By Lynn Rutherford | Aug. 14, 2019, 11:44 a.m. (ET)

Shannon Miller, Teresa Edwards, Sarah Will and Scott Hamilton attending the "TODAY" show on March 11, 2019 in New York City.

 

NEW YORK -- In March, Olympians Teresa Edwards, Scott Hamilton and Shannon Miller, and Paralympian Sarah Will, gathered at New York City’s Rockefeller Center for a special appearance on NBC’s “TODAY” show. The occasion was the revival of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, beginning with the induction of 12 individuals and one team in the class of 2019.

“I’m looking forward to the athletes’ stories being told for generations to come,” Edwards, a standout on five Olympic women’s basketball teams, told “TODAY” news anchor Craig Melvin. “For a few weeks the Olympics captivates the world and (athletes) do amazing things time and time again. I think it lifts our hearts to see greatness coming through.”

Fan voting is now open at TeamUSA.org/Vote and will remain open through Sept. 3. The class of 2019 will be announced in September and inducted in November.

The 15 finalists for the five Olympic spots include: Gary Anderson, shooting; Greg Barton, canoe/kayak; Laura Berg, softball; Anne Donovan, basketball; Lisa Leslie, basketball; Nastia Liukin, gymnastics; John Mayasich, ice hockey; Misty May-Treanor, beach volleyball; Jonny Moseley, freestyle skiing; Apolo Anton Ohno, short track speedskating; Mark Reynolds, sailing; Angela Ruggiero, ice hockey; John Smith, wrestling; Dara Torres, swimming; and Brenda Villa, water polo.

Nine Paralympic finalists, up for three induction places, are: Cheri Blauwet, track and field; Candace Cable, track and field, Nordic skiing, alpine skiing; Muffy Davis, cycling, alpine skiing; Bart Dodson, track and field; Greg Mannino, alpine skiing; Erin Popovich, swimming; Marla Runyan, Para track and field, Para-cycling, Olympic track and field; Chris Waddell, alpine skiing, track and field; and Trischa Zorn, swimming.

One team will be inducted of the following three: 1996 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team and 2010 U.S. Olympic Four-Man Bobsled Team.

The hall of fame will be housed at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado starting in early 2020, but a virtual hall of fame on TeamUSA.org features answers to frequently asked questions, as well as biographies of the 141 hall of fame members.

Before their “TODAY” show chat, Edwards, Hamilton, Miller and Will shared memories and insights with TeamUSA.org.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with the Hall of Fame and all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

 

What was your reaction when you were told you were selected for the hall of fame?

Miller (class of 2006, gymnastics): It’s a little surreal. I think the more I was able to think about it, the more incredible it became. Mary Lou Retton (class of 1985) came to mind automatically because of gymnastics, but then you think about the first inductees: Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Peggy Fleming, the 1980 men’s hockey team. … It’s these athletes that inspire us to do and be our very best, and to be included among them is surreal.

Edwards (class of 2009, basketball): I don’t understand how you can truly encompass that because the Olympics is as high as you can go; it’s the most prominent podium I’ve ever stepped upon. I was at five Olympics, so for me to understand what it truly felt like to win, and to want to go back again and again and again, and then to actually be chosen for the Hall of Fame — to me, that was the biggest achievement I’ve ever accomplished. I felt so honored to take the stage (at the induction), I think it was in Chicago. It surrounds you with the feeling that, “I’m complete as an athlete and I’m complete on the world stage, I’m truly complete.”

Hamilton (class of 1990, figure skating): I was so oblivious to all of it. Back then, I was just in “go, go, go” mode. I was only looking ahead, not back. None of those honors made sense. I never realized what a big deal it was until now, looking back on it.

