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Gold Medalist Inspires Youth Olympians

By Brittany Davis | Aug. 25, 2014, 10:33 a.m. (ET)

Dwight Phillips poses for a photo at the NBC Olympics/United States Olympic Committee promotional shoot in West Hollywood, California, on Nov. 11, 2011.

Dwight Phillips speaks to the U.S. Youth Olympic Track and Field Team at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games on Aug. 24, 2014 in Nanjing, China.

NANJING, China – Olympic long jump champion Dwight Phillips knows a little something about rising to the occasion and succeeding under pressure, a lesson he was excited to share with the 16 track and field athletes representing Team USA at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity because when I was younger I would’ve loved the chance to speak to my idol,” said Phillips. “Hopefully, these athletes can learn from my story and apply those lessons to become a champion, not only in sport, but a champion in life.”

If inspiring champions was his goal, Phillips succeeded, instilling mettle of a certain color in the next wave of U.S. Youth Olympic champions.

“It makes me feel even more excited to be here,” said Noah Lyles, who captured the gold medal in the men’s 200-meter just hours after listening to Phillips address the team. “Hearing him talk about all the nerves and the excitement is the exact same thing that I go through. It just reassures me that it’s OK to feel how I feel with all the jitters, and to have the confidence to go out there and do the best that I can.”

Phillips, 36, is one of 37 athletes from around the world who are serving at the Youth Olympic Games as part of the third installation of the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete Role Model program. Representing 28 international federations, the veteran athletes are serving as mentors for the approximately 3,800 young athletes competing at the second summer edition of the Youth Olympics.

Phillips – a four-time world champion, who leaped to the Olympic gold medal in 2004 – said he wished the Youth Olympic Games existed when he was a young aspiring Olympian.  

“The Youth Olympic Games are a great opportunity to learn how it’s going to be on the next level,” said Phillips to the room of U.S. athletes. “To all of you who didn’t perform to the level of your expectations, there will be another time, another place – just continue to believe. And to all of you who did receive medals, congratulations. This is just a stepping stone for other great performances.”

Turning in another stellar performance for Team USA was Myles Marshall, who channeled Phillips’ advice into a gold-medal winning effort in the men’s 800 Monday night. 

"Knowing that everyone gets nervous helps me feel more confident in myself and knowing that everything I’ve done to get here is for a reason,” said Marshall. “The biggest takeaway for me was learning how to convert those nerves into positive energy.”

Joining Phillips in Nanjing are four other American Athlete Role Models, including Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson, two-time Olympic rowing champion Erin Cafaro, two-time Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris and five-time Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig. 

Rotating in shifts throughout the duration of the Games, the ARMs are accessible to the young athletes at the Youth Olympic Village and during educational programs, workshops and informal “Chat With Champions” sessions. In addition to attending competitions, the ARMS are also offering insight and perspective into their own experiences, challenges and dreams from the Olympic stage and beyond. 

As he shared his story and offered words of advice, Phillips explained that at age 15, he was convinced that he was going to be a 400-meter runner. It wasn’t until he went to college that his coaches helped him discover his true potential as a world-class jumper. 

“I think the moral of my story is that sometimes other people may see greatness in you that you may not see in yourself,” said Phillips. “So you have to listen, stay open and know that anything is possible.”

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Dwight Phillips