First Olympic memories: Athletes share the stories that ignited their love for the Games 

Fireworks greet the ascending Cauldron containing the Olympic Flame during the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport
Fireworks greet the ascending Cauldron containing the Olympic Flame during the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport

With just one year to go until next year's Games, Tokyo 2020 asked athletes around the world about their very first memories of the Olympics. In the third of four features, Tokyo 2020 speaks to Rubén Limardo, Jenny Egan, Juan Peralta, Jessie Knight and Alain Bernard. 

Rubén Limardo, Venezuela, Fencing

London 2012 épée gold medal winner, 2007 Pan American Games épée gold medal winner.

Ruben Limardo of Venezuela celebrates victory in the Men's Epee Individual Fencing Semi-final against Seth Kelsey of the United States at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Ruben Limardo of Venezuela celebrates victory in the Men's Epee Individual Fencing Semi-final against Seth Kelsey of the United States at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
2012 Getty Images

I’ve been to three Olympics,

but the first one is the most emotional to live through.

"I started to follow the Olympics more with Athens 2004. The fencer from Venezuela Silvio Fernandez competed there. At that time I was competing in youth categories, so I was more aware of what the Games are."

"I watched a lot of sports, like swimming. But for me it was more important when I took part in Beijing 2008, my first Olympic Games as an athlete. The Opening Ceremony was great. I’ve been to three Olympics, but the first one is the most emotional to live through. Beijing 2008 was my best experience."

Ruben Limardo shares his first Olympic memory

Jenny Egan, Republic of Ireland, Canoe Sprint

World Championship, European and World Cup medallist, ranked no.1 in the world in the K1 5000m.

Team Ireland athlete Jenny Egan prepares for competition at the European Games in Minsk. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Team Ireland athlete Jenny Egan prepares for competition at the European Games in Minsk. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

I can hear the commentators from Irish TV cheering Sonia O'Sullivan all the way to the finish line.

"My first Olympic memory still gives me tingles down my spine to this day, I can hear the commentators from Irish TV cheering Sonia O'Sullivan all the way to the finish line, in which she won a silver medal in the Women's Athletic's 5000m final at the Sydney Olympics 2000."

"Sonia paved the way for so many female and male athletes in Ireland, she showed that with resilience you can achieve your goals. Sonia has been a role model of mine growing up and continues to be to this day. Sonia kick started increasing visibility of women in sport and her performances have shown both female and male athletes what can be achieved on the world stage. Thank you Sonia for being an inspirational athlete and role model."

Juan Peralta, Spain, Cycling Track

Two-time Olympian who competed in keirin event (London 2012) and the men's sprint event (Rio 2016).

Juan Peralta of Spain rides at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Juan Peralta of Spain rides at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

My first Olympic memory

was when the archer lit the Olympic flame at Barcelona 1992.

"My first Olympic memory - I think it's same for many Spanish people - was when the archer lit the Olympic flame at Barcelona 1992. I was just 2-years-old, and I guess I didn't experience that moment live, but that's the memory I have. It really caught my attention and it was really great."

Opening Ceremony | Barcelona 1992 | Great Olympic Moments
03:13:51

Jessie Knight, Great Britain, Athletics

British 400m champion, 400m hurdler and Tokyo 2020 Olympic hopeful.

Jessie Knight competes in the heats of the Women's 400m during the British Indoor Championships on February 22, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Jessie Knight competes in the heats of the Women's 400m during the British Indoor Championships on February 22, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

And her face coming across the line. I can still remember as a child.

It was like ‘I want to be that. I want to be an athlete and run on the track.'

"This question keeps on coming up, but I think the moment I realised I actually wanted to be an athlete and take it really seriously was Kelly Holmes winning the double gold in Athens."

"I remember I was actually on holiday at the time and I’d watched her win the first one and in my head I can remember thinking ‘how amazing if she does it again. And her face coming across the line. I can still remember as a child, it was like ‘I want to be that. I want to be an athlete and run on the track.'

"So, I’d say that was the standout moment for me.

"And then obviously London 2012 was so inspiring as well, but I was already heavily involved in athletics by then. But I think London 2012 Super Saturday was so inspiring as well."

"Kelly Holmes was the standout one. For it to have such an impact on me on a young age… and I still remember it. It was so powerful."

Jessie Knight shares her first Olympic memory

Alain Bernard, France, Swimming

Double Olympic gold medallist, Olympic silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist.

Alain Bernard of France celebrates finishing the Men's 100m Freestyle Final in first place and wins the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Bernard finished the race in a time of 47.21 (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Alain Bernard of France celebrates finishing the Men's 100m Freestyle Final in first place and wins the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Bernard finished the race in a time of 47.21 (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
2008 Getty Images

We see a girl on top of the world, above everyone.

This is also what gave me the will, a few years later, to engage in my own sporting project

"My first Olympic memory was in 1996. We are at the Atlanta Olympic Games, I am only 13 and one image - one athlete actually - left a mark on my life forever and every Olympic Games.

"It is Marie José-Pérec.

"Marie José-Pérec, with her extraordinary double 200/400m, her Olympic titles and all of those infatuated journalists asking her about her feelings…"

"We see a girl on top of the world, above everyone. It’s a memorable souvenir."

"This is also what gave me the will, a few years later, to engage in my own sporting project and experience an extraordinary journey."

Alain Bernard shares his first Olympic memory