They are a handful to have had the chance to participate in the Olympic Games at least once in their career. On the occasion of Olympic Day, our Sport Impact Leaders tell us their best Olympic memories!

Amy Mbacke Thiam – Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, London 2012
Athletics – Senegal

“I have very nice memories of my Olympic Games. Sydney 2000 was my first time and it was really great. I remember the city, the Sydney Bridge, the hotel boats, the athletes’ village, the restaurant open 24 hours a day, the opening ceremony, the Olympic flame, the stars I met and especially my result with a semi-final in the 400m for my first participation.

Then there was Athens in 2004 although I think there was a less good atmosphere than in Sydney. Of course, the city remains historical in terms of Olympic Games. In London 2012, it was also less good but whatever the edition, the passion around the Olympics remains the same for the athletes.”

Isabelle Yacoubou – London 2012, Rio 2016
Basketball – France

“I have two big memories, beyond the silver medal. The first is when we left the opening ceremony parade in London in 2012. We slipped out quickly because we were playing the next day. We were allowed to do the opening ceremony but not to stay. So we were looking for a way out of the stadium which was locked. And who do I find there? Kobe Bryant and some of his colleagues who were also coming back. We shared a few hundred meters speaking in Italian. It was a great moment. The other was Rio 2016 with Usain Bolt. He was coming back from training and people were asking him for pictures at the checkpoint, the security control before entering the village. He snubbed everyone a little. I was in front of him, waiting for him. I asked him if we could take a picture and he said, ‘Oh, basketball? French?’ I said yes and we got our picture taken!”

Diana Gandéga – Beijing 2008
Basketball – Mali

“One is complicated because I have three that come to mind: the opening ceremony, my meeting with Diana Taurasi and my meeting with Team USA men with Kobe, LeBron and especially Dwight Howard.

Before the Olympics, we had a preparation tournament in Shanghai. We were all in the same hotel. With malian team, we were one floor above the American team and we were waiting for one thing, it was to cross paths with them. One day, I was in the elevator with two teammates, we were going to lunch. The elevator stops and who comes in? Diana Taurasi and Lauren Jackson. At the time, Taurasi was my idol and my teammate was a Jackson fan. They were talking and not paying attention to us. My teammate and I would look at each other and there was a moment of suspension. It was like in the movies, we were in the back, all little and we start laughing nervously. Taurasi and Jackson turn around. At the time, we were walking around with our cameras, we didn’t have smartphones. I thought maybe we’d get more of a chance. I asked if we could get a picture. We were dressed as Malian athletes but at that time, we were just fans, real kids. They were super cool, we took pictures like we knew each other. She went from being the player on my wall poster to a girl I was going to play against and who considered me an athlete. I couldn’t believe it!

My encounter with Team USA was at the end of the tournament. The tournament lasted two weeks but my team was eliminated after our 4 matches. So we had one more week to chill. When you’re a basketball athlete, you can go to all the basketball games for free but not the other sports. We went to see the US women’s team not knowing that we would be seeing their male counterparts. But they explained to us that it was a rule at Team USA: when the girls played, the boys had to go to their games and vice versa. So we’re sitting in the athletes’ section. And they come in. We see Kobe, LeBron, Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade. Everybody begins to alpagate them and they sit down the row behind us. We take out our cameras that we hid at the level of the shoulder to take them in secret. Dwight Howard was behind me and grilled me. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted a picture. I said yes and that’s how I got my picture with Dwight Howard. And in Beijing, when we arrived, they gave us a pin of our country with the accreditation. And the game among athletes was to collect pins from other countries. Dwight Howard was into this game. He sees my credentials with all my pins and he asks me what country I was from. I told him Mali. He looks at his necklace and he says, ‘I don’t have it, give it to me,’ and we traded pins.”

Balla Dieye – Rio 2016
Taekwondo – Senegal

“I have two memories to tell you. The first is my meeting with Usain Bolt who asked me where Senegal was! The other is the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was a magical and unforgettable moment. Everyone was singing, dancing… It was just beautiful. Each country paraded with a traditional dress. What is crazy is that before entering the stadium, when you are waiting for your turn, you don’t know what is going on in the stadium. You hear the screams, the music but you don’t see anything. As you progress, you arrive at the entrance of the stadium but you still can’t see, your legs are tingling. You can still see the lights, the fireworks from a distance. And when they called ‘Senegal’ and I came in, it was ‘Wow’. The lights, the music, the atmosphere, the giant screens, it’s really magnificent. Then you see the other countries gathered in the middle of the stadium, it’s impressive! The whole world is watching you, you are completely disconnected. You are in a bubble which is this stadium. It was a magic moment that you live only once. When we finished the ceremony, it was over, there was nothing left but it remains engraved in your head. You meet people, the countries mix, you see the traditional dress of each one. I saw a taekwondo player from Tonga. He had his bare chest oiled and his traditional loincloth. He also had the flag of Tonga. It was really impressive. It was a moment that made a big impression on me. Plus, when I walked into the stadium, I had a Senegalese flag in my hand and I was proudly showing it. The picture went around the world.”


Photo credit : IOC