While the eyes of the world were glued on London for the games of the 30th Olympiad, the eyes of local children were trained on Olympic greatness a few feet away Friday at the Fairfield Public Library.
Two-time gold medalist and soccer superstar Kristine Lilly, 40, formerly of Wilton, held a crowd rapt as she shared her Olympic experiences and her passion for sports. She also circulated through the crowd of more than 200 people one of her gold medals, which she won in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and a silver medal that she earned at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
"I got to hold both," said Caroline Buck, 7.
"She was actually in the Olympics so it was really cool," said Megan Buck, 11, Caroline's sister.
"It was the first time I was seeing someone from TV in real life. I've never seen a famous soccer player before," said Austin Saldanha, 7, who used to play soccer, "but now I'm playing baseball."
Molly Smith, 8, said it was exciting to meet an Olympic athlete and to hold Olympic medals. "I was just thinking it's a good memory I can keep. I can tell all my friends, and it's the Olympics and you're holding the gold medal," said Molly, who has played soccer since she was 3. "That's a big dream I have," Molly said, to be in the Olympics.
"It's important for kids to have dreams," Lilly said, adding that it's also important for them to read. Lilly was asked to be part of the closing ceremonies of the Fairfield Library's summer reading "Olympics" program, and she placed bronze, silver and gold medals around the neck of 65 children named Victorious Visitors for the number of times they came to the library on their summer vacation.
Lilly knows something about feeling the weight of medals around her neck. She is one of the most decorated female athletes in U.S. history. According to her website, Lilly has scored 130 goals in her career, second only to Mia Hamm in U.S. history; in 2004 she became the fifth player in world history to score 100 international goals; she played in five FIFA Women's World Cups -- the only woman to do so, and she competed in three Olympic games, bringing home two gold medals and a silver.
"Not everyone can get a gold, a silver or a bronze," said Lilly, who was accompanied by her daughter Sidney. She talked about the level of training it takes to even compete for an Olympic medal and what athletes have to do to get to that level.
Mary Sorhus, head of the library's Children's Department, shared some of the highlights of Lilly's lengthy career with the crowd. Sorhus said Lilly played in 352 international games during her 23-year career with the national team. Sorhus also announced that Lilly ran in the 2012 Boston Marathon.
Lilly was inducted into the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame this summer, just months after Lilly retired from the game as a member of the Women's Professional Soccer team, Boston Breakers.
"I never saw a real soccer player before," said Sana Mohammad, 10.
McKenna Hedman, 10, was grateful for the moment when Lilly placed a medal around her neck, but she was hoping to show the famous Olympian a photograph taken almost a decade ago when her mother, Jill Hedman, worked at Lilly's soccer camp. It shows a 10-month-old McKenna in Lilly's arms.
"You were brushed by greatness," said Jill Bebey, of Fairfield.
All the children felt that way Friday, and Sorhus said that was her goal. "The Olympics is inspiring, and I wanted to bring an Olympic athlete to the library to share her story and inspire the kids of Fairfield," she said.
Meg Barone is a freelance writer.