When (the induction) was happening, I said, “Yes, I’m available to go, I can get there.” I sat with (former U.S. Figure Skating president) Chuck Foster; in hindsight it would have been great to have my father there, but he wasn’t well, it was hard for him to travel. I feel that my (Olympic) career, I didn’t give it its due. I remember the induction ceremony was awesome. Now that they’re reviving it, I think, “What did I do that was worthy of the Hall of Fame? I had a good run, but when you look at all of the other Olympic athletes up there…”

Will (class of 2009, Para alpine skiing): When I found out, I was a little bit shocked, because the names that came before me were so impressive. You’re so honored and touched to be a part of sports history. It’s a privilege. Traveling as an athlete, I really had a chance to see the accessibility (issues) around the world, and that made me want to do more in my own community.

Everyone knows somebody with a disability. At some point or another, we’re all going to take a fall or have something (happen) we may interpret as limiting, but really the change helps us pick a new path in life. Some of those paths are better than anything we could have imagined and take us in a direction that changes our lives, as well as the people around us. I would never have imagined that I would be in the Hall of Fame as well as an advocate for accessibility.

 

Sarah, how gratifying is it that three Paralympians, and perhaps a Paralympic team, will be included in each future hall of fame class?

Will: It’s a great place to look at our history, how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. When I first started in the sport, I was unaware Paralympics meant “parallel to the Olympics.” As a paraplegic, I thought it had something to do with (the word) “paraplegic.” When you see the USOPC increase Paralympians’ visibility, that’s so important, especially since there are a lot of veterans coming back who are potential Paralympians, and it’s an amazing transition to start sports when you’re adjusting and overcoming an injury. We have military coaches as well as civilian, and that brings us closer together as a nation.

Currently, there are just four coaches in the hall of fame. Each future class will include a coach.

Hamilton: Think about it, four coaches for all of the Olympic and Paralympic sports. One of my former coaches, Carlo Fassi, is one of the four. He had Peggy (Fleming) and Dorothy (Hamill). When you look at all of the sports, all of the iconic coaches, and one of them is Carlo Fassi. I took from Carlo for three years, I loved him. He could identify weak points in someone’s skating and really shore them up.

Edwards: I know Pat Head had an amazing life that lived this game and did so much for women’s basketball at every level, so her name would be up there. (Note: The late Pat Head Summitt was the coach of the 1984 Olympic gold-medal winning women’s basketball team, as well as the winningest coach in college basketball history for Tennessee upon her retirement after the 2011-12 season).

Will: It’s exciting to know Paralympian coaches, and legends, will be included. When I was on the team myself, many of our coaches were Olympic-caliber racers, as well as Vietnam veterans, so the combination of athletic coaches and military coaches together really made our team one of the winningest ever.

 

Looking at your own sport, if you could induct an athlete, who might it be?

Edwards: Well, I’m a little partial, there’s no doubt about it. There would be Lisa Leslie (gold 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008), and Katrina McClain played in three Olympics (gold 1988 and 1996, bronze 1992). I’m thinking of great players. Dawn Staley (gold 1996, 2000, 2004) was amazing. They would be at the top of my list. Yes, there would be more (women) basketball players. (Edwards is the sole women’s basketball player in the hall of fame).

Hamilton: Every one of the earlier (gold medalist) figure skaters is in, except for the Jenkins’ brothers (David and Hayes). Dick (Button), Tenley (Albright), Carol (Heiss), Dorothy (Hamill) are in. Peggy (Fleming) was inducted in the first class. The Hayes brothers took over from Dick Button, kept the Olympic title in the U.S. Hayes (gold 1956) was very lyrical, very much the artist, still a phenomenal athlete. David (gold 1960) was purely athletic. To this day I don’t know if anyone has ever jumped bigger or more explosively than David Jenkins. And obviously in time Meryl (Davis) and Charlie (White) should go in, the first Americans to win gold in ice dancing (in 2014). (Note: Kristi Yamaguchi, class of 2006, is the most recent gold-medal-winning figure skating inductee.)

Miller: Oh, there are so many who are so deserving to be in the hall of fame, and I look forward to seeing them inducted. … What I love is that the fans can be involved in the process. I’m a huge Olympics fan myself and I’m going to be voting as well. It’s not necessarily just about what they did, how many medals they had. I love that it’s well-rounded, and that fans can participate in that.

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.