Team USA’s 100-Day Countdown celebration took over New York City’s Times Square on Wednesday. Everywhere you looked, it was ready, set, Rio:
7 a.m. – 10 a.m.: Kick-off
NBC’s “TODAY” show had Olympic host Bob Costas reporting in from Copacabana Beach; set, spike and serve demonstrations from beach volleyball duo Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena; and the Grammy-winning sibling trio The Band Perry performing “Better Dig Two” at the TODAY Plaza near Rockefeller Center.
Swimmers Ryan Lochte and Haley Anderson, and wrestler Jordan Burroughs, modeled Team USA’s Closing Ceremony gear designed by Ralph Lauren: chic white chino shorts, paired with classic button-downs over red, white and blue striped t-shirts.
“We need a yacht now,” said five-time gold medalist Lochte, who joked that his outfit would soon be weighed down by medals.
“Especially in swimming,” Burroughs, the defending Olympic 74 kg. freestyle champion, replied. “You guys get so many opportunities to win multiple medals, and as a wrestler you only get one. I’ll have one and you guys will have six or seven a piece.”
Gymnast Gabby Douglas, the defending Olympic all-around champion, has grown three inches since the London Games.
“I’m doing the same thing as before, (taking) one step at a time, one day at a time and not put that extra pressure on myself,” she said. “I feel stronger this time and a little bit faster.”
Fellow gymnast and three-time defending world all-around champion Simone Biles, gearing up to qualify for her first Olympic Games, agreed with her teammate.
“I’m doing it the same (way) as I prepared for worlds — take it week by week and see what happens,” Biles said.
On the track and field front, four-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix was asked how she felt about organizers changing the schedule for the women’s 200-meter and 400-meter sprints so she could attempt to win gold in both — something only three athletes have done.
“I’m so grateful for the schedule change,” Felix said. “It’s still going to be an extremely difficult double. The events overlap, if I’m able to make the team in both events.”
10:30 a.m.: Empire State Building
Olympic champions David Boudia (diving), Carl Lewis (track and field) and Nastia Liukin (gymnastics) were on hand at the 102-story skyscraper as it was lit red, white and blue in honor of Team USA and the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Noon – 1:30 pm: Media hour in Times Square
Some 85 Olympians, Paralympians and hopefuls converged for announcements, guest speakers and one-on-one interviews. As United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said, “Today is all about increasing interest in American athletes and introducing new opportunities to engage and interact with those athletes.”
The Band Perry, including siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil, was introduced as honorary members of Team USA.
“We have always religiously watched the Olympics from home, now we get to spend five days in Rio,” Kimberly said. “We got the good news yesterday that our (hit) ‘Live Forever’ is the official Team USA song.”
After remarks from Burroughs, 11-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden and Boudia, coach Geno Auriemma introduced the 12-member 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, led by three-time gold medalists and tri-captains Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi.
First Lady Michelle Obama — who developed her Let’s Move! initiative to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation — shared childhood memories of watching the Games, and then setting up makeshift hurdles and balance beams with neighborhood friends.
“We’re not just here to talk about bringing home gold, which we will,” she said. “The Olympics is also about inspiring young people watching at home and getting them active … I also want young people to be inspired by these athletes’ stories of countless sacrifices and hardships overcome. If they work hard enough and dream big enough they can achieve what they want.”
Some lucky youngsters got to toss basketballs around with members of Team USA and the First Lady.
“We did drills — shoot and different passes,” Mahki Parker, a 12-year-old member of the P.S. 75 rugby team, said. “I didn’t know Mrs. Obama would be here. I’m so excited.”
Mahki’s mom Kyrenia thinks exposing youngsters to different sports encourages family fitness.
“I didn’t know anything about rugby before Mahki started playing,” she said. “A lot of schools here don’t offer it. Now, he’s traveling with the team to New Jersey, teaching other kids to play.”
Triathlete Sarah True hopes watching the Rio Games inspires others to take up her sport.
“I’m looking forward to representing the sport, especially to people who might know nothing about it,” True said. “People fall in love with it and can start competing at any age. There are age classes for athletes in their 80s.”
Open water swimmer Haley Anderson, who won a silver medal in London in the 10-kilometer, was participating in her first 100-day countdown event.
“Sometimes, you can be in your own bubble and it’s hard to see there are a lot of people who love to watch the Olympics and love to support the athletes,” Anderson said.
2 pm: Road to Rio Tour opens to the public
Everything from autograph sessions and photo opportunities with athletes, to samba lessons, virtual reality experiences, sports demonstrations and a zip line, was offered to the public by Road to Rio Tour sponsors.
It’s also time for athletes to mingle with fellow Team USA members in other sports. Wrestler Adeline Gray met her Rio roommate, weightlifter Mattie Rogers, for the first time.
“I said, ‘Oh, I googled you’ and Mattie said, ‘I googled you,’ and it was fun to meet a new friend,” Gray said. “This celebration just brings everything to life. You’re interacting with athletes you’ve maybe not had quality time with before.”
7:15 pm: Free concert from The Band Perry
The sibling trio closes out the evening with a free concert, including a performance of “Live Forever,” the official song of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.
The 2016 Road to Rio tour, which began with three stops in 2015, next visits downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in conjunction with the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Canoe/Kayak Slalom.