Ole Miss Olympians Meet the Press
Gwen Berry, Raven Saunders and Connie Price-Smith met with media on Wednesday. (photo by Petre Thomas/Ole Miss Athletics)
July 20, 2016

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OXFORD, Miss. - Ole Miss track & field head coach Connie Price-Smith, volunteer assistant coach Gwen Berry and sophomore Raven Saunders met with reporters in Oxford on Wednesday before they leave to represent Ole Miss and Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Rio next month.

Price-Smith will serve as head coach for the Team USA women's track & field squad. Berry will compete in the women's hammer throw, while Saunders made the team in the women's shot put.

Below is a full transcript of the press conference.

U.S. Olympic Women's Head Coach Connie Price-Smith

Opening Statement...
"It is an exciting time for me as the head coach for the U.S. Olympic Team. It is exciting to be the head coach of athletes that are going to the Olympics with me. Ole Miss has seven athletes, present and future, that are traveling down to Rio. It's exciting and I'm excited to be a part of it."

On what feels different to have athletes from Ole Miss competing in the Olympics...
"Going into the NCAA and the trials, for me and my opinion, I expected both of them (Berry and Saunders) to go down there and travel with me. It doesn't feel any different than it did before we got started."

On how Raven has changed since moving from Southern Illinois...
"She's grown up a little bit. She doesn't say, `I'm just a kid' anymore. But her technique gets better and her strength gets better, she's more familiar with her turning in the circle and where she is at. She has always had a great determination, so that hasn't changed at all."

On whether she knew Raven would make the Olympic team...
"She thought she would be headed to Rio, and she had that determination. When they have that feel, you have to have that feel too. She worked really hard. I didn't know what her ceiling was, but she kept getting better and better."

On Raven's youth as a shot put thrower...
"She is young. Fortunately for throwers, we have longevity in the sport. We can go for a really long time. She has a long future ahead of her."

On whether getting gold is out of the question...
"I wouldn't count anything out."

On what she looks forward to...
"What I am looking forward to is those two getting out there and competing to the best of their abilities on the days that they compete. We are having a good time doing it."

On their travel plans...
"We will all go down for opening ceremonies and they will leave after their competition. I will have to stay for the duration."

On how being the U.S. Track and Field head coach affects recruiting and communicating with all of the Ole Miss athletes at the Olympics...
"Most of all of them I have spoken to in track and field I have spoken to about coming back for our cross country meet. But I know all of them and am good friends with them. I talk to them every time I see them. My goal is to get a picture with them for (Ole Miss associate media and public relations director) Joey (Jones) and send it back."

On the number of student-athletes competing in the Olympics compared to other schools in the past...
"I think there are quite a few schools that have a number like that."

On what it means to be an Olympian...
"Ole Miss has great tradition. One of my goals when I came down here was to keep building on that tradition. So I feel like I have started doing that with Raven and Gwen going. It is just great to be able to represent The United States and Ole Miss at the same time."

On the concerns on the Zika virus...
"I don't really have any concerns about it. I feel like the USOC and the doctors have prepped everyone, and I feel like everyone should be well educated on what could happen or can't happen."

On any other concerns about traveling to Rio...
"Not anything that might be troublesome. The one thing I'll say about Rio as track athletes is that we travel all around the world, so we always expect the unexpected and there is always risks wherever we go."

On what she expects as a whole from the U.S. Track and Field team...
"I think we have a good team going down there to Rio. We go from men and women from 16- to 41-year-olds. I think everyone that competed in trials competed well and we will go down to Rio and do the same."

Raven Saunders

On what it's like to get ready for the Olympics...
"I'm just excited about it. I don't feel any different about it because I don't want it to change my work ethic at all. Maybe just pushing myself a little harder to see how I stack up against the best competition in the world for the next four years. I'm trying to push forward and keep going as strong as I have been."

On what it was like when she realized she would be an Olympian...
"I was really shocked. I was in first, still going into the last throw. Even on Michelle (Carter's) last throw where she won, I basically started crying at the fact that I am an Olympian. Not a lot of athletes can say that. To finally see that all of my work had paid off in that one, split moment. It brought me to tears."

