Sanders, Summer

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Summer Sanders


American swimmer

In the early 1990s, American Summer Sanders was a dominant swimmer. She represented the United States at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, becoming a hero for her four medal-winning performance. She also won eight national championships. After her swimming career ended, Sanders became a broadcaster, working on a number of sports-related programs.

Sanders was born on October 13, 1972, in Roseville, California, the daughter of Bob and Barbara Sanders. Her father was a dentist, while her mother was an airline

attendant. Her parents named her Summer because her older brother Trevor, born in the summer, had not been a girl. As their children became involved in swimming, Bob and Barbara Sanders became involved in the sport. Her father worked as a swim-meet official, while her mother was a part-time swim coach.

Began Swimming

Sanders's parents built a pool in their backyard, and because of concerns about their children's safety, Sanders and her brother took swimming lessons from the time they were toddlers. At first, Sanders did not seem very interested, she would often cry and not pay attention. But one day she took off her water wings and began to swim well.

When she was three years old, Sanders joined the Roseville Bears swim team. She could already swim 25 yards. Sanders soon stood out from the other swimmers. When she was four years old, she was competing against seven year olds. Still, she had moments when she was afraid to get into the water.

When Sanders was eight years old, her parents decided to divorce; Sanders found solace at the pool. Although her parents shared custody, the constant moving back and forth was hard on Sanders and her brother. Sanders did train hard at swimming throughout her childhood, but often relied more on talent than on hard work. By her late teens, she would often skip practices. Sanders learned the importance of training hard when she performed poorly at the 1987 Long Course National Championships.

Breakthrough at Olympic Trials

In 1988 Sanders had her big breakthrough as a swimmer. She competed in the U.S. Olympic trials, in the 200- and 400-meter individual relays, and the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. Though she had never made the finals for the nationals, she made the finals of the 400-meter individual medley (finishing eighth) and finished third in the 200-meter individual medley. Sander missed making the Olympic team by .27 of a second.

Sanders continued to train hard, and started doing well in national competition. In 1989, she won the 200-yard butterfly at the U.S. Short Course Championships. The following year, she won the 200-yard butterfly and the 400-yard individual medley at the U.S. Short Course Championships. At the U.S. Long Course Nationals that year, she won the 200-meter individual medley. Sanders, with other swimmers, was emerging as the future of women's swimming in America.

In 1990, Sanders also competed well internationally. She did well at the Goodwill Games winning three gold medals in the 200-meter individual medley, 200-meter butterfly, and 400-meter individual medley. The last race was an upset of Janet Evans , who had a four-year winning streak, with a time of 4:39.22. Sanders had lowered her time by almost nine seconds.


1972Born October 13, in Roseville, California
1987Competes in the Long Course National Championships
1988Competes in the U.S. Olympic trials
1990Enters Stanford University
1992Gives up rest of college eligibility to pursue commercial endorsements; competed in the Summer Olympics; retires from competitive swimming
1994Retires from training for competitive swimming in January; graduates from Stanford University
1995Begins swimming competitively again in April; qualifies for the Pan Pacific Championships
1996Does not qualify for Olympic team; serves as broadcaster for NBC for Summer Olympics; retires from swimming
1997Marries swimmer Mark Henderson on July 5; is hired as host of NBA Inside Stuff

Swam for Stanford

In addition to excellence in swimming, Sanders also had strong academic credentials, entering Stanford University on an athletic scholarship in 1990. Her success as a swimmer came from her great feel for the water and being a good overall swimmer, but not the best sprinter or the best distance swimmer. She grew to an adult height and weight of five feet, nine inches tall and 125 pounds, with a lithe build. Although freestyle was the easiest stroke for most swimmers, it was her weakest event, while the butterfly was her strongest. Richard Quick, her coach at Stanford, told Karen Rosen of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Summer swims the butterfly like Edwin Moses runs the hurdles, like Michael Jordan plays basketball. She just flows in the pool."

Sanders did well at Stanford. In 1991, she set National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) records in the 200-yard butterfly and the 400-yard individual medley, and an American record in the 200-yard individual medley. Stanford finished second in the NCAA championships, and Sanders was named NCAA swimmer of the year. That year, Sanders also competed at the World Championships, winning a gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly, as well as a silver and a bronze in other events.

