Oprah in Millennium Park

On August 8, 2008, the Beijing Summer Olympic Games opened with a bang. From the first beat of the drums to the final flickers of the flame, billions of people around the world were transfixed by the artistry, athleticism and heart-stopping action.

Oprah was one of 4 billion people who tuned in to cheer on her home team—Team USA™! Like many Americans, Oprah says she fell in love with the men and women who wore red, white and blue.

"They are sons, daughters, mothers and fathers—champions who made us stand up and cheer," she says. "As we witnessed what seems impossible, we began again to believe in miracles. It made us all just want to be better, fly higher, do more."

For the first time, Oprah is taking her show to Chicago's Millennium Park to give the athletes the homecoming they deserve. Thousands of fans—the largest audience in Oprah Show history—gather to celebrate more than 175 gold, silver and bronze medalists!
Michael Phelps

In all, America took home 110 medals from the 2008 Olympic Games—more than any other country! The swimmer responsible for some of that hardware will go down in history as the first athlete to win eight gold medals in one Olympic Games.

Michael Phelps, a 23-year-old from Baltimore, accomplished what many sports commentators said was an impossible feat. He swam in eight finals over nine days and shattered the world record in four of five individual swims.

During some meets, Michael blew competitors out of the water, but a few swims came down to the final second. He won his seventh gold medal by just a hundredth of a second—a fingernail's length! Michael says this race—the 100-meter butterfly—stands out from the rest. "I still have no clue how I got that," he says.

Since becoming the world's most celebrated athlete, Michael says he's been traveling nonstop overseas, but now, he's finally back on American soil. "There's nothing like being back, you know, when you've been away for so long," he says. "When you come back and you see what your country looks like—you miss it so much when you're away."

Michael says he also misses someone special who's waiting for him back home...his English bulldog, Herman. "I have a picture on my computer of him, but I haven't seen him in real life for a few months," he says. "I need to get back home and spend some time with him so he at least remembers me."
Michael Phelps

Though Michael had a jam-packed schedule throughout the Summer Olympic Games, he says he and his teammates found time to enjoy themselves. "From playing cards in our room to playing Risk, we all had a blast. We had so much fun," he says.

Now that he's back in the States, the real fun is about to begin! Michael is set to appear on Saturday Night Live and on the front of Corn Flakes® boxes in the coming weeks. "I don't think all of it has set in yet," he says. "It starts to more and more when you travel around, and you see the welcome and endless support of everybody in this country."
Michael Phelps

Every time he dove into the pool in Beijing, Michael's biggest fans—his mother, Debbie, and two sisters—cheered him on from the stands.

The shock and excitement they experienced may be fading memories, but Michael's mom says she may never fully recover. "I don't think I'll ever come down to earth, I'll tell you that much," Debbie says. "It was an exciting time. It was invigorating. To watch all these athletes do what they did for our country was just incredible."

Not long after Michael swam his way into history books, Debbie, a middle school principal in Maryland, stepped out of the spotlight and returned to her administrative duties. "It's business as usual at Windsor Mill Middle School," she says. "My teachers are teaching, and my children are learning at a very high level."
Michael Phelps

With four years to go before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, what's next for Michael? During his downtime, Michael says he's going to focus on the Michael Phelps Foundation, which he launched in September 2008.

"One of the biggest things I want to do is grow the awareness of the sport of swimming and try to get more people involved and more people water safe," he says. "That's one of the things I'm going to start working on more and more with my free time, and that's something I'm looking forward to."
Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Garrett Weber-Gale

Michael's amazing feat wouldn't have been possible without the help of his relay teammates—Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Garrett Weber-Gale.

During the nail-biting final leg of their 4x100 medley race, Jason, the anchor and oldest man on America's swim team, overtook a French swimmer at the last second. Jason says it was an intense fight to the finish.

