Q&A With Nevada Volleyball Coach Ruth Lawanson On Her Olympic Experience
Aug. 11, 2012
Editor's note: Nevada volleyball coach Ruth Lawanson was part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Volleyball team that took the bronze medal at the Barcelona Games. We asked her a few questions about the experience.
Q. You were a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team that won bronze in Barcelona. With the London Games going on right now, what kind of feelings and emotions does that evoke from you?
A. I’m always excited to watch the Olympic but the London Games bring back special memories because it has been 20 years since I was in the Olympic and we won the bronze medal.
Q. What are some of the best memories you have from your Olympic experience in Barcelona?
A. The first memory that came to mind is opening ceremonies. We were getting ready to march into the stadium and they had us waiting in the tunnel and the first “Dream Team” was stand at the side waiting to join us. All the Americans broke out of our lines to get pictures. I’m literally jumping up and down with my camera trying to take pictures. I have a few pictures of the back of people’s head but I did get my shot.
Second was matching into the stadium as they announce the United States and trying to find my parents among 80,000 people in the stands.
The Olympic village was totally cool. There was so much security; three checkpoints just to get to our housing. The village had everything computer center (remember computers where just starting to be used more), laundry facilities (yes we did our own laundry), some restaurants and even a game center. Funny story, I was down doing my laundry and a male tennis player was asking me how to use the washer – it was Michael Chang. I showed him how to use the machine and we had a quick conversation. I asked him what his next tournament was and he said the US Open and told him good luck and we both went on about our laundry.
The best memory was winning the bronze medal against Brazil in three and then receiving our medal at the medal ceremony. I have photos and video of us receiving our medal. It was a very special moment.
Q. You had an outstanding collegiate career and you also played professionally in the U.S. and overseas. There is the notion that playing in the Olympics is on a different level because you are representing your country. Do you share that feeling and what was that like?
A. Yes it is. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the “92 team had trained together for over 3½ years. All the teams we played in the Olympics we had played over that time period. I played all over the world, Cuba, Switzerland, Japan, China, Hungary, Germany Russia and Spain to name a few places representing the United States. It was always an honor playing my country!
Q. What is it like for you every four years to watch Olympic volleyball?
A. I’m always excited to watch. I’m a sport junkie! This year even more so because my cousin is one of the starting middles on the team right now -- Foluke Akrnradewo.
Q. The public doesn’t often get to see what goes on behind the scenes at the Olympics, like life at the Olympic Village or what goes on in the downtime between matches and events. Can you describe some of those experiences?
A. What a lot of people don’t know we had a lot of down time to fill. Volleyball is one of the few sports that starts right away and finishes three or four days before Closing Ceremonies. We couldn’t do a whole lot because we had to stay rested so we watched a lot of the Olympics on TV, slept, and ate. I did get to watch a few events when we finished playing; I went to track and field and water polo. It was a lot of fun
The ’92 games had the controversy with the men’s volleyball team where they all shaved their hair in protest over a bad referee’s call. We went upstairs to watch them cut each other’s hair; it was pretty funny. They had to cut a couple of the players again because they still looked really good.
I will say the best place to see other athletes is in dinning hall because everyone has to eat. I would carry my camera around (in those days that is what we had) so I could take pictures of other athletes.
Q. The Barcelona Games were perhaps highlighted by the men’s basketball “Dream Team.” What do you remember about the hype and atmosphere surrounding that team?
A. It was a big deal back in the day; to put together a collection of star athletes like that was unheard of. The dream team came and visited the where all the American athletes were staying. My teammates and I took a picture with Karl Malone, David Robinson and Chris Mullin. I have a personal photo with Karl and David and I come up to their hip. The guys could not stay long because other athletes from other countries where coming over to our side and it started getting really crazy.
A few of the guys came and watched our matches. Charles Barkley came back to the village to get treatment and he spent time with our team. He took pictures with us and gave us each a USA Basketball pin, which we thought was pretty cool. In return we give him a USA Volleyball pin.
Q. Anything else that sticks out from your experience?
A. I’m glad I was able to share the moment with my parents who were able to come out and watch me play. All the parents housing was in the same area. They slept, travel and ate together for two weeks. They all got to know each other really well.
I got to meet so many people while I was at the Olympics. I meet a lot of American fans that came to our matches and they told stories of my 61-year-old father partying it up with other Americans. When I got back my parents where tell me stories about their team also. To this day it is a special time in my life that I will never forget!