Since 2011, Coca-Cola has partnered with the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete Career Program to provide Olympians like Tumua Anae with a hands-on internship experience at its global headquarters in Atlanta and around the world.

For the 12 months, Anae – the goalkeeper on the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team that won the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games – has worked with the company’s worldwide sports marketing team to scale the internship program to markets around the world. Currently, 16 Olympic athletes are supporting Coke teams in eight countries.

Why did the internship opportunity interest you?

It was a perfect fit. I was coming off my athletic career in 2014 and had done everything I wanted to do in sports. I went to university and won an Olympic gold medal. I felt like I had been able to do all the things I set out to do. I studied communications and journalism and always had an interest in staying close to sports and the Olympics, but more from a communications standpoint. When I saw the opportunity to apply for a marketing internship with Coke for the Olympics, it hit all of my passion points. I could stay close to sports, work for a great company and learn from the best in marketing. I knew it would be the perfect place for me to learn and grow outside the athletic arena, and that I could offer value to the company by sharing what I had experienced as an athlete.

What were your core responsibilities?

I was fortunate to have a hand in a lot of different projects, including expanding the Olympic internship program to more markets. Coca-Cola teams in Canada, New Zealand, China, Chile and Brazil have had Olympic interns, and I have been helping push more markets to activate this awesome opportunity.

I also led a project to provide Powerade Squeeze bottles to athletes who will compete in Rio, and had a hand in activations we’re planning for the 2016 Games. I worked closely with the IOC on a few of their programs like an internal health and wellness program called Get Fit. We provided them with Coca-Cola Misfit Shines, shirts and helped to organize some 2015 initiatives. Finally, I’ve been working closely with our teams to help to explain athletes’ perceptions and , connect our teams with the community of athletes we have built over time, and see how we might be able to better connect with athletes and the athletic community as a whole. Many Olympic athletes don't realize that Coca-Cola has been helping Olympians from all 205 NOCs for 87 years.

What did you learn during the experience? 

I have learned so much! I have grown professionally as well as personally. This was my first time in an office setting, so simply adapting to not being in a pool for six hours a day was something I learned to adjust to here. It has also been a huge learning curve to see how we manage partnerships with the IOC and FIFA. I have been able to be a part of the Olympics work as we created campaign ideas for Powerade and Coca-Cola, and I have appreciated seeing first-hand the process and passion that we put into these campaigns. I also learned so much more about the Olympic movement in my time at Coke… things I never knew as an athlete.

From sports to the world off the field of play, I knew I would miss my teammates and the close relationships you build through sports. What I have found here at Coke is another team striving to be the best marketers in the world, and I will appreciate these new, special relationships I have built through my new Olympics work.

What’s your greatest Olympic memory?

Tumua at opening ceremonies London

At opening ceremonies in London

I have two. My first was walking into opening ceremonies. It was a special moment for me to be able to hear the “USA” chants as we walked into Olympic Stadium in London and to be a part of something that I had loved and been inspired by since I was a little girl. The second was winning my gold medal and experiencing the medal ceremony. The thrill and adrenaline throughout the gold medal match, and then the immediate celebration with our team after we won, was something I will never forget. But the moment they give you your medal and you hear and watch them raise your country’s flag is something that still makes my eyes water and gives me goose bumps. You hear the national anthem a lot growing up, but for it to be played for you and your team with gold medals around your necks really brings a whole new meaning to the term national anthem. I was able to share the immediate moments afterwards with my family who got me there and supported this sometimes-crazy Olympic dream. That meant so much to me.

How did being an Olympic Gold Medalist prepare you for life after water polo?

Being an Olympic Gold Medalist didn’t necessarily make me a different person, but the process it took to achieve that goal made me more prepared in every aspect of my life. I know I am better able to work with others. After you spend your life on a team working to achieve a common goal, you become very good at managing relationships, agendas and personalities. I am a better leader and team player because of my water polo experience, and I handle adversity and pressure better because of sports. In preparing for the Olympics, you learn to manage emotions in some pretty big moments. Your teammates are depending on you, you’re being critiqued and watched very closely, and your mistakes are exposed to anyone watching.

I’m also better able to balance perspective and immediate results. As an athlete you are constantly expected to perform while preparing for an event that’s four years away. It’s a balancing act of long term and short term, which is difficult. I have learned to expect the best of myself while also enjoying the daily grind. In life after sports, you need to find that enjoyment in the everyday, too. There is also a responsibility to meet objectives so you are your best at the Olympics. And the same goes for work, you meet key points so that when deadlines approach, you are fully prepared.

Tumua with her sister Jordan

Tumua (right) with her sister, Jordan Moala

I also know how hard it is to be the best in the world at something. Making the Olympic team was certainly not easy, but winning a gold medal was even harder. What really interested me about working for Coke was the opportunity to work with the best in the world again. I knew once I had achieved the top of one mountain, I wanted to know what the top was like on the other mountain.

How do you describe water polo to those unfamiliar with the sport?

Everyone can understand water polo because it combines pieces of many other sports. It’s most similar to European handball in that there is a goalkeeper, and the way you throw and play are similar. Water polo is also similar to basketball because tactically the objective is the same: You have a center that runs your offense, you have a point, two wings and two flats that surround the center on perimeter. You run dives and picks and either try to feed the ball to the center or take the best shot from the perimeter. Defensively you either play zone to help protect the center, or a press to apply pressure. The goalie tries to block the ball and coordinate the defense. And it’s all in the water! You tread water the whole time and are tugged on by opposing players. You can only touch the ball with one hand at a time. That’s where the technical skill and endurance of swimming come in.

Do you still play? Are you still involved with the sport?

I still play for fun and have been helping coach through the Olympic Development Program with USA Water Polo. I hope to always stay involved in water polo because I feel that the sport has allowed me to do so many things, and I feel a responsibility to give back. I love to swim, and it’s wonderful exercise no matter your age, so I plan to swim ‘til I’m old and gray.


What’s next for you?

I’m returning to California. My husband is a member of the USA National Men’s Volleyball Team. He is still shooting for Rio and I will be returning to California to help support him in his Olympic dream. Because volleyball doesn’t have a professional league in the U.S., we will be in California until September and then off to play abroad in Europe, Asia, or somewhere else. And I’m expecting our first baby – a girl – in August, so I will be spending my more immediate time being a mommy, supporting my husband in his Olympic pursuits and looking forward to seeing the great Coke and Powerade work in Rio!