Olympic Athletes and Their Dogs

Olympic Athletes share tales of their love for pet dogs.

By Eve Adamson | Posted: August 8, 2012, 4 p.m. EDT

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2012 Olympians with their dogs

The symptoms are obvious: Nervous excitement. Obsession with all things London. Compulsive doodling of five interlocking circles. Sudden extreme interest in archery and triathlons. Yes, you’re clearly suffering from Olympic fever. And we know just how to make it worse.

As you and your dog watch the most elite athletes in the world compete in the London 2012 Summer Olympics this July and August, you might wonder what kind of dogs those swimmers, gymnasts, cyclists, weight lifters, and tennis players have waiting for them at home. . Ooh and ahh at the spectacular feats of physical achievement. And cheer on the athletes who love dogs as much as you do.

They are dog lovers, champions for dogs and dog rescue, and one has even been saved by a dog. Meet three of them in this issue and four more in August. Then, as you’re tuning in to catch the latest, from archery and badminton to volleyball and the triathlon, think about the dogs behind the medalists. Because behind every great athlete, there might just be a really great dog.

Misty May-Treanor
Beach Volleyball

When Misty May-Treanor and teammate Kerri Walsh won back-to-back gold medals in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics without losing a single set, they became legends in the Olympic sport of beach volleyball. Since her last Olympics win, the Southern California girl has written a book; appeared on TV shows, including Dancing with the Stars; and is now back in training with Walsh, her eye on another gold medal. Read more>>

Nastia Liukin
Gymnastics

Born in Russia, Nastia Liukin grew up in her parents’ gym in Plano, Texas, playing on the equipment. Although her parents, both champion gymnasts, didn’t plan for their daughter to follow in their footsteps, Liukin was born for the spotlight. As she grew to become a five-time Olympic medalist and four-time world champion, Liukin’s loyal buddy was her first dog, an English Springer Spaniel named Layla. Read more>>

Danell Leyva
Gymnastics

Danell Leyva wasn’t a child who seemed destined for the Olympics. When he was just 2 years old, he was forced to defect from his native Cuba with his parents because of the lack of medical care for his severe asthma. And yet, he was a world champion in gymnastics in the parallel bars in 2011, an all-around national men’s champion at the Visa Championships that same year, and is the United States’ best hope for a medal in men’s gymnastics going into the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Read more>>

Ariana Kukors
Swimming

The world record holder in the 200-meter individual medley swims about 5 miles every day, training in Jacksonville, Fla., for the Olympics. That doesn’t leave time for Ariana Kukors to have her own dog, but dogs have connected her to the most influential people in her life: her older sister Emily, who swam for Auburn University, and her younger sister Mattie, who swims for Arizona State University. Read more>>

Natalie Coughlin
Swimming

When Natalie Coughlin married her longtime boyfriend, swim coach Ethan Hall, a little Border Terrier, now age 7, trotted down the aisle with the flower girl. The dog wore a silk pillow holding two wedding rings, and never barked once. “She’s a crazy little terrier, but she rose to the occasion,” Coughlin says. “She was perfect, and I was very proud of her.” Read more>>

Tony Azevedo
Water polo

When Tony Azevedo, one of the top water polo players in the world, was training at the pool one day in Long Beach, Calif., his friend brought by a rambunctious pit bull-type puppy. “As soon as she got to the edge of the pool, she jumped in and started chasing the water polo ball. I fell in love with her immediately,” Azevedo says. “Pit bulls are known for not liking water, but she loves swimming more than anything.” Read more>>

Kayla Harrison
Judo

At age 10, Kayla Harrison was climbing a tree in her front yard when she fell, dropped 30 feet, hurt her neck, and couldn’t move. “My aunt was inside babysitting my younger siblings,” Harrison says. “Thank goodness my dog Tess wouldn’t stop barking.” The fluffy Chow Chow mix barked and howled until Harrison’s aunt came outside, saw what had happened, and called an ambulance. “I guess you could say she kind of saved my life,” Harrison says. Read more>>

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