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.
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.”


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