Three ESPN softball analysts reminisce about being 2004 Team USA Olympic gold medalists

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On August 23, 2004, Team USA defeated Australia 5-1 in the softball gold medal game at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, capturing USA’s third goal medal in the sport (1996, 2000, 2004).

Leah O’Brien-Amico, Amanda Freed and Jessica Mendoza were members of the team and continue to stay involved in the game. This weekend, each will be an analyst during ESPN’s exclusive coverage of the 2014 Division I Softball Championships Super Regionals.

Front Row caught up with the trio to reminisce about that summer.

What is your everlasting memory of the 2004 Summer Olympics?
LOA: The ‘04 team came in the most prepared, with more speed and power than the ‘96 and ’00 teams, which I was also fortunate to be on. I remember exactly how I felt after scoring in the first inning of the ’04 gold medal game. I knew that we were going to win and have fun doing it. We enjoyed the moment.
AF: Aside from winning the gold medal, I loved the experience in the Olympic Village. It was so inspiring to be surrounded with world class athletes, not just from the United States, but from around the world.
JM: When it comes to softball, there has yet to be a better memory! The love for the game and your country culminates as you take the podium. With the gold medal around your neck, our flag being raised and anthem is being played, there is no better feeling in sports.

Looking back, what do you remember about the others as teammates and people?
LOA: Our sport bonds people together and it becomes like a family. They are not only elite athletes with tremendous talent, but they are all around quality people, great friends, and wonderful role models.
AF: Love them. No matter how much time has passed, we will always have this very special bond as Olympic teammates.
JM: Amanda and I played in high school together for two years and she is one of the most all-around talented people I have ever met. Leah O’Brien-Amico is someone I have always looked up to. First, as a tremendous athlete, she works so hard and really defined a work ethic to me and then, as a mother and wife, she showed me you can have children and still play the game you love.

Do you believe the success of Team USA – three gold medals (’96, 00 and ’04) and one silver medal (’08) — in Olympics softball competition amplified the exposure of the sport?
LOA: Yes, we had thousands of fans watch us compete at each venue across the country as we traveled. The media exposure helped put our sport in the spotlight. With Team USA’s success, being an Olympian became a dream for every young softball player.
AF: It absolutely helped grow the sport but I also believe that that team consisted of such great ambassadors who really took the time, and still do, to connect with young softball players. I believe that has had a greater effect on sport.
JM: One hundred percent. The attention softball received combined with USA’s success was tremendous.

In addition to the Olympics, each of you played in the Women’s College World Series. What are your thoughts and memories of the experience?
LOA, a former Arizona star: Winning three national championships (1993,’94,’97) was an unbelievable feeling. You prepare all year and to accomplish the greatest goal is such an incredible experience.
AF, a former UCLA star: The atmosphere is electric. I remember each year very vividly, but the intense butterflies I had taking the circle in the Championship game my freshman year [1999] feels like it was yesterday. With the final out, the relief and accomplishment was like no other.
JM, a former Stanford star: I remember it was the first time I ever played on national television and every cousin, aunt, uncle, friend, was watching. I couldn’t sleep the whole week I was so excited to play on that stage.

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