NEW YORK -- It’s official: There are 100 days until the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. From July 27 - Aug. 12, more than 500 U.S. athletes will compete throughout England for a chance at Olympic gold and a new set of Olympic memories will be ingrained in the hearts of Team USA fans.
To mark the 100-day countdown, the U.S. Olympic team invaded Times Square on April 18. More than 75 Olympians, Paralympians and hopefuls gathered in New York City to celebrate the benchmark with sport demonstrations, autograph signings, the unveiling of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s “Raise Our Flag” initiative and much more.
Among the athletes in Times Square were several Olympic legends, including high jumper Dick Fosbury, diver Greg Louganis and gymnast Shannon Miller, who took the time to share with TeamUSA.org their thoughts on the athletes hoping to follow in their footsteps and compete in London.
In the mid-1960s, high school student Dick Fosbury found the then-prevalent straddle method too complicated, so he decided to attempt his own high jump methods. By his senior year of high school, Fosbury settled on jumping over the bar backwards, head first.
That method became known as the "Fosbury Flop" and completely revolutionized the sport. Fosbury earned Olympic gold at the Mexico City 1968 Games using his original method. By the mid-1970s, the majority of high jumpers were using the Fosbury Flop.
More than 40 years after winning his gold, Fosbury is still very involved in both his sport and the U.S. Olympic movement.
“The Olympic Games changed my life forever,” Fosbury said. “I had a peak performance at the Games and I’ve learned over all these years that once you’re an Olympian, you’re always an Olympian.
“Today, I work with kids, teaching them how to high jump, talking to them about success and failure, because it’s those experiences that create the value of Olympism, and I’m very proud to be part of Team USA and to represent our country around the world and across the country.”
He has complete confidence that U.S high jumpers Chaunte Lowe and Jesse Williams will walk away from the London Games with medals of their own. Lowe is the 2012 indoor world champion and Williams the 2011 world champion. Both were in Times Square to demonstrate their sport.
“They’re fantastic,” Fosbury said of Lowe and Williams. “They’ve both been to the Olympic Games. Jesse hopes to improve on his performance and because he’s won the world championships he’s my favorite to do well. I just hope those guys have a good day, both he and Chaunte, to perform well and have their best performance that they can.”
Greg Louganis is the most successful U.S. Olympic diver in history and arguably one of the best-known divers in the world. A four-time Olympian, Louganis earned silver on the platform at his first Games in 1976. He dominated men’s diving at the Los Angeles 1984 Games and Seoul 1988 Games, winning the springboard and platform events at both Olympics.
Today, Louganis is still highly involved in the sport, serving as an athlete mentor for USA Diving’s Olympic hopefuls. The U.S. came away from Beijing with zero diving medals, while China took 11, but Louganis believes that the current U.S. athletes are very capable of medaling in London.
“We have the talent,” Louganis said. “I think the biggest key is to get the coaches and the managers on board. I know that USA Diving is getting a lot of pressure for results. Ultimately, the athletes don’t have control over that -- they don’t have control over the judges or any of that. What they do have control over is their performance.
“In the Olympic Games, it’s a very unique event, it’s a media circus. Anything can happen. But, hopefully, they can be prepared if the door opens and they can be successful.”
The United States is showing a lot of promise leading into London; in the first three World Series meets of the year the team has claimed a total of seven medals. Louganis names David Boudia, Troy Dumais, Kristian Ipsen, Cassidy Krug, Christina Loukas and Nick McCrory as his top U.S. divers to watch.
Leading up to U.S. Olympic Trials, Louganis will be at several training camps to mentor athletes and prepare them for the Games.
“That’s what it’s all about, building those relationships and building their confidence. They can text me, they can call me and say, ‘Greg, what do you think?’ or ‘I’m lost, what are your thoughts?’ When you get to the Olympic Games, you know who the top divers are, you know who should be in the medals but, when it comes down to it, it’s who keeps it together mentally.”
Shannon Miller is the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history. She has achieved the type of success that some dare not dream of, winning nine world championship medals, including all-around gold in 1993 and 1994.
At the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, Miller won silver in the all-around and beam, and bronze in the team event, uneven bars and floor. Four years later, she won Olympic gold in the team event and on beam.
Miller is expecting the USA Gymnastics teams to find impressive success in London, even the men, who have been working their way toward the top of the world stage in the past several years.
“The men look incredible,” Miller said. “We have, I think, the strongest team I’ve seen in my generation. It is amazing and Danell Leyva is going to be an incredible leader for that team, as well as John Orozco. It’ll be interesting to see if Jon Horton is back on the team. I think he can definitely add some leadership skills and they have every opportunity to make it into the top three spots this year.
“[The 2008 experience] was a tremendous step for the men winning that bronze medal. It might as well have been gold for them because it was that exciting. It was a great underdog story and now this year they truly do believe it’s possible.”
Miller stressed the fact that having a five-person team instead of the seven-person teams when she competed, or even the six-person teams seen in 2004 and 2008, makes it imperative that the men can excel on four, or even six, events instead of specializing in one or two.
The same goes for the women. Miller believes that, with one or two exceptions, all the United States women chosen for the team should be all-around gymnasts who can contribute on all four events.
“I think McKayla Maroney is probably the only one that can get away with that. She competes all four events, but vault sets her apart so far from the rest of the pack that you almost have to have her on the team. ... I think they have to be all-around gymnasts like Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman. You have to have the whole package.”
For Miller, there are no shoe-ins or favorites for the Olympic team at this point. In such an unpredictable sport, it will come down to how the top athletes perform at a series of events that includes the Secret U.S. Classic next month and Visa Championships and Olympic Trials in June.
Whoever is named to that exclusive Olympic team, one thing is for sure: The United States women’s team will have a good chance to earn its first Olympic gold since Miller and her ‘Magnificent Seven’ teammates in 1996.
“I think we saw at worlds last year, we had this young team going in and they bring home the gold, so, going in to the Olympic Games, it’s theirs to lose at this point,” Miller said. “Not to say that they don’t have tough competition from Russia or China, but they are No. 1 going in to London.”