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Olympic Stars Celebrate Olympic Day In Indianapolis

By Sam King | June 24, 2015, 3:38 p.m. (ET)

A group of 909 children perform simultaneous handstands, setting a world record, at an Olympic Day celebration on June 23, 2015 in Indianapolis.

Young athletes partake in an Olympic Day celebration on June 23, 2015 in Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before Jackie Joyner-Kersee was a household name, she was a young athlete in need of guidance. With it, she went on to a legendary track and field career that included three Olympic gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

“I am in this position because someone gave their time when I was a little girl,” said Joyner-Kersee, who competed in four Olympic Games.

That’s why she prioritizes giving back to younger athletes.

On Tuesday, Joyner-Kersee was among a group of Olympians doing just that at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis in celebration of Olympic Day. It was one of more than 1,800 such events taking place across the country between May 31 and June 30.

Joining Joyner-Kersee were 1976 gold medalist basketball player Quinn Buckner, gymnastics champions Shannon Miller and Jaycie Phelps, archery competitor Stephanie Arnold and gymnast Ron Galimore, who enlightened a large crowd with tales of their trials and tribulations to reach Olympic glory.

“Having so many Olympic champions on hand to share their stories and mingle with attendees makes the day incredibly special,” Indiana Sports Corp president Ryan Vaughn said in a release.

With a plethora of record-breaking athletes on hand, it was naturally fitting that their understudies also set a world record. A group of 909 pre-registered children performed simultaneous handstands, setting the mark.

“To see this many kids out excited about getting active is a positive thing,” said Miller, a seven-time Olympic medalist who has a foundation dedicated to awareness for childhood obesity. “To be able to stand up on the steps there on the circle and look out and see a sea of these young athletes so happy to be here is pretty awesome.”

The USA Gymnastics Fitness Zone was on hand, as was the USA Track & Field community program RunJumpThrow (RJT), where Joyner-Kersee helped teach children the basics of track and field. Both national governing bodies are based out of Indianapolis.

The idea of RJT is to teach basic skills that not only apply to track and field, but also to nearly all other sports.

A program like RJT wasn’t an option for younger generations of track and field athletes, Joyner-Kersee included.

“That shows how we have progressed,” she said. “To even have an Olympic Day, that is a constant reminder that people have those dreams of wanting to be an Olympian, and this is a start.”

Being an Olympian was the initial draw to sports for Buckner, who went on the play for Indiana University’s undefeated NCAA championship squad in 1976 before embarking on a professional basketball career.

For Buckner, it started in fourth grade. Seeing basketball as an outlet to become an Olympic champion, he strived to become the best basketball player he could be.

“Everyone wants to know what is the secret to success,” Buckner told the audience. “Well, there is no secret. It’s hard work.”

Young athletes form the Olympic rings at an Olympic Day celebration on June 23, 2015 in Indianapolis.
The Olympic Day celebration in Indianapolis reunited Miller and Phelps, two members of the 1996 “Magnificent Seven” gold medal-winning U.S. women’s squad. They became the first U.S. women’s gymnastics team to win Olympic gold, and they did so on home soil in Atlanta.

Both echoed Buckner’s speech on hard work, relaying to future athletes just how far they had to come as beginners to be the best in the world.

More importantly, they could see the message resonating.

“It is amazing for these kids to get an opportunity to meet great athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Jaycie Phelps and see that hard work does pay off and to hear the stories that it is not always easy,” Miller said.

“It goes beyond sport. The lessons I learned from gymnastics are the lessons I took with me through my cancer battle or raising my kids or obstacles you face in life.”

Sam King is a sportswriter based out of Indiana. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.