"I'd been a part of the two relays in the past two Olympics where we came up a little bit short, and I wanted to do everything that I could to bring that relay back to the U.S. and show how dominant we are as a nation," he says.

Before the relay, Jason says he gathered his teammates together to make sure they were all swimming toward the same goal. "In a few relays in the past, we felt like four individuals out there," he says. " I wanted to make sure that we all knew this was a team effort."

Cullen, the second African-American swimmer in history to win a gold medal, says the experience tested his nerves. "I looked over at Garrett, and this was our first Olympics, and I said, 'Nothing could compare to this,'" he says. "I was absolutely shaking. I'm looking at Jason and Michael, the veterans. ... They're just sitting there, cool and calm, and my legs are just buckling."

Garrett says just thinking about the relay makes his heart start pounding. "It was amazing," he says. "It was just a dream come true."

Every athlete loves to win, but Michael said there's nothing like finishing first at the Olympic Games. "It's one of the greatest feelings," he says. "I know a bunch of the athletes here can agree that there was nothing like standing on the medal podium and hearing the National Anthem play with a gold medal draped around your neck." 
Shawn Johnson

Shawn Johnson, a 16-year-old gymnast from West Des Moines, Iowa, went to Beijing to prove once and for all that big things come in small packages. At just 4'9'', Shawn packs a lot of power into her petite frame. She used her strength and determination to win four medals in her first Olympic Games.

This high school junior took home the gold for her individual beam routine, a silver team medal, a silver in the individual all-around competition and a silver for her floor exercise routine. She twisted and flipped her way to the top, but at the beginning of her gymnastics career, some doubted her skills.

At age 3, Shawn's parents enrolled her in her first gymnastics class. She loved the sport, but her coach didn't see much potential. Then she met her second coach, Liang Chow, a former Chinese gymnast who saw a future superstar.

From day one, Shawn's parents supported her dream of becoming an Olympian. They even mortgaged their home three times to pay for training.

Years later, the family's sacrifices finally paid off!
Shawn Johnson

Shawn struck gold on the final routine of her Olympic Games. While standing atop the balance beam, she says there was very little time to think about the bigger picture. "I was just thinking to give it my all," she says. "I only had a few seconds left in that last routine, and I just wanted to finish up my Olympic experience as best as I could."

Though she was thousands of miles away from home, Shawn says she could feel Americans supporting her from afar. "It's the supporters, the fans and the people cheering that really kept me going, and made me want to get back up there and do it as best as I could one more time," she says.

One fan who cheered Shawn on in Beijing was Sanya Richards, a friend, fellow Olympian, and track and field star. Since meeting in 2007, Shawn says Sanya has been a source of inspiration. "We just became really good friends, and she's just been like a huge role model for me," Shawn says. "I look up to her, and she's like a big sister."
Nastia Liukin

Gymnastics superstar Nastia Liukin was born to be an Olympian. Her father and coach, Valeri, won two gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and her mother, Anna, was the world champion rhythmic gymnast in 1987.

Born in Russia, Nastia moved to the United States with her parents when she was just 2 years old. Since then, she's lived and trained in Parker, Texas.

After many close competitions, Nastia left Beijing with one gold, one bronze and three silver medals—tying the U.S. record held by Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller. She also became the third American in history to win the women's all-around competition!
Nastia Liukin

Nastia says she began envisioning her medals long before she boarded the flight to Beijing. About a month before the Olympic Games began, Nastia says she saw an episode of The Oprah Show that featured the book The Secret.

"My mom had read it before, and she kept telling me, 'You should really read this book. It's a good book,' and I was just, like, 'Yeah, I'll get around to it,'" she says. Then when I watched your show I said, 'Okay, I guess I should really read it since Oprah read it.'"

Nastia says the lessons she learned from The Secret changed her way of thinking. "It inspired me so much, and so I made a vision board. I Googled the Olympic medals of Beijing—I'd never seen them before—and I printed a picture and put a big picture of a gold medal on it."
Keeth and Erinn Smart

Back in grade school, siblings Keeth and Erinn Smart took up an unusual sport for a couple of kids from Brooklyn—fencing.

