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Gensler Voices: Maddy Crippen Shares an Athlete’s Perspective on the Olympic Venue Experience

This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Gensler architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities and the human experience. We spoke with our very own former U.S. Olympic swimmer, Maddy Crippen, Southeast regional marketing director, about her experiences at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and the Olympic venue experience from the athlete’s perspective.

Tell us about your experiences at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. What was it like to set foot in the venue, and what was your favorite part of the experience?

The Olympics was the realization of a childhood dream. The village was an amazing gathering place for athletes of all shapes, sizes, races, and religions. It was the physical embodiment of the Olympics’ humanitarian spirit. Going to the dining hall and sharing a meal with athletes from Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and North and South America was an experience that I will never forget. An added bonus was that the 2000 Summer Olympics I participated in was in Sydney, Australia. The citizens of that country are amazing fans across all sports and they were so welcoming to me and my teammates, as well as my family and friends who came to watch.

From your personal experience, what role does the planning and design of these physical venues play into the overall athlete, spectator, and visitor experience?

Hosting the Olympics is seen by many as an honor. When the planning and design is done right, it is an opportunity to invest in a country, a city, and its citizens. When done poorly, the country’s citizens suffer. I really admire cities like Atlanta. As I was preparing for the 2000 Games, I was able to compete in the ’96 Olympic Pool, which was repurposed as Georgia Tech’s natatorium. Being able to compete in a facility like that helped me imagine myself at an Olympic Games, and believing it is 90% of the battle.

Jordan Goldstein, Bob Peck, Carolyn Sponza, and the Gensler D.C. team that designed Washington, D.C.’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games brought me into that job. It was an incredible honor to hear the team envision a D.C. Olympics. One of the things I appreciated most was their focus on reusing or renovating the great assets the region had to offer. Creating an experience worthy of the athletes, spectators, and visitors is very important, but I believe our North Star should be creating a plan that supports a country and its citizens long after the Olympics has ended.

How did your experiences as a professional athlete influence your current career path and work?

I wouldn’t say my experience as an athlete influenced the career I chose, but it did help me establish a personal philosophy that I’ve used to guide me as I’ve ventured through my professional career. Here are three lessons that I rely on every day:

  • Individual wins and losses do not define me. Those who love and care about me do so because of the person I am and how I love and care for them. If I believe my life is defined by a single moment, then there is a lot of downtime I need to consider.
  • Respect the journey. If I’m only in it for the reward at the end, I’m going to be disappointed. Because it is going to end. And I’m going to be left asking “what’s next?”
  • Believe in myself. If I don’t, no one else will. My Olympic berth was the result of A LOT of people’s hard work — my mom, dad, coaches, mentors, and teammates. All the time they spent with me and for me propelled me to that stage. But at the end of the day, I was alone, behind the block, getting ready to race. If I didn’t believe in myself, I already lost. I had to trust the process. And myself. I think about that every day.
What was your first introduction to the field of architecture and design?

I tried to make the U.S. team in 2004 and failed. I was tired and ready to try something new! I came home and starting interviewing for marketing jobs in the real estate industry. I met someone who worked for an old Philadelphia architecture firm, H2L2, and they suggested I apply for a job. I interviewed for the job and got it! It was a great entry into the design world. I had access to seasoned architects who were patient with me and showed me the ropes.

How has your experience as an Olympian shaped your understanding of the world?

Olympism is a philosophy of life. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. Participating at the Olympic games shaped my belief in Olympism. Sport is a great unifier, and when we use it to come together peacefully, it’s an amazing experience.

What is one piece of advice that you have for all those about to compete in Tokyo, and for future Olympic hopefuls?

To the Olympians: Enjoy the moment. Even if the result isn’t what you hoped, find joy in the journey. To the Olympic Hopefuls: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Olympians are lucky people. So create a road map. Stick with it. Trust the process. Trust YOURSELF. Prepare and then find the opportunity!

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