Cue the Waterworks: Olympic Gold Medalists Chat About This Year’s Tearjerking ‘Thanks, Mom’ Ad

It takes a lot to be an Olympian: a lifetime of training, hours upon hours of practice, and major strength. But what we don’t necessarily see every day are the support systems behind these athletes. Which is why P&G is continuing their “Thank You Mom” Olympics campaign with a new video, “Strong”, which demonstrates the power that moms have in getting them where they are today — and we had a chance to speak to the Olympians themselves to find out what their mothers mean to them.

Gabby DouglasNicolas Maloof

This year’s video is predictably tear-jerking; if today’s not a day you’re prepared to cry at work, we suggest you save it until you can get your hands on a box of tissues. But when we spoke to 2012 Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas (gymnastics), Dana Vollmer (swimming) and Ashton Eaton (decathalon), they were all smiles — particularly because they were joined by their moms, who are just as inspiring as the fictional ones in the ads.

Our first chat was with Gabby Douglas, who, with her mom Natalie Hawkins, shared her strongest memory from her 2012 win. “During all around finals, I hopped off the floor and I gave my coach a hug, and he said, ‘Wave, you’re an Olympic champion.’ I think that’s the moment that’s definitely going to stick with me the rest of my life,” Douglas says. Hawkins strongly remembers the moment they put the medal on her daughter’s neck: “when the flag went up, and the anthem played. I was shaking all over and now I can never hear the national anthem and not think of that moment. It’s etched in my memory.”

Gabby DouglasGabby Douglas

Douglas will be the first American gymnast to defend her title at a second Olympics, which has required just as much strength and sacrifice from her family as it did the first time (when she famously lived with another family in Des Moines to get the best possible gymnastics training). Hawkins says that, just like the first go around when Douglas would call her homesick or tired, she encourages her daughter to be strong with scriptures: “They are all about strength and being courageous.” And now Douglas taps into her own reserves to get herself going on days when she’s dragging: “I just find different things that I can achieve,” she says. “And for me I love a challenge, I love to push the maximum so there are different things that I still want to achieve and you know put that on the board and take one step at a time.”

So what can we expect from the Rio 2016 gymnastics team? “Bigger gymnastics and a very good competition,” Douglas, who’s working with Gillette Venus, promises. “I think both I know what to expect — the experience last time is definitely going to help me this go around and I’m just more confident this time. I’m just more excited.”

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Four-time gold medalist Dana Vollmer was joined by her mom Cathy to talk about her surprising return to the pool after going out on top in 2012 — and welcoming son Arlen last March. “I thought I was done!” she says. “I had this idea that you either had to be a swimmer or then you had to leave the sport and you became a mom and then you got a job and then kind of life after swimming. I don’t know if it was being on bed rest for seven weeks — I just was like I want my body back, and what better way to do this then trying to make a comeback at this”

Cathy admits to being surprised — “I thought she was just kidding me, actually!” — but just as supportive as she was during Vollmer’s many years of training as a kid. And Vollmer credits her mom’s great perspective for giving her the strength to get back in the pool after two years off. “She’s always done an amazing job of switching your perspective from, what’s going wrong at the time to all the things that it’s done for you. Even just down to as little as, I know it’s a hard workout but you’re also in the sun with your friends,” she says. “Now I try to find the positives in any moment. If I’m really tired or sick, well, I might be sick and I might be tired at the Olympics! Being a new mom and realizing that after a swim workout if I want a three hour nap, well, I don’t really get that option. This whole journey has been about family.”

She also shares her “Thanks, mom” moment, which came, incidentally, on her way to being a new mom herself. “When my husband and I first knew that we were pregnant and he turned to me and said, ‘I really want a little daddy’s girl.’ It just kind of sat with me for a minute and I was like man, like sometimes in high school I was mean to my mom and I was such a brat or something and it completely flipped it for me!” she says. “So I took her out to lunch and just really thanked her for all that she put up with and all that she did for me.”

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Ashton Eaton, who won the decathalon in London, said his mom Roslyn is part of his strongest memory from 2012: “My strongest memory is just crossing that finish line and having pretty much directly in front of me my mom, my wife, my coach, my manager, the whole team really kind of sitting there in celebration,” he says. “Then [his mom] said, You did it!” Roslyn, however, remembers something extra: “Then I immediately told him how to hold the flag!”

These days, Eaton says he’s very self-motivated, but it’s all thanks to a strong foundation laid for him by his mom. “On those days that I didn’t want to do something or that I was kind of going half-effort — there was a specific time in baseball when I was just being lazy and she pulled me aside … and she said, There are 10 other kids in there that want to do what you’re doing and you’re not giving it 100 percent effort. So let somebody else do it who is going to give it 100 percent effort. I said Yeah, that makes sense.”

And he was able to repay the favor the first time P&G took him and his mother to the airport in a limo . “He said, Mom, see you’re in the limo, the sun’s shining, you can nap!” she says. “‘Cause I always say if I ever win the lottery Ashton I’m just going to hire a car to drive me around in the sun because I remember as a little girl I would just fall asleep in the sun in the car when your parents were driving and the best sleep I’ve ever had. So we get in the limo and he’s like mom, see? Take a nap!”

Cue the waterworks again.

What do you think of this year’s video? Tell us below!

–Alex Apatoff

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