Almost 20 years later, they proudly represent their country as two of the best fencers in the world, but they also compete to honor the memory of their parents. Their father passed away from a heart attack shortly after the Athens Summer Olympic Games in 2004. In spring 2008, they lost their mother to colon cancer.

Such unbreakable family spirit helped them each bring home a silver medal from Beijing. "You make us proud, Smart family," Oprah says.
The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team

The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team didn't just go for the gold in Beijing—they also wanted to change the way the world perceived men in basketball. Joining Oprah to celebrate both victories are Team USA™ members Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh and Michael Redd.

They didn't earn the nickname "Redeem Team" for nothing. "We really care about how our game is perceived and how we're perceived as athletes," Kobe says. "One of our main focuses is to go over there and win the gold but also show how we can play the brand of basketball that we feel can bring back the gold medal."

Together, the team realized all their Olympic dreams. "I think everybody got sick and tired of coming home with bronze medals and everybody talking about, you know, USA basketball cannot get back on top," Kobe says. "I think everybody here took it as a personal challenge to make that a top priority."
Oprah and the men's basketball team

The Team USA™ players are all familiar faces at home and overseas. "You're in a world where people don't even speak English, but they know your names," Oprah says.

Kobe, especially, got a lot of attention from Asian fans. "It caught me off guard. The way they responded to me you'd have thought I was moon walking or something," he says. "It was fun, though. We had a blast."

Still, there was no better highlight than standing on the gold medal platform, Jason says. "It's goosebumps because it's something that we worked extremely hard [on] for three years," he says. "The final reward was the gold medal but to also hear the national anthem. It was just something we will never forget."

The "Redeem Team" wasn't the only basketball team to strike gold in Beijing. Lisa Leslie led the women's basketball team to their fourth consecutive gold medal!
The U.S. men's volleyball team

America had many victories in Beijing, but for the men's volleyball team, these Olympic Games became the ultimate test of character and heart.

Just 12 hours after the spectacular opening ceremonies concluded, tragedy struck head coach Hugh McCutcheon's family. His father-in-law, Todd Bachman, was stabbed to death while sightseeing; his mother-in-law, Barbara, was also critically injured. Coach McCutcheon left the court to care for his wife, Elisabeth, a former Olympian who witnessed the brutal attack.

Team captain Tom Hoff says they first learned about the tragic incident during a team meeting. "That tragedy was felt deepest by the Bachman family, but it also touched both the men's and women's teams at USA volleyball. It touched the whole USOC, the whole U.S. delegation," Tom says. "We did have [a] meeting and said to the guys, 'We don't know a lot, but we know one thing, [which] is that Hugh has put so much of his time and energy and passion in the last four years and he wants us to go out there and play the volleyball that he's trained us to do.' That's what we just focused on."
Oprah talks to Tom Hoff.

Fueled by emotion, the U.S. men's volleyball team began an incredible run—winning every match in their coach's absence. Coach McCutcheon eventually returned to lead his team to Olympic gold.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach McCutcheon and his family," Oprah says.

Before hitting the court, Tom says the team always had Coach McCutcheon's family in their thoughts. "There was a lot of emotional and a lot of, you'd say, spiritual energy that you felt from the family," he says. "We just wanted to go out there and try to use that to propel us, and go out there and play for the gold medal."
Dara Torres

At age 41, Dara Torres is a swimming phenomenon. In the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games, Dara made waves as the oldest U.S. swimmer to ever win gold. Since then, Dara became the mother of a little girl named Tessa—and trained her way back for her fifth Olympic Games.

While in Beijing, Dara battled a painful shoulder injury—and competitors 20 years her junior—but it didn't stop her winning spirit. She seized her Olympic moment and won a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle, missing gold by just one one-hundredth of a second. "You can't even blink that fast," Dara says.

