ELYRIA — For a person whose world records are measured in meters and fractions of seconds, Tianna (Madison) Bartoletta has traveled long roads to Olympic gold.
And she’s reached an impressive set of goals along the way: She lives in Europe, primarily in the Netherlands and Italy. She speaks three languages. She once “accidentally” won a World Championship, she said. And she has three Olympic gold medals to her name.
The 33-year-old Elyria native talked about these milestones and more during a question-and-answer session with Elyria High School senior student-athletes Friday, prior to appearing at the dedication ceremonies for Mercy Health Field at Ely Stadium.
“You guys are lucky,” Bartoletta told them. “You have a nice school.”
While at Elyria, Bartoletta played basketball and volleyball, but she said her best sport was track and field — especially long jump, she said.
Her father told her when she was a junior in high school that she needed to figure out how to pay for college. Figuring out what four years of tuition would cost, and then what a car would cost, she agreed and made a bet with her dad that if she paid for college, he would have to buy her a car.
Bartoletta then aced her AP and Honors classes (“Because I’m also a nerd,” she said), and got both a full academic scholarship and a full sports scholarship to the University of Tennessee. “Go Vols!” she added.
“And the day I graduated, I drove off the lot with a new car,” Bartoletta said, smiling.
She told the seniors the hard work is going to start right away when they go to college, especially if they decide to continue their chosen sports. Time management is key, as is maintaining healthy eating and a good sleep schedule, Bartoletta said.
In response to a question, Bartoletta said she makes money from competing in athletics in Europe or what Americans call track and field.
“Way more popular” in Europe than in the U.S., there are “athletics” meets every four or five days “with money on the line,” she said. In an event, the winner might get $10,000 with bonuses for performance or just for showing up to compete if they are a big name in the sport. The last-place finisher might still get $1,000.
“So even if you suck and get your butt whooped, you get $1,000,” Bartoletta said, laughing.
Endorsements from companies like Nike or Adidas will pay athletes “just to train all year.” She has endorsements from Bose headphones and a chocolate company, she said.
Bartoletta also brought out her Olympic gold medals: One from the 4x100 meter women’s relay at the 2012 London Games and two from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, one in long jump and a second in the 4x100 meter women’s relay.
The medals are heavy, she said. At the 2012 London games, “when they put it around my neck, I almost fell over.”
She also described the 2016 Rio Games women’s 4x100 race, which the U.S. team had to run again, alone, after one of her teammates took an elbow to the chest from a Brazilian runner who decided her country “needed a little extra help,” Bartoletta said with a smile.
At first disqualified after dropping the baton in that race, the Americans were allow to rerun the race, needing only to beat the Chinese team’s qualifying time to reach the final.
“Naturally, China was pissed,” she joked. “Do you know the population of China? It’s a lot. And all of them were on my Instagram page.”
The Americans went on to run the relay “faster than everyone else’s” times. “Y’all though China was mad? Now everyone’s mad,” Bartoletta joked.
Trash talk by other nations prior to the final only made her and the U.S. team want the gold even more, Bartoletta said.
“I was frothing at the mouth to get out there,” for the final, she recalled. “I may look cute, but I’m crazy … I may look mean, but I’m intense.”
She took the first leg of the relay, and the U.S. team won the final “by so much I couldn’t think of anything awesome to say so when my teammate finished so I just said, ‘You did it!’ and she said, ‘We did it!’ “ Bartoletta recalled.
Bartoletta said her first gold medal came at age 19. She did not win another for 10 years. Her advice to the student-athletes? “Keep fighting, keep racing, keep shooting.”
“If I had quit, I would’ve never gotten that feeling” of winning another gold, she said.
Contact Dave O’Brien at 329-7129 or do’firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.
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