ROCKINGHAM — There aren’t many people who can say they were only a few yards away from Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky as they dominated the water during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But Cecil Gordon, a native of Hamlet, is one of those people.
Gordon — a doctor of medicine who has his own practice in Delaware and is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University — was one of the two swim officials from the United States who were selected to help man the deck during the Olympic competitions in Brazil.
He recently answered the following questions in a interview with the Daily Journal.
What was your favorite part about being at the Olympics?
“Just being around the best athletes in the world — it’s a sense of awe. And being one of the officials for that swimming competition was also inspring, because it makes you realize that you are one of the best officials in the world. Just like the athletes take pride in what they’ve been able to accomplish, the same can be said of the few officials who were selected to officiate that competition.”
What was it like to be able to witness those amazing performances from the likes of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and others?
“You know it’s unlike anything else you can ever do as a swimming official. To have all the athletes and swimmers from around the world in the same venue and in the same pool — and you’re literally five yards away from the competition — is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced…To be able to witness it all is amazing. It really was incredible. More than I could’ve ever anticipated prior to having experienced it.”
Everyone gets excited when Team USA is winning and grabbing gold. Did you ever find yourself holding back any celebrations?
“You know, I knew what my role was — and it was to remain impartial. Some of those swimmers I know personally, and of course you like to see them do well, but not to the point where you literally would root for them like a fan. I think the one time I was more emotional was the very first time (the U.S. won a medal). To hear the national anthem play for the first time and to watch, I think it was Katie Ledecky, parade around the pool deck with the flag draped around her shoulders — it was a moving experience, without a doubt.”
What are your thoughts on Phelps’ dominance in the sport of swimming?
“Based on almost any parameter that you use, he is the greatest Olympic athlete in the history of the Games. To have him as a swimmer is just that much more inspiring for all of us. But to watch him perform is a thing of beauty. He’s just so graceful in the water. And I really took pride, because as I thought about it more and more, there’s a strong possibility that I might have served as the starter for the last race Michael Phelps ever swam. Now, he could come back and swim again in Tokyo and surprise us all, but we’ll have to wait and see. But for now, given his plans to retire after this Olympic Games, if that holds true, I’ll be my own little trivia question answer. Who was the last starter for the greatest swimmer in the history of the world’s last event? That would be me — which means something to me.”
You were the first African-American official to represent the U.S. in Olympic history. How was it to see Simone Manuel become the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal for the Team USA in swimming?
“That’s incredible as well. Again, you try to be impartial, but of course that’s a part of history. It’s hard as an African-American not to feel a sense of pride when you see those accomplishments, because it says that, given the opportunity, we can all compete at the highest level. And that’s all anybody wants — is a chance to show what he or she can accomplish. So yeah, I felt good seeing her win. She had a great Olympics.”
Were you able to catch any other Olympic events that were going on?
“Yeah, I did. And there you can be a fan more than in swimming. In the venue where we were, all of the aquatic sports were there — synchro-swimming, diving, water polo. Tennis was there, so I got to watch some tennis, although I did not see my favorites who are Serena and Venus. I didn’t get to see them play, but they were out pretty quickly, actually. I did get to see a little of the gymnastics, so that was good. I did not get to see track and field because that was about an hour and a half away, as was beach volleyball…Golf was right across the venue at the hotel where we stayed. You could literally stand on the balcony and see the golfing venue…I got a chance to take it all in, but we were pretty busy.”
Was that something that you could see yourself doing again at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?
“I would love to, but there’s like 8,000 volunteer officials in the United States. To get the opportunity to be one of two invited in any four-year period is against the odds. So, to think you would ever get offered an opportunity to do two (Olympics) would be impossible…But it was an unbelievable experience. One I wish everyone could have the opportunity to be a part of. Two of the most exciting weeks that I’ve ever had in my life.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.