LAWRENCE — She wore Olympic gold around her neck, round and polished. The sides were slightly covered by an official Team USA blazer. The words “Olympiad London” stretched across the top.
At some point on Wednesday, Diamond Dixon had plans to look for a safe little hiding spot in her Jayhawker Towers apartment. Her junior year at KU starts next week, and how many college students must find a place for an Olympic medal among their textbooks and homework assignments?
But for a moment on Wednesday afternoon, Dixon admired her medal as she stood in a corner of the KU football facility, the Memorial Stadium track just a few hundred feet away.
Five days earlier, Dixon had stood inside the Olympic Stadium in London and run her heart out during a semifinal leg of the women’s 1,600-meter relay. One day later, she clinched gold, watching her relay teammates run away from the field after she was replaced for the finals.
When it was all over, the running, the practicing, the time with family and teammates, Dixon sat back and cried. The 20-year-old from Houston had accomplished a dream.
“It definitely has sunk in,” Dixon said. “It was nothing but a dream from the beginning. And to be actually able to go there, and run, and then get a gold medal — and run it the way I did run in the semifinal — was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t do anything but tear up and be happy.”
This is what can happen in a span of a few weeks. When Dixon arrived in London as a member of the relay pool, she was unsure whether she’d run. She was a collegian on a team with pros, and she only turned 20 around the Olympic trials. But when Dixon, the two-time defending Big 12 champ in the 400 meters, arrived to relays practice in London, the coaches made sure she practiced handoffs with the other runners that would be running in the semis.
“I was like, ‘Well, they wouldn’t put me on a leg if I wasn’t gonna run,’ ” Dixon said.
When the moment finally came last Friday, Dixon was walking into the Olympic Stadium in London. She can tell you about the lights, and all the cameras going off, but there was also a sound that caught her off guard.
“Hearing people say my name,” Dixon said. “What? These people know me?”
A few moments later, the baton ended up in Dixon’s hand with the U.S. in second place after two legs, but she responded by running a 50.15 during her leg, and the U.S. team easily advanced to the finals.
“I was like, ‘Well, I have no choice,’ ” Dixon said. “I have to run. I have to pass the stick off in first.”
The last few days, Dixon says, have been crazy. She was a gold medalist on Saturday, but the tangible hardware wasn’t ready right away. When it finally arrived on Tuesday, KU track coach Stanley Redwine, the man who recruited her to Lawrence, was there to do the honors.
Dixon has two years of eligibility left at KU, and she says she has no plans to turn pro before that. But she does have one goal left: The 2016 Games in Rio — and standing atop the podium after the women’s 400-meter final.
Eventually, Dixon says, the medal is going to her great aunt Carolyn McGrew, the woman who took her in and raised her as her own daughter. But for now, she’s keeping it in Lawrence, the coolest summer vacation souvenir on campus.
“What can I say,” said Dixon, who became the first KU woman to win a track gold medal and the first Jayhawk track and field athlete to win a gold medal since discus legend Al Oerter won his fourth gold in 1968. “(There are) so many people in the world that probably dreamed to go to the Olympics.”
Late Show with Erik Kynard — Erik Kynard’s time at the Olympics is over, but his time in the spotlight isn’t.
The Kansas State high jumper, who won a silver medal last week in London, will appear on the Late Show with David Letterman on Thursday night as a guest along with longtime news anchor Tom Brokaw and rapper Rick Ross.
When his stint in prime time is finished, Kynard will head to his hometown of Toledo to take part in a parade in his honor on Saturday at his former high school.
From there, it is back to Manhattan for his senior year of college, where his hero’s welcome will likely continue. Ever since Kynard, a two-time NCAA champion, won his first Olympic medal with a jump higher than 7 feet, 6 inches, he has received plenty of attention.
His publicity tour started last week when he appeared on the Today Show.