|Morehouse, Douglas and Evans on the athlete panel at "An Evening with Team USA" on April 18, 2013 at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.|
ATLANTA -- It’s been 17 years since Atlanta hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
You wouldn’t have thought so last night.
If you were among the more than 400 people gathered at the Georgia Aquarium Thursday night, you would have felt energy just like the electric atmosphere that filled the city when it played host to the 1996 Games.
The Olympic spirit is something that just never dies.
Atlanta residents David and Susan Watson, the local hosts of the evening, wanted to celebrate that spirit in the last U.S. city to host the summer Games. Olympians, among them 2012 gymnastics champion Gabrielle Douglas, swimming gold medalist Janet Evans and fencing silver medalist Tim Morehouse, mingled with the crowd, sharing both memories and anticipation of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Douglas, who captured the all-around event and was part of the gold-medal winning “Fierce Five” gymnastics team in London, beamed back at the fans who surrounded her.
“It means a lot to me being here in Atlanta,” Douglas said. “I get the chills — I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, it was here!’
“It feels amazing just to come to this event,” she added. “I am so honored.”
|Gabby Douglas and Janet Evans speaking at "An Evening with
Team USA" in Atlanta on April 18, 2013.
The 17-year-old showed that she was as much an Olympic supporter as she was a participant. She took a turn at posing for a picture on her own phone next to the whales.
For Evans, the Opening Ceremony of the Atlanta Games holds a place in her heart unlike any other. Evans was the final athlete to carry the torch into the Olympic Stadium, running up the tower’s spiraling steps and handing the torch to Muhammad Ali to light the cauldron. It was one of the most memorable moments in modern-day Olympic Games, one that moved viewers worldwide.
Evans described the experience as “incredible.”
“I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity,” Evans said. “It was one of the most memorable in my Olympic career.”
And that is saying a lot for an athlete who garnered five medals, four of them gold, and broke seven world records in three events.
Morehouse, a two-time Olympic fencer and 2008 silver medalist, expressed similar sentiments.
“Atlanta has a special meaning for all Olympians,” he said.
Morehouse recalled his own personal connection to the ’96 Games.
“I remember watching them on TV,” he said. “You see the pride and patriotism here at home when it is your own country … That’s when I started thinking maybe I could do it, too.”
Morehouse later tried to convince host Susan Watson that she could do it, too. Fence, that is, if not make the Olympic team. Rising from his seat at the table where he, Douglas and Evans were taking questions, he beckoned Watson to join him on stage to joust.
“Who will donate to Team USA if Susan scores a point against me?” he called out to the laughing crowd. Hands shot up as Watson, who played a major role in securing Atlanta as the host site for the 1996 Games, donned a fencing mask and jacket.
Morehouse then demonstrated his lightning-fast agility against his outmatched opponent. But a brief glance away resulted in an upset by underdog Watson as her foil jabbed Morehouse’s chest.
Just as in the real Games, you never know what will happen.
|Janet Evans signs autographs during "An Evening with Team USA"
at the Georgia Aquarium on April 18, 2013.
The fencing upset wasn’t the only surprise of the night. When U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun spoke, he shared a fact that he said many people do not expect to hear: the United States is one of only a handful of countries that do not provide federal funding to their Olympic teams. The USOC depends wholly on the support of donors and sponsors to send athletes to the Games.
The USOC also holds the distinction of being one of only four National Olympic Committees to manage both Olympic and Paralympic sports.
The athletes present expressed gratitude for the support that makes pursuing their Olympic dreams possible.
After the United States won the overall medal count at an Olympic Winter Games for the first time on foreign soil in Vancouver in 2010, as well as the overall and gold medal counts in London, Team USA’s performance is at an all-time high.
Blackmun has been seeking interest in a U.S. city to bid for the 2024 Games. Should the United States bid and win, it would mark the first time the summer Games would be held on American soil since … Atlanta.