Willie Banks has been an active participant in a program called Walk to London but from the rate of his travels these days, he’s probably flying as much as he is walking.
Banks, a three-time Olympian and the president of the U.S. Olympians Association, has participated in Walk to London events as far west as Tacoma, Wash., as far south as Dallas and this Saturday, will be as far as Washington, D.C. And following the event in the nation’s capital, Banks, an Olympic triple jumper, will hop a flight back west to Eugene, Ore., where the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for Track & Field will be held.
The Walk to London events began April 7 in Los Angeles, the site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, and run through this Saturday, which is designated as International Olympic Day, in Washington, D.C. Events held in about 20 cities across the United States have varied, with some including health fairs, sports demonstrations and appearances from Olympians and Paralympians.
For example, in April in Salt Lake City (host of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games), more than 6,500 people turned out to check out Olympic bobsleds and other Olympic memorabilia as the city held a half marathon race. In Tampa, Fla., fans wrote postcards that will be delivered to U.S. Olympic athletes competing this summer in London.
The one constant is that a walk is involved, and the goal is get as many people as possible to walk so that the total distance covered is at least 5,456 miles — the distance between Los Angeles and London, where the Games will kick off July 27.
“I have loved being at these events,” Banks said. “It’s been a great experience for all of the athletes so far. In Los Angeles, it was not only the walk, but there was volleyball and a Zumba stage and gymnastics exhibitions. It’s about getting kids interested in sports they may not have seen on TV. We’re encouraging healthy snacks, so kids can learn about healthy ways to take care of their bodies.
“This has been an opportunity for us to be visible, to spread the ideals of what Pierre de Coubertin (the founder of the modern Olympic Games) had in mind when he started the Olympic Movement, to promote Olympism and to do it for the pure love of sport.”
Among U.S. Olympians who have participated in the Walk to London event are Olympic champion swimmer Anne Cribbs, Olympic gold medalist high jumper Dick Fosbury, Olympic rowers John and Betsy Stillings and Olympic weightlifter Sammy Walker.
The event in Washington, which is being coordinated with three-time Olympic speed skater Nathaniel Mills, includes a walk and roller skating at RFK Stadium. Mills has combined the Walk to London campaign with a skating event called Skate of the Union. Another Walk to London event which will be held on International Olympic Day is set for Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, where the United States last played host to the Summer Games in 1996.
According to Mills, among the Olympians expected to attend the Washington Walk to London event are Olympic champion speed skater Shani Davis and several Washington-area athletes including Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Arlene Limas.
Mills visited the International Olympic Academy during the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games and said that raised his awareness of Olympism and much of the work he does today with DC Ice (Inner City Excellence), an organization he founded in Washington to encourage inner city youth to participate in skating programs, mostly at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena.
“I recognize the power of sport generally and the Olympic Movement particularly to break down barriers,” Mills said. “Our skating-based youth development program, DC-ICE, exemplifies the cultural diversity of the Olympic Movement.”
In addition to the Walk to London events, there will be numerous International Olympic Day events being held around the country. This year’s celebration, which is just 34 days away from the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, will feature more than 630 events in the United States.
Here is a brief list of some:
- Of course, one Olympic Day event will be held in Colorado Springs, the home of the headquarters for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Free sports clinics will be held for children at Memorial Park. Children will be taught the basics of sand volleyball and its role in the Olympic Games today. Other sports including soccer, rugby and triathlon will be included, along with a run to start the day.
- Four-time gold medalist swimmer John Naber will be moderating a panel discussion about the history of the Olympic Movement. Panelists expected to participate are two-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Bruce Furniss, Olympic silver medalist swimmer and world champion rower Betsy Mitchell and Ankur Poseria, who represented India in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The event will be held Friday evening at The Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, Calif.
- An Olympic Celebration Day will be held Saturday in Squaw Valley, Calif., the host city of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games. The day includes appearances by Olympic moguls skiing gold medalist Jonny Moseley and other local Olympians as well as a kids’ pentathalon in the resort’s base area.
- In partnership with the United States Olympic Committee and USA Cycling, USA BMX and its participating tracks are offering free racing in conjunction with Olympic Day. Locations of participating tracks can be found at www.usabmx.com. USA BMX tracks will be participating beginning Friday, June 22, through Sunday, July 1.
- Members of US Rowing’s Olympic team will be in West Windsor, N.J., on Sunday to celebrate Olympic Day with a 5K race and a meet-and-greet opportunity with members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.