ARLINGTON, Va. – In 1968, at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, Dick Fosbury won gold in the high jump while simultaneously revolutionizing his sport with the jumping technique known as the Fosbury Flop.
Thirty years later, in 1998, Fosbury’s Olympic odyssey began a new chapter when he attended an international congress for Olympic winners in Greece that formed the World Association of Olympic Winners.
“I was the only one that came from the United States, so they voted me in as secretary general,” Fosbury said. “And I loved it, because we would travel all over the world to do projects partnered with other Olympian associations in community involvement.”
A happy accident turned into a newfound passion.
The World Association of Olympic Winners lost its funding as the Olympic Games Athens 2004 approached, but at a reunion of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team, Fosbury learned of the opportunity to get involved with what was then called the U.S. Olympians Association. He began serving in 2005.
Now the president of the U.S. Olympians & Paralympians Association for the 2017-20 quadrennium, Fosbury delivered the keynote address to kick off the Athlete Career and Education (ACE) Olympic and Paralympic Summit 2018. In front of approximately 100 members of the 2018 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams, he spoke of fostering Olympism in communities, developing camaraderie amongst themselves and mentoring the next generation of athletes.
Dick Fosbury speaks to members of the 2018 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams at the 2018 ACE Olympic and Paralympic Summit 2018 on April 24, 2018 in Arlington, Va.
Upon conclusion of his address, the athletes were formally inducted into the USOPA, officially becoming members of the Olympic and Paralympic alumni network that includes over 9,000 Olympians and 1,500 Paralympians: every U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athlete in history is included in those ranks. Nearly two dozen retired Olympians and Paralympians pinned the 2018 team members who were in attendance, welcome them to the club.
It is an exclusive club whose motto is “Once an Olympian or Paralympian, always an Olympian or Paralympian; never former, never past.”
The 2018 class included snowboarder Kelly Clark, a five-time Olympian attending her first ACE Summit as she ponders her eventual retirement. Clark was officially added to the USOPA’s ranks in 2002, as a teenager, after her first Games – though Tuesday night marked her first in-person induction.
“It doesn’t mean you stop,” said Cindy Stinger, three-time Olympian in team handball and the United States Olympic Committee’s alumni relations manager. “We’re not trying to stop your competition. We want you to continue to pursue your Olympic and Paralympic dreams, but you’re in a unique club now, just by virtue of competing at the Olympic and Paralympic level.”
Carol Lewis (track and field, 1984/1988) high-fives her fellow Olympians and Paralympians at the ACE Olympic and Paralympic Summit 2018 on April 24, 2018 in Arlington, Va.
Stinger began working for the USOC in the mid-1990s, not long after a massive reunion of U.S. Olympians was held in Georgia ahead of the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996. That reunion, she says, is what really got the ball rolling.
“That kind of spurred on the whole concept of, wow, look at the outpouring of Olympians coming to Georgia and enjoying a reunion,” she said.
To that point, nothing formal had been done to connect U.S. Olympians. Stinger assumed her role as alumni relations manager in the late ‘90s – the USOPA was officially incorporated in 1995 – and has been connecting athletes ever since.
“Olympians want to hang out with each other!” she said.
Steve Mesler (bobsled, 2002/2006/2010) inducts Julia Marino (snowboarding, 2018) into the U.S. Olympians & Paralympians Association on April 24, 2018 in Arlington, Va.
While the USOPA is a social organization, one of its major focuses is the promotion of Olympism and a healthy lifestyle. With the help of its 29 regional chapters across the country, the USOPA hosts numerous events on Olympic Day each year with the object of getting kids outside to play sports. Chapters also host Games viewing parties and welcome home events, and the USOPA has hosted two official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic reunions (in 2008 and 2016) with another already planned for November 1-3, 2019.
Moving forward, Stinger says one of the goals is to make the association more engaged with its athletes and use the presence of Olympic and Paralympic legends to its advantage in more mentorship roles.
“A lot of our leadership is older Olympians that just want to give back,” Stinger said, gesturing to Fosbury. “This guy’s been a part of this organization since 2005. What makes Dick Fosbury, a legend, want to continue to give back? It’s because he impacts 100 athletes in that room.”
These days, Fosbury keeps plenty busy. He’s running eight track and field camps in 2018, grows hay and plows it by hand with a sickle, and aims to become “an evil politician” as he campaigns for county commissioner in Blaine county, Idaho. So what prompted him to devote so much time and effort to the USOPA?
“It was being connected with people that I was in awe of.”
Lauryn Williams (C) poses with Paralympic alpine skiers Thomas Walsh, Andrew Haraghey, Tyler Carter, Jamie Stanton and Spencer Wood after inducting them into the 2018 U.S. Olympians & Paralympians Association on April 24, 2018 in Arlington, Va.