"I mean, you're only an athlete for this much of your life. You can still be all that other stuff afterward. They'll throw my prom after I'm done."
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 30, 2021. It has since been updated.
18-year-old Anastasija Zolotic is the first American ever to win a gold medal in women's taekwondo at the Olympics. On July 25, 2021, she defeated Russia's Tatiana Minina in the featherweight division title, winning 25-17. In addition, she is also only the second woman — and fourth U.S. Olympian — to ever make it to the finals.
Her win means a lot more to her, given how she's had to sacrifice quite a lot compared to her peers to get where she is now, according to PEOPLE.
The teen from Florida recalled how she never had a chance at a normal life and spoke about just how many experiences she had to give up on to work towards her goal. "I've never been to a homecoming," she said after her win, adding she also skipped high school graduation. "I didn't go to my prom, never went to those football games when everybody ... wears the team jerseys."
It was definitely not easy for her since she had to practice when her friends got to dress up, let loose, and go have fun. "It's been super hard and it's kind of upsetting because I want to be able to dress up. I want to be able to go out with my friends and have sleepovers."
Because of everything she had to sacrifice for Taekwondo, she did think of quitting two years ago, but her coach, Gareth Brown — whom she says has "gone through a lot with me" — encouraged her to keep going.
"At the time I'm like, 'Do I really want to do this?' " she recounts thinking. "'I don't really know if I want this.'" Her coach didn't give up on her, and now, after creating history, Zolotic says "this is what I was doing it for."
She also realized that even though she was missing out on a lot, she could have fun later on. "But, I mean, you're only an athlete for this much of your life. You can still be all that other stuff afterward. They'll throw my prom after I'm done."
Though it's been three days since her big win, it still hasn't sunk in for Zolotic, reports USA Today. She adds that her match didn't seem like an Olympic event, adding that she felt nothing but confident that day.
"I don't think it's hit me yet," she said. In fact, she "was a bit more nervous" for the medals podium "than I was when I was fighting."
“I know a lot of people are freaking out over their gold, silver, and bronze medals, and I’m over here sitting next to my gold medal and just looking at it like what did I just do?” she said. “I’m trying to kind of feel the emotions.”
“Throughout the day I just kept thinking, if everything was like this, why wouldn’t I fight as well as I could?” she said. “I think I peaked right at the perfect moment and I just took home that gold.”
She then spoke about how the whole experience has been surreal for her. "A year has gone by where we're training in basements, training in our gym, training in different gyms, training outside on tennis courts and basketball courts, just so we can get some sessions in and work our way around COVID," Zolotic said, "but it's just been super unreal and grabbing my own medal, like off the tray. ... It's like taking that initiative again, like asserting your dominance is what I've been saying all day."
Now, after her historic win, all she wants is to go home and spend some time with her friends and family. "My sister's been messaging: 'When are you coming home?'"
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Maja Hitij