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

Flames from the cauldron rise in front of the official Olympic flag during the Opening Ceremony of the XXIV Summer Olympic Games on 17th September 1988 at the Seoul Olympic Stadium (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)
Flames from the cauldron rise in front of the official Olympic flag during the Opening Ceremony of the XXIV Summer Olympic Games on 17th September 1988 at the Seoul Olympic Stadium (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)

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 last of five features, Tokyo 2020 speaks to Paola Espinosa, Mickaël Mawen, Antonio Díaz, Michelle Bromley and Rommel Pacheco. 

Paola Espinosa, Mexico, diving

Beijing 2008 bronze medallist and London 2012 silver medallist (women's synchronised 10m platform)

Paola Espinosa of Mexico competes during the Women's 10m Platform Diving preliminaries at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Paola Espinosa of Mexico competes during the Women's 10m Platform Diving preliminaries at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

My favourite memory was climbing up the 10 metre platform,

diving into the pool and seeing the writing on the bottom that said ‘Athens 2004’

"Those Olympic Games [Athens 2004] were really special for me, because they were my first Olympics. So imagine it! When I was 11 years old I left home, left my family, in order to achieve my dream of going to the Olympics."

I reached my goal when I was 17. I was the youngest [athlete] in the Mexican delegation. For me, I was impressed by everything. Even before going to the Olympic Games when they gave me the suitcase with my uniform, filled with very cool things, super nice uniforms with ‘Mexico’ [written on them]. I already felt super special. I thought that I had already fulfilled my dream, that I was happy. I felt that everything I had done, such as leaving my family, had paid off.

All the delegation travelled together, it was filled with athletes from all the different sports. In that moment, you realise that it is something great.

Then I arrived in Greece and saw the pool, which was beautiful; the Olympic village, incredible; the food, really delicious.

I really wanted to go to those Olympic Games and prove that, while I was watching many athletes I admired, I was also good and had trained a lot.

My favourite memory was climbing up the 10 metre platform, diving into the pool and seeing the writing on the bottom that said ‘Athens 2004’ along with the Olympic rings. For me it was like kissing my own chest, as if I was saying, ‘Here I am. It’s all been worth it.’ That is my most beautiful memory. "

Paola Espinosa shares her first Olympic memory

Mickaël Mawen, France, sport climbing

Qualified for Tokyo 2020 and reigning boulder European champion

The Mawem brothers during the 2018 IFSC Climbing World Cup in Chamonix. Bassa (R), the oldest brother, won the speed climbing event.
The Mawem brothers during the 2018 IFSC Climbing World Cup in Chamonix. Bassa (R), the oldest brother, won the speed climbing event.
IFSC-Eddie Fowke

Whoever your opponent is, you have to give it everything,

because you always win if you give it your all

"I have a little souvenir that struck me, in judo in particular. Teddy Riner’s fights. Teddy Riner: a big athlete, bigger than anyone else, stronger than anyone else…"

"So what struck me is actually the other athletes, his opponents, the way they went into their matches, knowing what would happen, and they did not give it their everything.

"Personally, that’s what triggered in me, at least in terms of sport, this motto: ‘I don’t want this to happen to me.’ Whoever your opponent is, you have to give it everything, because you always win if you give it your all, whether it works out or not. So yeah, give everything you have!"

Mickael Mawem shares his first Olympic memory

Antonio Díaz, Venezuela, karate

Two time kata world champion, two times gold medallist at the World Games and 16 time Pan American champion

Antonio Diaz (VEN) performs a kata at the 2016 Karate 1-Premier League Hamburg
Antonio Diaz (VEN) performs a kata at the 2016 Karate 1-Premier League Hamburg
Photo by WKF

I remember watching Seoul 1988 on TV.

Going home to watch the competitions and following everything.

"My first clear Olympic memory is the 1988 Seoul Games. I remember watching the Games on television, going home to watch the competitions and following everything."

"I said at the time that it would be great to be able to participate in an event like that. I was already practising karate, but I did not know that I was going to be an elite athlete.

"I remember that I watched many sports, not just the traditional ones like athletics or swimming. I remember those Olympic Games, although the memories aren't that concrete. I remember watching the diving competition, the year of the Greg Louganis accident. And also, some non traditional sports. I also have a clear memory of the Barcelona Olympics a few years later. I really liked basketball and I followed the NBA, so I remember following the ‘Dream Team’ with a passion."

Antonio Diaz shares his first Olympic memory

Michelle Bromley, Australia, table tennis

Qualified to Tokyo 2020, which will be her first Olympic Games.

Michelle Bromley celebrating winning the Australian Olympic qualification event.
Michelle Bromley celebrating winning the Australian Olympic qualification event.
Courtesy of Table Tennis Australia

It’s not only about the medals.

It’s about the whole world coming together through sport and celebrating humanity.

"My first vivid Olympic memory was of Sydney 2000, watching Eric Moussambani “Eric the Eel” from Equatorial Guinea, take to the pool in the 100m freestyle event. It was his first time of ever swimming in an Olympic-sized pool and had only taken up swimming less than 12 months prior to the Olympics."

"As a 12-year-old girl, I remember the emotion of his performance – the crowd urging him on to finish the race, even though he was clearly struggling, and was well over qualifying time to proceed through to the next round.

"This, for me, is when I truly understood what the Olympics was all about. It’s not only about the medals. It’s about the whole world coming together through sport and celebrating humanity."

Moussambani's memorable solo swim
02:22

Rommel Pacheco, Mexico, diving

Three-time Olympian and World Championships silver medallist.

Rommel Pacheco of Mexico competes in the Men's 1m Springboard Diving final at the 15th FINA World Championships on July 22, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Rommel Pacheco of Mexico competes in the Men's 1m Springboard Diving final at the 15th FINA World Championships on July 22, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
2013 Getty Images

My first memory is from Barcelona 1992. Although I don't remember the competitions as such,

I remember the mascot stickers!

"My first memory is from Barcelona 1992. Although I don't remember the competitions as such. I remember the mascot stickers! But those memories are blurry. What struck me the most were the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games."

In fact, during those Olympic Games I was at a training camp in Cuba, a place where people love sports, so all the TVs in the training camp were showing the Games.

Another beautiful experience was Sydney 2000. Back then I was at a training camp in Mexico City. The time zones of Mexico and Sydney are really different, so I remember that we gathered together early in the morning in the room of our coach to see Fernando (Platas) in the final.

I had a lot of memories of him winning, us celebrating… And, four years later, I was in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games."

Rommel Pacheco shares his first Olympic memory