WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Olympic table tennis players Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang were playing Paralympic table tennis player Tahl Leibovitz in an intense battle of, well, table tennis. Platform diver Brittany Viola joined the track team for an epic dance party. And kayaker Caroline Queen was showing off her air hockey skills, defeating canoeist Casey Eichfeld.
It could only mean one thing: Team USA had been reunited. And it felt so good.
At the BP Congressional Reception, held in Union Station, the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams were together for the first time since both teams were named.
“We at BP are so proud of Team USA and of the many friends and families that help make Olympic and Paralympic dreams come true, and we are honored in our partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee and many athletes in this room to help fuel the future for our team,” Executive Vice President of BP North America David Nagel said.
Nagel considered himself “one of the lucky ones” who had the privilege of watching Team USA enter the Games twice – once at Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 27 and again at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, Aug. 29.
“Thank you, athletes, for representing your country so well in London. We’re so proud of you,” U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said, before the “Thank You, America” video played (watch it here). The video was a tribute to the entire “team behind the team,” everyone from coaches to parents to teachers and employers who helped the athletes of Team USA reach the greatest stage in the world.
Thursday evening also marked the first time many Olympians saw their teammates since the Olympic Games ended more than one month ago. For the Paralympians, it had been only four days since the Paralympic Games came to a close but they were equally excited to hang out with their fellow athletes.
“I’m still on a high from London because I only got back three days ago,” Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long said. “It was phenomenal and it’s great to come back and see my teammates who I’ve missed.”
Long earned an astounding eight medals in London, including five gold, to bring her career total to 17 Paralympic medals. Long said she has enjoyed the short time amount of time she’s had at home so far, waking up without an alarm and indulging in sweets such as brownies.
While Long intends to eventually return to swimming and compete in her fourth Games in Rio de Janeiro, for now she is enjoying the post-Games fun, which included a visit to the White House on Friday.
“It’s such an honor and I’m so glad they have this event for Olympians and Paralympians because we really are one team, so it’s so great to see them,” Long said.
Olympic swimmer Elizabeth Beisel also has missed her teammates – or rather, her family – since returning to “the grind of things” one month ago.
“It’s not even that long but it feels like forever!” Beisel realized.
“[London] was by far the best trip I’ve ever been on and I’ve been on a lot of trips,” Beisel said. “We had so much fun, you can see it through the 'Call Me Maybe' video. It was like we’re a family, that’s why it’s so exciting to be back here because we get to see everybody.”
Beisel, who finished fourth and fifth in her races at the Beijing Games, earned silver in the 400m IM and bronze in the 200m backstroke in London, before returning to her Rhode Island hometown to a warm welcome.
“I got picked up from the airport in a limo and they took me to my high school, and there was like 1,000 people waiting for me on the football field.
“I had no idea this was going to happen so I walked out of the limo and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was so overwhelmed but it was so cool to see how much support I was getting from home, because I live in Florida [for college] so it was good to see how much people in Rhode Island actually care about swimming.”
Track star Sanya Richards-Ross, on the other hand, has not even had the time to return home since London. After earning Olympic gold medals in the 400m and 4x400m relay, Richards-Ross traveled to Budapest, Stockholm and Zurich to continue competing, and then made her post-Olympic media rounds in Los Angeles and New York City. Her reception in the States has been “overwhelming.”
“One of the things about the Olympics is the popularity has definitely grown and so many people watched it,” Richards-Ross said. “I literally can’t take two steps without somebody saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re the Olympian.’ Everyone was so inspired, not just by myself but by my teammates. It’s such a great feeling to know you’ve done that for the country.”
Richards-Ross had not seen many of her teammates since the Games ended, and she was loving reuniting with them and reminiscing on their impressive performance in London, where the U.S. track and field team earned 29 medals.
“It was phenomenal, especially on the women’s side. With it being the 40th anniversary of Title IX, it just seems so fitting that we’d have such a great showing to show how far we’ve come. It was great for me to be a part of that and I was very inspired by my teammates.”