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On Olympic Day, Here Are 7 Defining U.S. Moments That Embody The Olympic Values

By Justin Limoges | June 23, 2019, 12:30 p.m. (ET)

As Pierre de Coubertin said more than a century ago, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.”

That quote by the founder of the modern Olympic Games shows that while every athlete strives to win, that is not the meaning behind the Olympic movement.

The three Olympic values are excellence, friendship and respect, and it are these values that are celebrated every June 23 – Olympic Day – which commemorates the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894.

In honor of Olympic Day, here are seven defining moments from U.S. athletes that symbolize the Olympic values.

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Lugers’ Sacrifice Leads U.S. To First Team Relay Medal

Teamwork and sacrifice were the highlights for USA Luge at the 2017 world championships in Igls, Austria. The U.S. chooses its team relay members at competitions based on the fastest athletes in the singles and doubles events from that competition. While Erin Hamlin, the country’s most decorated singles luger, easily earned her spot in the relay, men’s singles slider Taylor Morris, and the doubles team of Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk, unexpectedly had the best American performances in their events. They then made an important decision for the benefit of the team. 

Giving up their opportunity to make their world championship relay debut, Krewson and Sherk gave up their spots to veteran and more decorated lugers Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, while Morris gave up his chance to Tucker West. The selfless act from the three qualifying lugers enabled the Team USA to take home a silver medal. 


Ajeé Wilson Waits To Congratulate Houleye Ba

Middle-distance runner Ajeé Wilson advanced to the semifinals of the women’s 800-meter following an impressive second-place finish in her heat at the Rio Games. Instead of leaving the track to recover and prepare for her next race, Wilson waited at the finish line for nearly a minute to congratulate last-place finisher Houleye Ba of Mauritania on her completion of the event. 


Shibutanis Spend Olympic Journey Mentoring Students In South Korea

While Maia and Alex Shibutani are known as decorated ice dancers to many fans, they’re known as friends and mentors to middle-school students in Gangneung, South Korea, thanks to the “Thank You, PyeongChang” program. 

In addition to earning two bronze medals, the Shibutani siblings spent their Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 experience visiting a classroom of students in person after months of online video chats. Maia and Alex used their time off the rink to enhance their Olympic experience through the program where they shared their personal experiences, knowledge of the Olympic Games and aspects of the Olympic movement.


Michael Phelps’ Finish To Fan Joseph Schooling

Joseph Schooling, a 13-year-old starstruck fan from Singapore, posed for a photo with Michael Phelps in 2008. Eight years later at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Schooling denied Phelps of a gold medal in the final individual race of his Olympic career by winning the 100-meter butterfly and earning Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal in any sport. Instead of being disappointed in his silver-medal finish, Phelps congratulated Schooling, saying, “Hats off to Joe. That was a hell of a race from him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses over the next four years.”


Tommie Smith And John Carlos’ Black Power Salute

Track and field Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos did the unthinkable after winning gold and bronze, respectively, in the 200-meter: the pair lowered their heads and raised their black-gloved fists in a Black Power Salute during the medal ceremony at the Olympic Games Mexico City 1968. They also wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. 

While Smith and Carlos would face continuous criticism following their act and were even sent home from the Games, 48 years later they were invited to the traditional post-Games White House visit by the then-United States Olympic Committee and have since attended other USOC functions. 


Team USA Athletes Donate New Sporting Equipment After Fire

Following the destruction caused by the Woolsey Fire in the Agoura Hills, California, four Olympic medalists and four Olympic hopefuls visited students at Yerba Buena Elementary School and the Agoura High School baseball and softball teams as part of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Team USA for Tomorrow program.

Two-time Olympic halfpipe skier David Wise, 2012 Olympic gold-medal wrestler Jordan Burroughs, the figure skater duo of Alex and Maia Shibutani, and Olympic hopefuls Janie Reed, Delaney Spaulding, Sahvanna Jaquish and Danielle O’Toole, who are all on the U.S. softball team, were in attendance. The athletes talked and bonded with the students, who to their amazement, found out they were receiving new equipment, following the burning of their equipment shed due to the Woolsey Fire.


Jason Brown Donates Stuffed Animals And Spreads Olympic Spirit

2014 Olympic bronze medalist figure skater Jason Brown loves to compete just like any athlete, but he also loves to give back to those in need. Aside from skating, Brown is also known for donating stuffed animals to the Ronald McDonald House Charities local to where he’s competing – whether it be in the U.S. or internationally, which he has been doing since 2014. After he finishes a skating competition, fans throw stuffed animals and other items onto the ice that then get donated when Brown visits a local Ronald McDonald House in the following days.

Brown also took part in building friendships and spreading the Olympic spirit to children in Tokyo’s Ward of Setagaya in Japan ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. After competing at the 2019 world championships at the Saitama Super Arena, Brown stayed for a few extra days meeting hospital patients, fans and children at the local Ronald McDonald House to donate stuffed animals to families and kids. 

Related Athletes

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Michael Phelps

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Ajeé Wilson

Track and Field
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Erin Hamlin

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Justin Krewson

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Andrew Sherk

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Taylor Morris

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Matt Mortensen

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Jayson Terdiman

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Tucker West

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Alex Shibutani

Figure Skating
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Maia Shibutani

Figure Skating
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David Wise

Freestyle Skiing
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Jordan Burroughs

Freestyle Wrestling
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Janie Reed

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Delaney Spaulding

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Sahvanna Jaquish

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Danielle O'Toole

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Jason Brown

Figure Skating