October 13, 2020
Catching up with two-time Olympic gold medalist Katrina McClain
Former Georgia All-American coaching in Charleston, S.C.
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There were plenty of power forwards the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association could have named its annual award after for the top collegiate player at that position. The honor would be given to Katrina McClain, who was a two-time All-American at the University of Georgia in the 1980s before winning two Olympic gold medals and a bronze en route to enshrinement in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
These days McClain, 55, can be seen in her hometown of Charleston, S.C., working at Fort Dorchester High School as a career coach and assistant coach for the varsity girls’ basketball team.
“Some of the players don’t know much about me,” McClain said by phone, “but some of them recognize who I am, and that helps, knowing you can get better outlets with the players and more respect.”
During the pandemic, however, the 6-foot-1 McClain has been spending most of her time instructing her 17-year-old daughter, who is a junior in high school and searching for a hoops scholarship. McClain also has two sons, one who is a freshman defensive end on the Georgia Tech football team, and the other who is a junior on the Benedict College basketball team. She also works with a foundation in summer camps that build self esteem.
As a player, McClain led the Lady Dawgs to the 1985 NCAA title game and was the 1987 National Player of the Year, scoring 25 points per game. A year after graduating, she won the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, then followed with a bronze at Barcelona in 1992, before reclaiming the gold in Atlanta in 1996.
“The first experience, it was awesome,” McClain said of the Seoul Games. “You can’t explain the feeling. The opening ceremony is always my favorite, and we rolled out there together, awestruck. In 1992, coming back, it gives you that chill. We made it that much exciting. In 1996, it was the ultimate for our friends and family to see us play in our backyard. It was awesome.”
McClain is immortalized in Olympic tradition, being selected as one of eight athletes to carry the Olympic flag into Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Stadium. This was just moments before longtime teammate Teresa Edwards would read the athlete’s oath and the iconic Muhammad Ali torch lighting.
“It was just a beautiful experience, I even ran with the torch with Teresa Edwards,” McClain added. “I can’t compare it because everything is so different now.”
Her international resume also boasts FIBA World Championship gold medals in 1986 and 1990, plus a bronze in 1994. She won silver at the 1985 World University Games, gold at the 1987 Pan-American Games, then bronze at the 1991 Pan-Am Games in Havana, Cuba. She also has two gold medals from the Goodwill Games, during an era when the fall of the Soviet Union was reconstructing the global sports landscape.
“Knowing the history would have helped to appreciate it more,” McClain said of defeating the Soviets in the 1986 World Championship final at Moscow. “We didn’t really grasp what was going on. Winning, playing against really stiff competition, with teams like Russia, Cuba and China (were all great memories). Every time you played them, you knew you were going to get some tough competition. Back then, there was few cameras and TV exposure, so we just had the heart to play, and we just wanted to play.”
McClain never played in the WNBA, but did in the American Basketball League for the Atlanta Glory, following stints in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture, Italy, Spain, and Turkey, where she tore her meniscus playing for Galatasaray shortly after the Atlanta Olympics. At that time, she couldn’t have anticipated the heights to which the sport would grow.
“I think the game has changed,” she added. “(Today’s players) have a lot of zeal to play the sport. There are so many outside distractions, and we didn’t have to engulf in any of that.”
Going forward, McClain said she would like to continue working with young girls in aspects of their lives outside of basketball and would like to pursue speaking engagements.
“Poor choices need to be corrected,” she said. “I want to be more of a role model and to see these young ladies develop. You want to be more specific in what you want to address.”
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.