Key Biscayne: Venus Williams eagerly looks forward to the London Olympics, and not just because she wants another gold medal. Williams also collects Olympic pins, and has souvenirs from each of the Summer Games going back to 2000. "I pretty much hide them around the house to the point where I can't even find them. So then it takes me a few months to figure out where I hid them. They're my pride and joy," Williams says.
"I have an Olympic pin holder set. You unzip it and you open it, and I have 2000 and 2004 in there. Strange enough, I haven't put 2008 in there. I need to get cracking." Indeed, as the 2012 Games approach, Williams has work to do. She must improve her ranking to qualify, with the teams to be chosen in early June after the French Open. There's a lot of tennis to be played before the Olympics, including the French Open and Wimbledon. But Williams — a three-time gold medalist — says her focus on the London Games is what motivates her these days to practice.
"My goal is to peak for the Olympics. When I don't want to get up or, you know, I want to do something different, then I think about the Olympics and how if I don't do the right thing I might not be there. That keeps me on the straight and narrow," she said. Williams' ranking fell to 134th because she has been idle for most of the past seven months after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain. She climbed to 87th by winning four matches at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne before a quarter-final loss last week.
In the past, the cut-off for making the Olympics in singles has been around 68th. The former No 1 and seven-time Grand Slam champion pretends not to monitor her ranking status. "That's like such a rookie move to calculate points," she says. "I try not to do that, but secretly I probably am." The clay season began on Monday, which means Williams must accumulate some wins on her worst surface. She's scheduled to play this week in Charleston, SC — her first clay tournament since May 2010 — but was non-committal about her plans beyond that.
Williams says she wants to become a four-time Olympian because she enjoys everything about the games, from trading pins with fans to rubbing elbows with the world's greatest athletes. The site of this year's tennis event — Wimbledon — adds to the appeal. "It's just the ultimate level in sports," she says. "It's about participating. It's about having that experience. It's about having the honour to be good enough to be there. It's just, you know, the pinnacle of sports."
She has done well on the big stage, winning so many gold medals she struggles to keep track. "Three — one in Sydney and two in Beijing," she says. "No, wait. I want to get that right. Two in Sydney and one in Beijing." That's correct: She won the gold medal in singles in 2000 at Sydney, and teamed with her sister Serena to win the gold in doubles at Sydney and again in 2008 at Beijing. She also competed in singles in 2004 at Athens, losing in the third round. Williams hopes to team with Serena in doubles again and also play singles. Mixed doubles — a new Olympic event this year — is probably out. "I used to think about mixed. But that's a lot of tennis, she said."