Talking Olympic Gold with Monica Puig and Elena Vesnina

At the Rio Olympics last August, Monica Puig and Elena Vesnina realized lifelong dreams when they won gold medals in the tennis event. Puig’s victory was perhaps the best story of the entire Games, the Puerto Rican winning as the world No. 34 and capturing her country’s first Olympic gold of any kind. Vesnina partnered with longtime doubles teammate Ekaterina Makarova for doubles gold. We caught up with both of them.

Q: Monica, tell us about the moment when that last point went your way and you realized you were an Olympic champion.

Puig: It was an incredible moment and one I will never ever forget. Right when the ball went out, just everything hit me at once. All the years of hard work, the sacrifices, the pain, and the joy of the moment.

Q: What about for you, Elena?

Vesnina: I can’t compare that feeling with any other win that we had before because the Olympics are huge for my country. I mean, that’s the best feeling you can have. That’s the best achievement you can get in the sports career.

Q: Monica, were you continuing to remind yourself in the weeks after that you had – indeed – won an Olympic gold medal?

Puig: For the weeks following the Olympics, wherever I went, I had the medal with me. Lots of people wanted to see it, so it was in that way a constant reminder. Now, since things have slowed down significantly, I treasure it as the best moment of my life and career.

Q: Elena, the Olympics are such a big deal for Russia. What was the reaction like at home?

Vesnina: It’s one of the most important tournaments because it’s one time in four years. You are playing for your country… you are playing for one team. In the Grand Slams, you play for yourself and of course it means a lot for me and Ekaterina, but the Olympics are different. When I came to my home city I saw people in the airport, kids with posters and flags. It was really nice… the best welcome I’ve ever had.

Q: Monica you had an actual parade thrown in your honor, didn’t you?

Puig: I was driven around San Juan in an open bus, with people lined along the street for hours. It was amazing! At the end of the parade, we came to the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, where thousands and thousands had gathered, and celebrated us on a big podium with music, bands and speakers.

Q: Monica, when you think back to the Olympics, you think… ?

Puig: Dream come true!

Q: And Elena, did it feel like a dream to you? Even after it happened?

Vesnina: It took me maybe one month to realize what I had done with Ekaterina after we got back home. We had a lot of people coming up to us on the street saying, “Thank you for the medal!” and nothing else. It was just so nice. Yes, it felt like a dream, but after a while we realized what we had done and what it had meant to our country.