Michelle Dusserre, a 1984 silver medalist in gymnastics, lit the Torch at the Opening Ceremony.
“Have any of you ever fenced before?” Jimmy Moody, a fencer for Team USA, asked the 50 schoolchildren lined up in the fencing gym at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I have!” one young boy said, his arm shooting straight up.
“Oh, really? Where?” Moody asked, skeptical that a seven-year-old would have fencing experience.
“On the Wii!”
“Okay,” Moody conceded, “that counts.”
Moody’s demonstration of epee fencing techniques was just one of five Olympic sports local children participated in as part of the United States Olympic Committee’s celebration of Olympic Day on Monday.
The week-long Olympic Day celebrations at the Colorado Springs OTC began Monday with Michelle Dusserre, who earned her silver medal in gymnastics at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, addressing the children who sat surrounding the Olympic Torch.
The children were divided into groups of 50 under the flag of a recent or upcoming Olympic Games: Salt Lake, Beijing, Rio, Vancouver, and, of course, London. Group leaders passed the flag around the group, as each child took a turn as the flag bearer for their country.
Naila Jade, 7, had the chance to carry the flag for the United States, and the experience was one of her favorites. “I liked walking up the steps with the flag, but the dueling was probably my favorite part,” said Jade of Moody’s fencing demonstration.
Dusserre told the children the Olympic movement is not all about winning gold medals, but representing the values it stands for. “You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to live the Olympic ideals,” she said.
Dusserre spoke of the passion, vision, and action required to achieve an Olympic dream, but also to achieve the ideals of the Olympic movement: fairplay, perseverance, respect, and sportsmanship.
Olympic Day is celebrated around the world on June 23 each year to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games. On June 23, 1894, Baron Pierre de Coubertin began working towards the revival of the ancient tradition in an effort to globalize sport and foster international cooperation through the Games.
Two years later, the International Olympic Committee was created and the first modern Games was held in Athens, Greece. Today, over 160 National Olympic Committees hold events celebrating Olympic Day.
The U.S. Olympic Committee decided to host Olympic Day celebrations across the country starting in 2009. That first year, 177 events were held to inaugurate Olympic Day in the U.S.
In 2011, the numbers had climbed with 311 cities in the United States held Olympic Day events for 100,000 participants and the involvement of 319 Olympians and Paralympians. With four million participants globally in 2011, the numbers for the 2012 Olympic year events are expected to well surpass that.
Over 650 events are expected in 2012, double the previous year’s total. This will be the first time the United States has held Olympic Day in an Olympic year and will look to Olympic Day as a kickoff celebration to the Games, which begin July 27.
The International Olympic Committee outlines the three pillars of move, learn, and discover at the core of their Olympic Day mission. With seventy percent of participants in 2011 under the age of 24, the movement looks to instill the values at a young age.
Danny Sweeney, who led a group of children around the OTC, said of the day: “Everyone is eager to carry the flag, which is great to see, and you can just feel the spirit of the Olympics and the Olympic movement.”
Nick Wright, 10, said his favorite part of Olympic Day was practicing a throw on Paralympian judoka Myles Porter. “I want to try that on my brother!” he said of the judo techniques.
Porter and the rest of the athletes entertained questions from the children on what it was like to train, their daily routine, the most interesting places they had traveled to, and what it is like to be an Olympic or Paralympic athlete.
“It’s great to have the Olympians give the tours and show the kids what it’s all about to be an Olympian,” Sweeney said of the athletes demonstrating both their sport and the Olympic values.
Seven-year-old Virginia McDaniel said her favorite part of Olympic Day was the lighting of the Torch: “I really liked when they lit the statue on fire. That was really cool.”
When asked if she would watch the 2012 Games in London, she quickly responded no, before adding, “My mom says it’s past my bedtime. But if it wasn’t, I would really watch everything! I love the Olympics!”