Sanders, Summer (1972—)

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Sanders, Summer (1972—)

American swimmer and gold medalist in the Barcelona Olympics. Born on October 13, 1972; attended Stanford University; married Mark Henderson (an Olympic swimmer), in 1997.

Won eight U.S. National championships; named NCAA Swimmer of the Year (1991 and 1992); won Olympic gold medals for the 200-meter butterfly and the 4x100-meter medley relay, silver medal for the 200-meter individual medley, and bronze medal for the 400-meter individual medley at Barcelona (1992).

Born in October 1972, Summer Sanders showed no interest in the family pool as a toddler, until she leapt in suddenly when her parents weren't looking. At three, she could manage a standard lap; at four, she was beating seven-year-olds; at fifteen, she qualified for the 1988 Olympic trials in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys and 100- and 200-meter breast-stroke. Failure to make the Olympic team did not dampen her elation at what proved to be a strong showing at the trials. Returning to her home in Roseville, California, she set her sights on making the 1992 team.

After graduating from high school, where she was an honors student, Sanders attended Stanford University on an athletic scholarship, majoring in communications. Two years in a row, 1991 and 1992, she received the NCAA Swimmer of the Year title. In March 1992, the 19-year-old Sanders qualified for five events in the upcoming Olympics, including the 200- and 400-meter individual relays and the 100- and 200-meter butterfly. With Olympic competition on the horizon, she relinquished her NCAA eligibility to sign lucrative endorsement contracts.

In Barcelona, the rising swimming star was regarded as a serious contender in all five of her events. Sanders did not disappoint, winning gold in the 200-meter butterfly and the 4x100-meter medley relay, silver in the 200-meter individual medley, and bronze in the 400-meter individual medley. Following her victories, she told Sports Illustrated, "I just want to sit down and relax. I want to enjoy the feeling that nobody expects me to do anything great tomorrow." Not since 1984 had a woman swimmer earned four medals during a single Olympiad, and Sanders returned home an American hero.

Her Olympic success brought a host of new opportunities and endorsement offers. In addition to appearing on television as a guest on her favorite soap opera "All My Children" and as a host on MTV, Sanders accepted engagements as a motivational speaker and signed contracts for additional product endorsements. But she never managed to better her times from 1992 and announced that she was ready to retire in December of the following year.

Nearly a year and a half later, when she decided to attempt a comeback to compete in the 1996 Atlanta Games, Sanders faced daunting odds: she had been away from competitive swimming for 17 months. She went into training as a member of the U.S. Swimming Resident National Team. To help her from becoming discouraged at her inability to keep up with the other team members, the coach initially segregated her from the rest of the team by having her swim in her own lane. Performing the most challenging workouts her coach could provide, she increased her speed enough to join the rest of the group by June. Nonetheless, competing against younger swimmers whose training had not been interrupted, Sanders failed to qualify for the 1996 Olympic team.

She was, however, in attendance at the Atlanta Games, serving as a swimming analyst with NBC. She also became part of the story when her steady beau, swimmer Mark Henderson, who had won gold in the 4x100-meter medley relay, proposed to her during the closing ceremonies. (They would marry on July 4, 1997.) Sanders' performance on the network during the Olympics launched her career as a sports commentator. She came on board for Lifetime's coverage of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) during its inaugural season, and beginning in December 1997 covered both the WNBA and the NBA for NBC's "NBA Inside Stuff," of which she became co-host in July of the following year. In 1997, Sanders premiered as the host of a new children's game show, "Figure It Out," on the Nickelodeon Network. Her book Champions Are Raised, Not Born: How My Parents Made Me a Success was published in 1999.


Harris, Beth. "Summer Sanders Fails to Qualify," in The Day [New London, CT]. March 13, 1996.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Starr, Mark. "Ticketless in Atlanta," in Newsweek. October 23, 1995.

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California

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Sanders, Summer (1972—)

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