SANDY — Ryan Millar helped Team USA to a gold medal during an emotional Summer Olympics.
Being 6-foot, 8-inches tall makes it difficult to swing a golf club, as he did during a one-on-one interview with KSL Golf at River Oaks golf course in Sandy.
But it makes it easier for the former BYU men’s volleyball star to lead the United States to an Olympic gold medal, as he did at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, starting every match and totaling 66 kills, 26 blocks and five aces.
“I have to stay down or I will hit it thin,” Millar joked before he teed off.
A native of Alpine, Millar played professionally in Italy, Turkey and the FIVB World League while also starring for the U.S. men’s national team. He also went on to represent the USA in 2000 and 2004 before clinching the gold medal in 2008.
The team was among the favorites in 2000, but didn’t win a single match.
“We just didn’t play well,” Millar said. “The atmosphere was incredible. You could feel the energy in the stadium when you walked in.”
After no-showing in 2000, Team USA rallied to place fourth in 2004.
“When we won our first match, one of my teammates said it felt like a gorilla was taken off our backs, since we didn’t win a match in 2000,” Millar said.
Then came 2008 in Beijing — an oft-criticized Olympics that included several safety concerns.
Two days before their first match, head coach Hugh McCutcheon’s father-in-law was stabbed and killed in the streets.
The team played most of the tournament without McCutcheon, who was attending to his family.
"This tragedy has been horrible," Millar told KSL Sports at the time. "It's put a dark cloud over the whole Olympic games."
In the gold medal match against Brazil, Millar opened the winning set that led to teammate Clay Stanley’s match-winning kill. He finished the tournament fourth among all blockers, averaging 0.79 blocks per set.
Millar’s collegiate career included a national championship in 1999, the Cougars’ first-ever NCAA volleyball title. He returned to BYU as an assistant coach in 2006 and took over as co-interim head coach following Tom Peterson’s sudden resignation in August.
A strong candidate to take the job permanently, Millar removed his name from consideration after one season at BYU, and he returned to the U.S. men’s national team to prepare for the Olympics.
But even after an Olympic journey and traveling the world with a pro volleyball career, Millar looks back on his time in Provo with fondness.
“Winning the national championship at BYU was phenomenal,” Millar said. “It was almost unfair, we were so good.”