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One Team, Together Stronger

By Brandon Penny | Sept. 24, 2012, 10 a.m. (ET)
Allyson Felix, Mary Carillo
Mary Carillo poses with Allyson Felix after Felix received the Olympic SportsWoman of the Year honor

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – “One Team –  Together Stronger” was the theme of the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly.  And it was a motto that host Mary Carillo repeated throughout the night at Friday’s U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly Reception and Awards Dinner.

“We are one team, together stronger, and tonight we celebrate the solidarity of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family that makes up that truly special team,” said Carillo.

An 11-time Olympic broadcaster who played tennis professionally from 1977-1980, Carillo proved to be the perfect host, sharing her admiration for Team USA as well as her personal stories from  the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Carillo was joined in London by her 20-year-old daughter Rachel, a college volleyball player, who was working as an intern for NBC at her first-ever Games.

“Rachel has been with me to many sporting events, all over the world, but the 17 days in London truly inspired and transformed her.  I want to thank you all for that,” Carillo said.

Carillo kicked off the evening by acknowledging Team USA’s record-breaking medal haul from the Olympic Games.  The 104 medals earned in London was more than any other country at the Games, as was the collection of 46 gold medals and 29 silver medals.  The United States also earned 98 medals at the Paralympic Games, finishing fourth in the total medal count.

“In London, our team rose to the occasion and sent a clear message to the world: The United States of America is far from finished in raising its competitive game to new heights, and stay tuned for more in the future,” Larry Probst, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said during a keynote address earlier in the day.

The first award of the night was granted to a high school athlete who was recognized for the values by which she lives and plays.  Meghan Vogel received the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award, presented by BP, for her heroic act during a Division III girls’ state track meet in Ohio last June.  Vogel was rounding the final curve of her last race when she saw a competitor collapse 20 yards from the finish line.  Vogel selflessly stopped to help the other runner to her feet and the two crossed the finish line together.

George Block, a retired Olympic swim coach and former high performance director for USA Pentathlon, and Community Rowing Inc. were selected as the individual and program Rings of Gold honorees for 2011-2012.

Then came the six awards that perhaps best highlighted how the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family is “One Team – Together Stronger,” the Athlete and Team of the Year Awards.  The U.S. rowing women’s eight crew was the first to receive its award for Olympic Team of the Year, which was well-deserved after they earned gold in London but even more so for keeping alive a seven-year winning streak at the world and Olympic level.  The rowers could not attend the ceremony, simply because they are “one team,” and that night the team was supporting coxswain Mary Whipple at her wedding.

The Paralympic Team of the Year award was granted to the men’s quad doubles wheelchair tennis team of Nick Taylor and David Wagner.  Taylor and Wagner earned gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and have dominated the competition since quad doubles was introduced at the 2004 Games, earning every Paralympic gold medal.

The honoree for Olympic SportsMan of the Year was perhaps the easiest choice for the selection committee to make.  That award went to swimmer Michael Phelps, who earned six medals in London (four gold, two silver), which brought his career total to 22 Olympic medals, solidifying his name in the history books as the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Phelps, who could not attend due to a prior commitment with his foundation, said in a video acceptance speech, “This has been the best career I could have ever imagined.”

Eighteen-year-old Raymond Martin was honored as Paralympic SportsMan of the Year for earning gold in all four of his events at his Paralympic debut in London.  The track & field star’s events included the 100m, which marked the first gold medal of the Games for Team USA in track & field; the 200m, an event where Martin owns the world record; the 400m and the 800m.

Another track & field star, Allyson Felix, was awarded the Olympic SportsWoman of the Year honor.  Felix earned three gold medals in London, including her first-ever individual Olympic gold in the 200m.  She became the first U.S. woman to earn three gold medals at a single Games since Florence Griffith-Joyner did so in 1988 and, in 2011, Felix earned four world championship medals, tying Carl Lewis for 10 career world medals.

“There’s really no greater joy than representing your country.  When I was in London, putting on that American jersey was amazing,” Felix said in her acceptance speech.

“I feel so blessed to have achieved what I did in London but I feel even more grateful for the defeats along the way, for the ups and downs because I feel like that developed my character, it made me strong, it gave me a continued love and passion for my sport and it just made me work really hard.”

Swimmer Jessica Long was named the Paralympic SportsWoman of the Year for her outstanding performance in London, where she took home eight medals (five gold, two silver, one bronze), increasing her total from three Games to 17 medals.

“I hope to inspire young people, with or without a disability,” said Long, who also noted that she still feels like a mermaid and is looking forward to swimming in her fourth Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Before moving on to the final award of the evening, Mary Carillo took a moment to introduce Donna de Varona, who earned two gold medals in swimming at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games.  De Varona was also one of the founders of Title IX, a piece of legislation that has had a profound impact on female athletes in the United States.

Title IX of the 1972 Equal Education Amendments Act states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal assistance.”

Title IX turned 40 this year – and what an anniversary the 2012 Games proved to be.  In London, the U.S. women secured 58 of Team USA’s 104 total medals and 29 of the 46 gold medals.  If the women were their own country, they would have ranked third in the gold medal count.

“Those of us who did not benefit from Title IX, who pushed for change because it was the right thing to do, celebrate the mothers, veterans, teenagers and legends who in London broke barriers for capturing first-time golds in the sports of boxing, judo and water polo, and in gymnastics for scoring a combination of first-place finishes in individual all-around and team competition,” De Varona said.

“If together stronger is the theme of this assembly, you are all responsible for the best-ever showing in history by U.S. women in the Olympics, and congratulations to the men, too.”

The final award of the night was presented by CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee Scott Blackmun.  Blackmun presented Micki King with the Olympic Torch Award, which he described as, “the highest honor that we present annually to an individual in recognition of outstanding service to the U.S. Olympic movement.”

King competed as a diver in two Olympic Games, earning springboard gold at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games.  Following her career as an athlete, King became the first woman to coach a male athlete to an NCAA title in any sport, went on to help create the Athletes’ Advisory Council in 1973 and served as its inaugural chair for five years. King also served on the founding board of the Women’s Sports Foundation, was president of USA Diving, and currently is a vice president of the U.S. Olympians Association and a member of the Olympians for Olympians Relief Fund.

“I look out over this room and see lots and lots of people who should be standing up with me,” King said upon receiving her award.  “We’re all in it together. What this is about is the passion and the caring and the dedication to sports, to kids, to fitness, to the love of the Olympic Games.

“You all have that passion that I have, so there’s not much difference that’s separating me from you all. I’m standing here thinking this award should be subtitled, ‘The Olympic Torch Award, for people who don’t know how to say no when there’s something to do.’  And for all of you in the room who fit that definition, I humbly accept.”

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