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Continental Champion Athletes Take Center Stage At ANOC Awards Gala

By Gabe Hiatt | Oct. 30, 2015, 1:15 a.m. (ET)

Best female athlete of Pan American Games Kim Rhode speaks after receiving her trophy during the ANOC Awards 2015 held at DAR Constitution Hall on Oct. 29, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Kim Rhode has been in pressure packed situations.

The skeet shooter from El Monte, California, has been competing since she was 10, capturing 35 medals in international competitions — including five medals at five Olympic Games. She won gold in London while she was pregnant with her son.

The patience and focus necessary to become a world-renowned shooter couldn’t help Rhode Thursday night at historic DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., where she said her nerves got the best of her while receiving recognition as the best female athlete of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games during the Association of National Olympic Committees Awards Gala.

“Getting up there, I almost got kind of nervous,” said Rhode, who won her fourth Pan American gold medal this year. “It’s an amazing event, and it’s very humbling. There’s really no words to describe it. It’s kind of one of the pinnacles of your career moments.”

Joining Rhode as the best male athlete at the Pan American Games was Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira, who has more Pan Am medals than any athlete. Pereira won five medals in Toronto to bring his total Pan American medal count to 23.

The continental champions recognized by ANOC also included shot putter Franck Elemba (Republic of the Congo) and sprinter Marie-Josée Ta Lou (Ivory Coast) from the African Games, sprinter Femi Seun Ogunode (Qatar) and gymnast Yao Jinnan (China) from the Asian Games, wrestler Togrul Asgarov (Azerbaijan) and boxer Katie Taylor (Ireland) from the European Games and swimmer Ryan Pini (Papua New Guinea) and boxer Jennifer Chieng (Federated States of Micronesia) from the Pacific Games.

“I think this is definitely going to be another fuel for me for thinking about the Olympic Games next year,” said Pereira, whose hometown of Volta Redonda is just an hour’s drive from Rio de Janeiro, the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games. “I just wanted to do my best, train the best that I can so I can do the same as I did in London.”

Pereira, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, said he’s always made a joke that no woman could ever beat him in the pool. Then he met his presenter at Thursday night’s gala, 18-year-old American Katie Ledecky, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and the current world record holder in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyles.

“Like right now there’s no way I beat Ledecky in an 800 and a 1,500. She would definitely beat me easy,” Pereira said with a laugh. “But it’s an honor. I believe she can — why not? — do something like (Michael) Phelps and do something that no one did before. I hope all the best for her. I’ll be cheering.”

Ledecky, a native of nearby Bethesda, Maryland, joined fellow U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte, an 11-time Olympic medalist, as a presenter at the second year of the awards gala meant to keep athletes in the spotlight of the Olympic Movement after a long day of meetings at the XX ANOC General Assembly.

Ogunode, a Nigerian-born sprinter, said he would put his award next to his television, where he can see it every day. Still gripping his trophy after he left the stage, he was excited but speechless.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I’m just shivering.”

American Bob Beamon, the 1968 Olympic long jump champion, won the ANOC Award for Outstanding Performance. Italian administrator Francesco Ricci Bitti won the ANOC Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach won the ANOC Award for Contribution to the Olympic Movement.

Along with the honorees, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti had a chance to walk the blue carpet heading into the ceremony in Washington.

Garcetti’s camp has stressed the opportunity to mingle with decision makers at the ANOC conference has been a chance to listen and learn as his city bids for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“It’s very casual,” Garcetti said. “It’s meetings at bars. It’s coffee. It’s interactions where you can kind of get to know each other in a familial way. And I think that’s really what has moved me is this is not some huge swelling movement even though it touches every place in the world. It’s in the hands of people who are incredibly experienced, incredibly passionate and see the impact sports can have on humanity. So it’s really listening to those people and saying, 'This is who we are, nothing more.' We have plenty of time to have an incredible bid that we’ll be able to share with them.”

Gabe Hiatt is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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