She's golden

By Shoshana Burrus
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 26, 1996

Leyla Knight
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona softball player Leah O'Brien displays the gold medal she won at the Olympic Games in Atlanta as a member of the U.S. National Team.


Winning a gold medal with the first U.S. softball team in the Summer Olympics was a "dream come true" for Leah O'Brien.

"It's something that I couldn't even imagine until it actually happened," she said.

The senior from Chino, Calif., said her memories from the Olympics will last a lifetime.

Since the softball team played its games nearly two hours away from Atlanta, in Columbus, Ga., the team was able to focus on the game. Fort Bening, which became the members' home for two weeks, helped them bond as a team.

"We were together all of the time," O'Brien said. "We went to lunch together and went to the movies before our games."

The UA center fielder said the team became very close and always turned everything into something good.

"I have never been part of a team that has gotten along so well - both on and off the field," she said. "They are great people."

O'Brien said they didn't get caught up in meeting the other athletes. In fact, it wasn't until the games were completed that they met the other U.S. athletes at the White House.

"It was a better situation because the pressure was off," O'Brien said.

Despite the team's one loss to Australia, the 21-year-old said the team was able to focus on its goal - winning the gold medal.

"I didn't feel pressure," O'Brien said. "We were anxious to accomplish what we wanted to."

Meeting the team goal was all O'Brien could think about. Her personal goals were also team-oriented.

"I played in about half of the games," she said. "I wanted to accomplish what the team wanted me to do, and that was to help them win the gold medal."

With so many great moments for the U.S. women's softball team, O'Brien had no problem describing her most memorable Olympic moment.

"It was standing on the podium and bending down to have the gold medal put around my neck," she said. "I felt so proud and honored to be representing the whole country."

Now that school has officially started, O'Brien can focus on the UA softball team.

What can she bring to the team besides a huge smile and a gold medal? The most important thing is experience, O'Brien said.

"I had a chance to play with the legends of the game," she said. "It helped me out to play with them."

UA softball coach Mike Candrea said O'Brien's role on the team won't change.

"She's been with us for four years," Candrea said. "She will continue to lead this team."

Candrea said O'Brien is the type of player who leads by example.

"She has a great sense of stability," Candrea said. "She is a stable player and puts forward a great effort."

Candrea described O'Brien as a player full of excitement and energy, with expectations that are high.

"She is an Olympian because her standards are so high," Candrea said. "She doesn't need to try and be more than Leah O'Brien - and she knows that."

O'Brien said it was an honor to play and make history with such great players.

"I admire women like Dot Richardson, Sheila Cornell and Michelle Smith," she said. "I looked up to the older players."

She said these softball players have stuck with the game and are playing for the love of the game.

"They don't get paid," she said. "They do it for the fun of it and because they love it. That's why I look up to them."

With only one year left at Arizona, O'Brien is looking toward the future and said she has a lot of options.

"I can't imagine not having softball in my life," she said. "I'm looking toward Sydney in 2000, or a professional softball career, or maybe even a coaching job."