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WASHINGTON -- While dozens of Team USA fans lined the red carpet and filled McDonough Arena at last week’s Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Games, the two biggest fans of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams were standing center stage most of the night: Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila.
The hosts of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” could hardly contain their excitement as they hosted a different type of show, one where they were starstruck as they honored their favorite athletes and celebrated Team USA’s many accomplishments in Rio this summer.
TeamUSA.org spoke to Iseman and Gbajabiamila on the red carpet about their favorite moments from Rio, which Olympic sports they would compete in and who they hope to see compete on “American Ninja Warrior.”
Tune in to the awards show on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) on Oct. 4 from 10-11 p.m. ET.
What was your favorite moment of the Rio Olympics?
Akbar Gbajabiamila: For me, there’s a lot of moments. I would probably say Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel; those are the moments that stood out to me in the pool. I always wished that I could swim like them, but I’m nowhere near as good as they are.
Matt Iseman: I really love the entire process. Honestly, it’s like “American Ninja Warrior.” Once you know how much these athletes have sacrificed and how much they put in for this single moment, for any of them just to have that moment on that stage is incredible. It was great watching Ledecky and (Michael) Phelps. I’m always impressed when athletes come in with expectations, with pressure, and still deliver. So I thought they were amazing.
Gbajabiamila: Also, too, Ibtihaj Muhammad was phenomenal in the way she represented the United States on so many levels. Those kinds of things are so special because my kids are watching those special moments.
Iseman: And I like Helen Maroulis winning gold in wrestling, showing that women are getting into these combat sports and that they’re every bit as strong, which I think is the same message “American Ninja Warrior” sends.
Who are you most looking forward to meeting tonight?
Gbajabiamila: I’d probably say (boxer) Claressa Shields. I mean, she looks ferocious in the ring.
Iseman: Come on! 77 and 1?
Gbajabiamila: I just want to see what she looks like in person. You start to think, ‘If I was a competitor, could I take her on?’
Iseman: I’m excited to meet the Final Five, too. Especially Aly Raisman, who has done it in back-to-back Olympics, along with Gabby Douglas. Again, for athletes who will typically have one Olympic cycle, for her to have done it twice and delivered so well. I just think the mental fortitude to do it on that stage and to gear yourself up after you’ve been at the pinnacle and do it again, that’s amazing.
Which of the many Olympians who have competed on “American Ninja Warrior” stand out to you the most?
Iseman: I love (gymnast) Jonathan Horton. At 5-1, there’s a guy who’s shaking down the stereotypes about what you can do with size, and he’s a guy who walked on (the show) in Houston and showed such heart. Logan Dooley, the trampoline artist, was great. And (luger) Preston Griffall, let’s give some love to the winter Olympics.
Gbajabiamila: We’re trying to get (Allyson) Felix out there.
Iseman: She was a little busy this season.
Gbajabiamila: But she did stop by our “American Ninja Warrior” set and scope things out, so she was scouting “American Ninja Warrior.”
Iseman: We’re here to celebrate Team USA and to recruit some athletes for “American Ninja Warrior.” This is the best of the best.
If you were an Olympian, which sport would you compete in?
Gbajabiamila: Track and field, no doubt about it. I grew up watching Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, watching old footage of Jesse Owens. No doubt about it, I’d want to be a 100-meter sprinter in the Olympics.
Iseman: For me, I think gymnastics. I think I’m very graceful. But more likely, I’d be a pusher in a bobsled. With my mass, that’s all I can do.
Gbajabiamila: When I got to the NFL, I bought my very first luxury car – it was used, but I bought it from an Olympian: Maurice Greene. I’m all about speed and that was a special moment for me.
Why were you interested in hosting Team USA Awards?
Gbajabiamila: To me, it was a great honor. I have a lot of respect for these athletes. Having played in the NFL, I knew the preparation that it took to get to that point and see them perform at the highest level in front of the entire world is special. It really is.
Iseman: It’s the same thing for me. We got so much joy watching them and to know how much sacrifice and dedication it takes. We have a glimpse of it with “American Ninja Warrior,” but I don’t know if people at home can understand how much these athletes truly sacrifice. So to get to be here and to meet these people who have entertained us for years, it’s great to be here, shake their hands and say thank you.