics when he was 21 years old! It was always his dream, but he was older than other swimmers when he found out he was good enough.

We wanted to know how he would knew it was time for him to retire.  He knew it was time to retire when he hurt his shoulder and needed to get a painful shot. He really misses being a part of the team. Winning a gold medal was a very special time and he celebrated right here in New York with his family!  He’s now expecting his own baby boy this summer. Cullen showed us his world record ring and his gold medal.

Lastly, we interviewed Rowdy Gaines. Rowdy is the winner of three Olympic Gold Medals, and is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and we were surprised to hear that he learned to swim at 9 months old on a lake.  That doesn’t mean he started competing then! He tried to play many sports in high school, like football, tennis, golf, basketball and baseball, and when he realized he wasn’t too good at any of those, he tried out for swimming and ended up with all those gold medals.  He started competing when he was 17, but he always loved being in the water. He thinks he will be a fish in his next life. Under the water, while swimming, he tried not to think about the competition but played songs and TV shows in his head to distract him from the pain, but sometimes he is concentrating really hard. For the Olympics he needed to get a lot of sleep and eat healthy food.  Rowdy told us that he knew it was time to retire because his body told him so. Swimming is very hard, and it takes a toll on your body.

Training and competing are really hard, but we learned to stay focused on our goals and try our best in whatever we do.

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