After the race, Dara says she wondered what she could have done better. "I called my coach who was watching in the hospital, and he said, 'You know, Dara, I watched your race five times. There's really nothing else you could have done,'" she says. "But I keep thinking, 'Yes, there had to have been something!'"
Oprah talks to Dara Torres.

Dara has a perfect body and amazing strength, but Oprah says she only envies one thing. "I envy your calories," Oprah says.

When it comes to eating, Dara says she could rival even Michael Phelps' impressive intake. "I think the only reason why I want to keep swimming is so I can keep eating like that," Dara says. "I had a nice 16-ounce steak last night and dessert and potatoes and everything."

Although countless media reports made reference to Dara being the oldest swimmer in Beijing, she says it didn't phase her. "It actually made me feel young," she says. "When I'm in the water, the water doesn't know your age. So who cares how old you are, right?"

Does Dara have another Olympics in her? "I kind of want to keep going a little bit," she says. "I don't know, we have world championships. We'll see...never say never."

Regardless of whether Dara decides to take on another four years of competitive swimming, her top priority is always balancing work and home life. "I think I found a good balance with being a mom and being able to do what I love to do," she says. "All these mothers out here are my role models."
Oprah talks to Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.

California girls Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh left their opponents in the sand when they took home their second gold medal in Beijing.

Although they were locked in fierce competition, Misty says she and Kerri still had a blast. "That's why we're out there. You enjoy the sport," she says. "It's about being exciting. Seeing the faces on the fans after we win."

Even in the heat of competition, the dynamic duo says they always feel the spirit of their fans. "The energy totally helps. Especially when you're exhausted and you're hot, you feed off the energy," Kerri says.

Just because these Olympic Games are over doesn't mean Misty's ready to settle down. She's bringing her determination to a brand new arena—Dancing with the Stars! "I'm going to trade in my bikini for dancing shoes," Misty says.
Bryan Clay, Olympic decathlon winner

The winner of the Olympic Games decathlon is often called the world's greatest athlete. It's a grueling two-day, 10-sport endurance contest and the ultimate test of wills—a test that gold medal winner Bryan Clay passed with flying colors.

Bryan, one of the smallest American athletes to compete, jumped, threw, and ran his way to glory, taking home his first-ever gold medal!
Oprah talks to Sanya Richards.

Another golden moment that will go down in Olympic Games history is the powerful women's 4x400 relay run by Olympians Allyson Felix, Monique Henderson, Mary Wineberg and anchor Sanya Richards.

During the final stretch, Sanya barley edged out her Russian competitor to take home the gold. Sanya says she found inspiration by thinking about how hard she and her teammates worked to get to Beijing. "I told them before the race, put me in striking distance," she says. "I was going to definitely bring it home."

What gave Sanya that extra burst of last-minute energy? "When you run for yourself, it's difficult," she says. "When you have three other ladies before you and when you have the USA jersey on, you're running for something so much bigger," she says.

Monique agrees. "You just want to run your heart out and represent," she says.

Overall, the track and field team brought home 23 medals. "I'm so happy to be on the team that was so prepared and so confident [that] we brought home the gold," Allyson says.
David Cook performs.

Oprah says she couldn't be more honored to be sharing the stage with Team USA™. "You make us all want to stand taller. You make us proud," Oprah says. "Thank you for representing our country and bringing home the gold, the silver, the bronze. Your hearts ... Your spirit of triumph. We thank you."

Also on hand to honor these inspiring Olympians is 2008 American Idol winner David Cook. David's here to perform one of the signature songs of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Time of My Life.
United Airlines flew the Olympic athletes to Chicago.

To bring more than 175 athletes to Chicago, we teamed up with someone who has experience. United Airlines has been flying Olympians around the world for decades. For Oprah's season premiere, United flew in our special guests from 60 different cities in 30 different states.