LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles organizers are inviting the world to “follow the sun” and support their city for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The candidate city has added a few more stars to its sales pitch.
Fifty-three Olympic and Paralympic athletes representing 216 medals — 142 of them gold — and some of the Games’ most iconic performances were announced as the bid’s Athletes’ Advisory Commission on Tuesday, with Nadia Comaneci, Landon Donovan, Janet Evans, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis, Apolo Ohno and Candace Cable among the 25 who joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA 2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman on stage at the Beverly Hilton for the reveal at the Team USA Media Summit.
“I will definitely be getting selfies later,” quipped Dawn Harper-Nelson, who’s going for a third Olympic medal in the 100-meter hurdles this summer in Rio.
Several more A-list athletes, including swimmer Michael Phelps and tennis player Serena Williams, were not in attendance but add to the star power that organizers hope will put Los Angeles ahead of Budapest, Hungary; Paris; and Rome when the International Olympic Committee selects the 2024 host city in September 2017.
With 24 men and 29 women, from summer and winter sports, and from the United States and other countries, many bases have been covered. The diverse group on stage Tuesday included Olympic icons, some of the country’s most accomplished Paralympians and several current athletes, notably Ibtihaj Muhammad, the fencer who will make history this summer by becoming the first U.S. Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women.
But Evans, LA 2024’s director of athlete relations, is still looking for more athletes to support the cause — whether formally as part of the advisory committee or informally in their communities.
“I am asking every athlete in America who has ever competed in the Olympic or Paralympic Games to lend their voices of support in their own communities to bring the Games back to the United States of America,” the four-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer said.
Athletes on the advisory commission will help the bid in a variety of ways, whether that’s offering technical advice or simply serving as ambassadors.
Donovan, the recently retired U.S. soccer star, said he didn’t hesitate when Evans asked him to help, and he’s willing to do what he can to help bring the Games to his native Southern California.
“If they say, ‘An IOC member is traveling into LA, are you available to come and meet and have a conversation, talk to them about the city you love and grew up in?’ Maybe that helps,” said Donovan, who helped Team USA finish fourth in 2000 in his only Olympic Games.
From marathoner Meb Keflezighi, the former UCLA runner who qualified for his fourth Olympic Games last month in downtown Los Angeles, to Lewis, who won four of his nine gold medals at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the last time this city hosted the Games in 1984, most of the athletes have some connection to the city.
Like Donovan, several of the athletes are Southern California natives, including Evans, Williams, track star Allyson Felix and soccer player Alex Morgan.
Others, such as Harper-Nelson, have made Los Angeles home. Raised in East St. Louis, Illinois, she ran for UCLA and continues training there. Michigan native Jordyn Wieber, who was also at the announcement, retired from gymnastics after winning gold at the London Games and now attends UCLA.
Comaneci, the Romanian Olympic champion, and Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira both adopted the City of Angels as home and signed up to support the bid as well.
While the famous athletes bring attention to the bid, they also underscore LA 2024’s message that Los Angeles — host city of the 1932 and ’84 Games — is a place where Olympic athletes thrive.
Said Angela Ruggiero, a four-time U.S. Olympic ice hockey player from Southern California who is now an IOC member and also part of the Athletes’ Advisory Commission: “I believe LA 2024 is tailor-made for the athletes.”
Chrös McDougall has been a reporter and editor for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.