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Our Ultimate Olympian: Edwards’ path to Olympic greatness rooted in Cairo

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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CAIRO, Ga. (WCTV) - 37 years ago, Cairo native Teresa Edwards played in her first Olympic Games, winning gold with Team USA in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

At just 20 years of age, she was the youngest member of the USA’s women’s basketball team that year.

Four years later, she won gold again in Seoul, South Korea.

After a bronze in Barcelona in 1992, it was back-to-back golds in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000.

In the process, Edwards became the first American woman to medal in five consecutive Olympic Games.

Her list of records and accomplishments is staggering. But what truly makes her our ultimate Olympian is her love for Cairo today.

Cairo’s Washington Middle School is where Edwards, Team USA’s most decorated all-time athlete, won her first gold.

“As soon as I walked in, I was like, ’Jesus, I’m home,’” Edwards recalled. “I won a championship here before I won one at Cairo High School.”

It was that high school title that earned Edwards the moniker “Queen of the Court” in her senior yearbook.

Later, the actual court at the high school was named after her.

She’s the namesake for a street in town, too.

She says all these years later, roads still lead back to Cairo, because the wonderful ride wouldn’t have been possible without it.

“I remember coming back home from my first Olympic Games in LA, and the whole town was just elated,” she said. “My mother, they raised money all around Cairo, everyone pitched in so she could fly out to LA and take part in those games.”

Recently, she’s renewed her connection with Cario, spending a week last month back on the court where it all started and working with girls who are well versed in her journey.

“To see somebody come from here and go that far it makes you want to put more work in and try to be like her,” a player attending the camp said.

“I think that our team follows her legacy because anytime we go play people, they know that Cairo comes to play,” Syrupmaid head coach Melissa McClendon said.

A free, impromptu basketball camp came just a few months after McClendon’s team returned to the GHSA state title game.

The Syrupmaids’ first appearance since the Edwards-led title in 1982.

“People were just calling, ‘Can we come to the game, coach, can we come to the game,’ and people were watching us online and texting us,” McClendon said.

Even Edwards herself wanted to get in on the action, holding a Zoom call with the team during the playoff run.

“When she popped on that screen, it was just like, ‘Oh my God, we are really doing this,’” remembers McClendon.

“Most of the time, I kind of go off the top of my head and my heart and my spirit what I am feeling at the moment and it kind of came, the spirit of the last team that won and that they deserve to be handed a baton for what they’ve done and how far they’ve come,” Edwards said.

Players, like star Leah Perry, leaving their own CHS legacy. And their connection with Edwards is now a personal one.

As for the all-time great?

These days, coming home kind of feels like winning gold.

“I’m working with my teammates’ grandkids, that’s crazy,” she said. “And I love it, and thank God for the opportunity to be back in the community, because I really do love being home.”

The Syrupmaids, who finished last season as state runner’s-up, will play on a newly surfaced court next season.

Edwards’ name will still be on it.

Edwards now teaches in New York, and says she’ll be watching this year’s 2020 Tokyo Games, which are set to begin July 23.

This year’s USA women’s basketball team has two players - Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi - who are slated to play in their fifth consecutive Olympics and are heavy medal favorites. The USA has won six-straight Olympic gold.

Edwards reminded WCTV that she did it first.

She also just released an audiobook, titled Black Gold, summarized as an inspiring tale of what it costs to lose, what it takes to win and how women can lead the way.

It’s available now. You can check it out by clicking here.

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