In 1992, near the end of swimming competition at the Barcelona Olympics, Summer Sanders received a telegram. The message came from a woman in Texas whom Sanders did not know.
"[She] felt so a part of my journey and emotionally attached that she felt she needed to tell me she believed in me," Sanders told ThePostGame.com. "She was wishing me good luck and knew I could do it. My last race ended up being my gold medal race. I'll never forget that feeling from a total stranger."
Sanders won her only individual Olympic gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly on the final day of competition.
This summer in London, Sanders is helping athletes experience the same support she did in 1992. The four-time Olympic medalist is a "Rely on Copper to Go for the Gold" correspondent for Duracell's Virtual Stadium.
Duracell's Virtual Stadium is a way for American fans to send good luck wishes to their favorite athletes in London. If fans go on to Duracell's Facebook page, they can use text, picture, video or another form of media to cheer on the athletes. The messages are displayed on Duracell's Virtual Stadium, a screen located inside the 65,000 square foot Procter & Gamble U.S. family home in London.
The building is a "home away from home" for the athletes, according to Sanders. Along with doing laundry and getting beauty treatments at the P&G home, athletes can also check out the fans cheering them on back in the United States using Duracell's Virtual Stadium.
Sanders is jealous of Team USA in 2012. She wishes she could have heard support from fans in 1992. "You sort of forgot that it was airing live back in America and millions of people were cheering you on," she said. "You just didn't hear that."
Along with an increased connection between athletes and fans, Sanders is intrigued by another change in swimmers: Age. When Sanders swam in 1992, her only Olympics, most athletes could not afford a long swimming career. The idea of a swimmer like Dara Torres being able to put in the time to make the Olympics all the way from 1984 to 2008 (and nearly 2012) seemed ludicrous.
Sanders says the rising influence of sponsors on swimmers' careers has allowed them to compete professionally for a longer period of time. With sponsors helping swimmers make a living, the athletes can do what they love to reach their potential without worrying about money. "Sometimes that potential's at 19 and sometimes that potential's at 29," she said. "You just never know."
Two swimmers who have massive fan support along with a comfortable bank account are Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Phelps and Lochte have become both athletic and cultural icons over the past decade, an idea Sanders could not have imagined in 1992.
"I love the fact that Ryan Lochte's on the cover of so many magazines and Phelps is on the cover of so many magazines," she said. "People know these guys' names. I feel honored an proud of my sport and how far we've come."
Speaking of knowing guys' names, Sanders was teammates in Barcelona with the 1992 U.S. Basketball Dream Team, maybe the most high profile group of athletes to ever compete in the Olympics. Sanders, who worked in NBA broadcasting after her swimming days, was blown away to represent the same delegation as the NBA's best. She was especially excited to join one superstar on Team U.S.A.
"I was a huge Jordan fan," Sanders said. "You have to understand I would write No. 23 on my swim cap, I had my Air Jordans that I would parade out in every swim meet, wore my Air Jordans to my high school graduation, I would travel with Michael Jordan posters and put them up in my hotel room with toothpaste, so when I found out that Michael Jordan was going to be a part of the '92 Olympic Team, I became even more excited about pushing myself to qualify and be his teammate."
Sanders met Jordan for the first time shortly before the '92 Olympics began. She later got to know her idol better while co-hosting "NBA Inside Stuff" with Ahmad Rashad, a close friend of Jordan.
Outside of sports, Sanders also hosted "Figure it Out," a game show on Nickelodeon in the late 90's. The show, which Sanders says is her favorite show she hosted, returned earlier in 2012 with new host Jeff Sutphen. Sanders, who found out about the revival via Twitter, is happy to see the show back on television, but still loyal to her reign as host.
"I still am partial to my generation and Danny Tamberelli and Lori Beth [Denberg] and Billy the Answer Head," she said. "It's great though. My kids get a chance to watch it and they'll look at me and go, ‘Mommy, wasn't this the show you hosted?' So it puts a smile on my face."
Sanders can also reveal the secret of the Nickelodeon slime ingredients: "I can tell everybody it's made of vanilla pudding and green food covering. Well, it was back in the day."
Thanks in part to that telegram delivered to Barcelona from a stranger in Texas in 1992, Summer Sanders has been one of the Renaissance women of the last two decades. She's been an Olympic medalist, a TV host, a TV reporter, an author, an actress, a "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant and a Yahoo! correspondent, among other things. Sanders' newest endeavor is to help American fans communicate with the U.S. athletes in London. It is a project that, thanks to the events of 1992, is very close to her heart.