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Olympic Moments: Alexandra and Mike Harbold

Where does life take you after you’ve experienced Olympic glory? These past Olympians look back—and ahead.

Photograph by Christopher Leaman.
In 1996 The Harbolds visited the White House with the Olympic team. Photograph courtesy of Alexandra and Mike Harbold.

Alexandra and Mike Harbold
Sprint canoe/kayak
Mike was an Olympian in 1988; both went to the Olympics in 1992 and 1996.
Mike: eighth place, two-man team, 500 meters, 1992
Alexandra: seventh place, four-woman team, 1992

In 1988, a teammate dared Alexandra Bernhart to kiss Mike Harbold—“the stud boy from Hawaii,” Bernhart called him—and she did. They were at a sprint canoe/kayak training camp in Florida, vying for spots on the Olympic teams headed to Seoul.

When Mike made the team and Alexandra didn’t, they parted ways. He went to the Games, where he competed but didn’t advance to the finals; she came back to DC to finish an undergraduate degree in international relations at Georgetown. Mike sent postcards—he told her he’d be retiring, and she assumed she’d never see him again.

In 1989, he showed up at a training camp for the World Championship trials. He made the team, but her bid didn’t work out; on his way home from the championships, he stopped in DC to visit. A couple from then on, they moved to the National Training Center near San Diego and married in 1991.

Relationships between high-caliber athletes don’t always survive. Alexandra remembers one Olympic champion saying, “You’ll never make it, because to be a successful athlete you need to be selfish.”

But the Harbolds’ biggest Olympic successes came after they joined forces: Both made the finals in Barcelona in 1992 and qualified for the ’96 Games in Atlanta.

Since retiring, they’ve adopted a laid-back approach to life. They spend much of their time with their eight-year-old daughter, Annabelle, and take her paddling most afternoons on the river near their Georgetown home.

Says Alexandra: “When you’re training for the Olympic team, if you mess up, there’s nothing else.” In comparison, “the real world is a piece of cake.”

Read more Olympic Moments.

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