At Stanford, the following year, Sanders continued to dominate. She set the U.S. record in the 200-yard butterfly and an NCAA record in the 400-yard medley. Stanford won the NCAA Championships, with Sanders earning 60 points, more than anyone else at the competition. She was again named swimmer of the year. However, it was the last time she would compete as a Cardinal. She gave up her remaining college eligibility to get sponsorships (primarily a deal with Speedo) and to train harder in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Shined at the Olympics

In 1992, Sanders did well at the U.S. Olympic trials, then at the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. At the trials, she won three events, and qualified for four events and the medley relay. She won the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, 200-meter butterfly, and finished second in the 100-meter butterfly. Sanders was only the third woman to qualify for five swimming events at the Olympics.

At the Olympics, her hard work paid off when Sanders won four medals and set two U.S. records. She won gold in the 200-meter butterfly and the 400-meter medley relay. Sanders also took silver in the individual medley (with a time of 2:11.91), and bronze in the 400-meter individual medley (with a time of 4:37.58). The 400-meter individual medley and 200-meter individual medley times were American records. Sanders actually won the bronze and silver medals first, and had had doubts about winning any gold medals.

Loss of Competitive Focus

After the Olympics were over, Sanders continued to attend Stanford. Although she did not swim with their team, she did train for competitive swimming. However, she could not match her 1992 numbers, and retired in January 1994. At the time, Sanders was burned out on swimming, did not enjoy going to the pool, and was not having fun. At the time, she told Michael Flam of the Associated Press, "I've always been a goal-setter and I've always wanted to prove something. So I think there's something else out there, some field that I can get into, some job that I'll love."

Sanders found her career in broadcasting. After the Olympics, she appeared as a guest star on her favorite soap opera, All My Children. After completing her degree, she became a co-host on MTV's game show Sandblast, and did commentary for swimming events, speaking engagements, swimming clinics, and product endorsements for Speedo and Power Bar.

Tried to Make Olympic Team Again

In April 1995, Sanders decided to return to swimming and began training for the 1996 Olympic Games. She had been accepted to the United States Swimming Resident National Team based in Colorado, and felt she needed to begin training again. She told the Omaha World-Herald, "I could just fall flat on my face. But I think either way you gain something from it. It'll be a lifelong lesson."

Awards and Accomplishments

1989Won 200-yard butterfly at the U.S. Short Course Championships
1990Won 200-yard butterfly and 400-yard individual medley at the U.S. Short Course Championships; won 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Long Course National Championships; won three gold medals at the Goodwill Games, in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys and the 200-meter butterfly
1991Set National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) records in 200-yard butterfly and 400-yard individual medley; set American record in 200-yard individual medley; won 200-meter butterfly at the World Championships as well as a silver and bronze
1991-92Named NCAA swimmer of the year
1992Set U.S. record in 200 butterfly; set NCAA record in 400-yard medley at Olympic Games, won gold medals in 200-meter butterfly and 400-meter medley relay, silver medal in 200-meter individual medley, and bronze in the 400-meter individual medley
2002Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame

Where Is She Now?

After retiring from swimming for a second time, Sanders pursued her career in broadcast television in earnest. In the late 1990s, she hosted a game show for Nickelodeon, Figure It Out. Beginning in 1997, she was hired to cover the National Basketball Association (NBA) as co-host for the show NBA Inside Stuff. She also provided coverage of the NBA and the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), and was a sideline reporter for the WNBA on NBC (National Broadcasting Company). Sanders remained connected to the Olympics, when she co-hosted Scholastics at the Olympic Games, which aired on MSNBC and served as a special correspondent for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. She was also a correspondent for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games for NBC. Sanders married Mark Henderson on July 5, 1997, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

At first, training was hard for Sanders; she could not keep up with the other swimmers. She had her own lane so that she could swim against herself, and gradually build up to swimming with the group. Coach Jonty Skinner pushed her, and she qualified for the 1995 Pan Pacific Championships. Her goal remained the 1996 Olympics, but at the Olympic trials she did not make the team, although she competed in three events. Sanders's competition was younger and hungrier than she was, and her lack of training had hurt her. Sanders retired from swimming permanently.

At the 1996 Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Georgia, Sanders was a commentator for NBC. After she failed at the Olympic trials, she told Hank Lowenkron of Associated Press, "Obviously I'm disappointed because you don't like your last race to be eighth place, but I'm looking beyond that. I have a new appreciation for swimming. It took this for me to really realize and look back and remember when I won that gold medal and how special it is."


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Sketch by A. Petruso

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