For many athletes, an Olympic gold medal is the culmination of a lifetime spent focused on achieving nothing else. But Jackie Young, who recently won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games, didn't start thinking seriously about competing until less than two weeks ago.
On Wednesday, July 28, Jackie won gold with Team USA as one of four athletes—along with Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray and Kelsey Plum—on the 3x3 women's basketball squad. This was the inaugural year of competition for the event, with the Americans topping ROC in the gold medal game by a score of 18 to 15.
But Jackie, a 23-year-old player for the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces, didn't have much time to prepare. After Katie Lou Samuelson, who was supposed to be the fourth member of the group, tested positive for COVID-19 with just a week left before competition started, Jackie received a call on July 17 while vacationing in Florida amid the league's month-long Olympic break.
On the other line were USA Basketball director Jay Demings and team advisor Kara Lawson to offer the player a spot on the roster. They explained that Katie Lou could no longer travel to Tokyo but that it wasn't certain Jackie would be able to join the team, given that Japanese officials were requiring two negative COVID-19 tests on separate days prior to arrival.
"I knew I had a chance to be on the team, but we weren't sure," Jackie told USA Today. "I flew out the next morning." First, she flew home to Vegas before boarding the 12-hour flight to Tokyo on Tuesday, July 20 ahead of the team's first two games on July 24.
While Jackie certainly knows basketball, the Notre Dame alum hadn't played 3-on-3 hoops since 2019. Luckily, it all somehow worked out.
"She made it here on her own hard work and dedication," Stefanie told the publication. "The fact she was able to get on board so quickly and learn our system, just props to her on that.
Jackie still has trouble believing what just happened. "It's crazy to think about," she added. "Ten days ago, I was on vacation. My life changed like that. Now I'm a gold medalist. It's crazy how things work out."