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'Summer of Gold' podcast documents impact of 1996 Summer Olympics on American sports, culture

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Sue Bird believes her life would be very different if it wasn't for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

But the five-time gold medalist didn't make her Olympic debut until 2004.

On the first episode of "Summer of Gold," a new documentary podcast, Bird discusses the impact she believes the 1996 Games had on the future of women's sports and her life trajectory.

“I don't think there's a WNBA without the ‘96 Olympics," Bird said. "Without a WNBA, without professional sports in the U.S., I'm not sitting here. Who knows what I'm doing, but I'm not sitting here talking about these things. Seriously. I really believe that."

The logo for "Summer of Gold" a podcast presented by TOGETHXR, a sports and culture lifestyle company founded by a group of female athletes including Sue Bird.
The logo for "Summer of Gold" a podcast presented by TOGETHXR, a sports and culture lifestyle company founded by a group of female athletes including Sue Bird.

Across six episodes, "Summer of Gold" celebrates the 25th anniversary of the 1996 Olympics and the impact it had on American sports, culture and female athletes. The series is being released by Dear Media in partnership with sports and culture media platform TOGETHXR. Bird and USWNT forward Alex Morgan serve as co-producers.

TOGETHXR was founded by Bird, Morgan, Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel and Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim. The media and commerce company is targeted at Gen Z and Millennial women as a place where "culture, activism, lifestyle, sports and badassery converge."

"Summer of Gold" is hosted by retired Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, who navigates listeners through sound bytes to piece together the impact the 1996 Games had on women in sports. Episode one, "Be It. See it." features Bird, sportswriter Molly Yanity, retired U.S. gymnast Dominique Moceanu, TOGETHXR chief content officer Jessica Robertson and former USWNT players Julie Foudy and Briana Scurry.

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A particular focus in the first episode is the 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics team, now known as the Magnificent Seven, that won gold. It was the year Kerri Strug captured the eyes of the world when she performed vault on an injured ankle to secure first for the Americans.

"I mean, that is just an iconic sports moment," Yanity said in the episode. "Not, you know, women's sports moment, not Olympic sports moment. That is an iconic sports moment."

Strug and her teammates became instant celebrities, laying the foundation for a U.S. gymnastics dynasty that still lives on today through athletes like Simone Biles and Tokyo all-around gold medalist Suni Lee. Moceanu was just 14, the youngest member of the team, when she competed alongside Strug for that gold medal.

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"We felt like rock stars," Moceanu said. "I mean, there was a crowd of fans outside of every single stop. We had fans coming into our hotels that we didn't even know and they would wait for us."

Kwan also explains the stardom that the 1996 USWNT was propelled to, with help from Foudy and Scurry. Despite the gold-medal game not being broadcast on NBC, the USWNT's 2-1 victory over China was played in front of 76,000 fans and created a firestorm of support for the team in ensuing years.

Other episodes of "Summer of Gold" will also feature Team USA basketball player Sheryl Swoopes, gymnast Shannon Miller and more. You can listen on Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music.

Contact Emily Leiker at eleiker@usatoday.com or on Twitter @emleiker

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympics: 'Summer of Gold' podcast documents impact of 1996 Games