The 2004 Olympic Softball Team accepts their awards at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame induction ceremony presented by Allstate
CHICAGO -- While new heroes have emerged from the recent London Olympic Games, U.S. Olympic officials are also mindful of those who helped blaze the trail.
On a recent steamy summer evening, the U.S. Olympic community saluted 11 individuals and one team at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame induction ceremony presented by Allstate.
Honorees at Chicago’s downtown Harris Theater ranged from 1896 Olympian and first U.S. medal winner James Connolly to track coaching legend Ed Temple to more recent performers such as sprinter Gail Devers, swimming’s Gary Hall Jr. and the 2004 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic softball team.
“We look back with excitement and a great deal of reverence to honor those who paved the way and wowed the nation with their performances,” U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackman said. “(They) have helped and continue to help grow the Olympic movement and the Paralympic movement in the United States.”
It was an emotional night for the Class of 2012, with reactions ranging from broad smiles to even a few tears. But there was a universal sense of shared pride in achievements made individually, with a team, and for their country.
The event, televised nationally Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, had all the trappings of a Hollywood awards ceremony.
Streetlights outside the theater featured banners saluting the new class. Clad in formalwear, each inductee strode down a blue carpet toward the theater’s entry as they stopped for autographs and interviews before entering the blissfully air-conditioned hall.
On stage in the spacious nine-year-old venue were two glass panels with the each inductee’s name. Highlight films saluted the inductees, who were also personally introduced by a mentor, former coach, friend or relative.
Competitive days might have been long past, but so many looked trim and in shape. Hall, for example, looked capable of diving into a pool for a few competitive laps.
These days, many in the Class of 2012 have families and children, who shared in the proceedings.
Devers, clad in a striking black and silver formal dress, was accompanied by her two young daughters as she accepted her honor.
“It’s one of the greatest honors in the world,” said Devers, who not only excelled on the track but also successfully battled Graves disease. “I think of all the names in this esteemed class it makes me proud. I wore the USA on my chest proudly for five Olympic Games.”
Hall, who was introduced by his father, fellow Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Sr., credited many who helped on his path and also talked about secrets to success.
“It is attention to detail, small steps that takes us to great places,” said Hall Jr. “It’s true, I couldn’t be here without a lot of people. The view from up here is lovely.”
A longtime Tennessee State coach, Temple directly influenced women’s track and field through more than a half-dozen Games — including as head U.S. coach in 1960 and 1964 and assistant in 1984. He coached 40 women who eventually became Olympians, notably Wilma Rudolph.
“I’m very proud of 23 Olympic medals — 13 gold, six silver, four bronze,” Temple said.
Other inductees included multiple-medal winning Paralympian Jean Driscoll; three-time gold-medal-winning softball pitcher Lisa Fernandez; veteran soccer player and two-time gold medalist Kristine Lilly; 1996 decathlon champion Dan O’Brien; and 12-medal-winning swimmer Jenny Thompson.
Also honored were the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, saluted for his personal Olympic support and legislative advocacy, and James Easton, a former archer and USOC board member, for his work in the technological advance of sports equipment and for representing the ideals of the Olympic Movement.
Since the charter class was installed in 1993, the Hall of Fame has inducted 234 individuals including 88 individual Olympians, four Paralympians, nine teams and three coaches. Also inducted have been 15 special contributors and nine veterans.
There’s certainly worthy candidates to come from more recent Olympic Games in Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, Torino, Beijing and Vancouver.
And then there are stars who have emerged from London who will make their mark on athletics and society in years ahead.
There will be room for them, too.