On how things have changed inside and outside the ring...
"Technique, I learned to use my legs better since I'm five-foot-five inches. That is something that I really had to do with people that are competing that are six-foot plus. So that in itself is one of the big things for me, is learning to use my strength into my throw. Outside of the ring, I have been growing up. It is tough coming to a college and being a freshman and making freshman mistakes and still having that expectation of being a student-athlete and trying to rise to your potential. I have grown up a lot."

On what the focus is on...
"For me, it comes down to performance. This has been the goal coming down. When we think about Rio, it was being in the Olympic stadium in those rings rather than being outside of the competition. Maybe once we get down there we will plan a few things, but hopefully we go down there and get some personal records."

On what she looks forward to other than competing...
"I really feel like I am going to have to clear some space in my phone for all the pictures I am going to take. I would say Serena Williams would be my number one person. I have actually started going through the USA National Team list to see whose people's autographs and pictures I will have to take with when I go down there."

On what it would mean to have family go to the Olympics...
"Right now, I am trying to raise money for my mom, sister, aunt and uncle. They are all trying to come down. If all that works out well, my mom says regardless of whatever, she is going to be down there. So, having family will mean so much to me since they have been there from my first meet in the backyard freshman year of high school to the biggest stage in all of track and field. So that means so much. My younger sister, now being a thrower, will see what her future will have in store if she just keeps working and pushing forward."

On when they realized being an Olympian was an attainable goal...
"For me, it was around last summer after how my freshman year went and seeing how much more I had to improve on. I knew that coming down to Ole Miss and having a few more resources, that I was going to be capable of doing a lot more. From every practice going in, I was going in super-hyped. This is back in September, I am screaming about the Olympics on every throw. I was getting really hyped thinking about it."

On the influence she can have as an Olympian...
"My thing has been to reach out to kids in my community or kids that reach out to me, and telling them to look where I came from. There are kids that I went to high school when I look back and they remind me of where I was when I was struggling and didn't really have much. And I am telling them this could be you, regardless of your circumstances. If you stay determined and have a goal in mind and work for it, anything can happen."

Gwen Berry

On what it is like to make the Olympic team...
"It's a good feeling. I had confidence in myself that I would make the team. I wasn't as happy as everyone else probably because I didn't have my greatest performance (at the Olympic Trials), but I am really grateful. Working with and growing up with coach Connie at Southern Illinois, coming here to Ole Miss and training with all the student-athletes, like Raven, has been a good feeling. I'm glad to have a couple teammates going with me."

On whether it is tough to balance training and coaching as a volunteer assistant coach...
"It isn't really tough. I try to train with them as much as possible and the students listen. The student-athletes really listen. They take in everything you have to say. You give them advice. They keep you pumped, you keep them motivated. You have to think. I am 27. She is 20, not even that. So if she can make it, I can make it too, hell. She keeps me on my P's and Q's. But she keeps me motivated. It is not hard at all."

On what I's like to be an African-American female competing in the Olympics...
"It's a great platform to be a young African-American female because there aren't a lot of African-American females in the sport. You see Serena Williams, you see a lot of women's basketball stars, but you don't really see a lot of female African-Americans that are highly represented in sports. There are maybe two or three that the kids know about. To bring in more kids into the sport may keep more kids off the street. It may prevent kids getting pregnant at a younger age, and becoming mothers and not fulfill their dreams. It really says a lot that we are here. But I think we speak for everyone when we say that we want to represent America in the best possible way, not just for African-American females, but for all Americans."

On whom she looks forward to meeting at the Olympics...
"I am definitely looking forward to seeing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. But besides that, I have to focus on myself and what I have to do. But during the opening ceremony, I am definitely getting a picture and autograph with them."

On what it means to have family at the Olympics...
"I am most definitely going to start a GoFundMe page for my family to be able to go. The Olympics is really expensive. When you go overseas, they raise prices for everything because the demand is so high. So having your family there can really change the athlete's performance because they have to have that home with them. And they always compete well at home, so having a little taste of home with you when you go to a third-world country is priceless. So it is important to have friends and family and funds to go out there and compete."

On when she realized making the Olympics was an attainable goal...
"I knew it was a realistic goal for me two months into training here with my new training partners. They are actually student-ahthletes here who have a little more experience in my event. He told me that what we were working on and what they were having me do, that I could break the American record. I didn't believe them at the time because it was indoor season. But as I got further and further, I started to believe that I could be an Olympian and potentially medal. So that is what I was focused on."

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissTrack, as well as Facebook and Instagram.


 

 

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