Shannon Miller, Teresa Edwards, Sarah Will and Scott Hamilton attend the "TODAY" show on March 11, 2019 in New York City.
NEW YORK -- With just 500 days until the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Olympic greats met at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan on Monday for a special appearance on NBC’s “TODAY” show.
Between sessions in the makeup chair, posing for selfies with fans and waving to the cheering crowd, they talked with “TODAY” news anchor Craig Melvin about a topic near and dear to their hearts: the revival of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
“It’s to celebrate the Olympic movement, to celebrate what the Olympics does for all of us,” said Scott Hamilton, the 1984 figure skating gold medalist and 1990 hall of fame inductee.
“Whenever the Olympics comes around, it seems we say, ‘Boy, do we need an Olympics around now.’”
The hall of fame welcomed its first class in 1983, with Olympic greats such as Muhammad Ali, Peggy Fleming, Jesse Owens and the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” men’s hockey team among those honored. The most recent class was honored in 2012 and included names such as Olympians Gail Devers, Kristine Lilly and Dan O’Brien, and Paralympian Jean Driscoll, among others.
Now, the hall of fame is active again, with a new class to be inducted this fall and a new home beginning in 2020.
First, though, some important changes: Each new class will include three Paralympians, an increase from one that each of the past five classes included. In addition, the legend category — which honors long-retired athletes — will expand to two inductees.
“We have such a big presence, there’s so much respect between Olympians and Paralympians,” Sarah Will, the 12-time Paralympic alpine skiing gold medalist and 2009 inductee, said. “It helps us increase our sports and really further anything we want to do. It’s great to see the USOC really making this effort to increase visibility.”
Fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming months. TeamUSA.org on Monday also introduced a virtual hall of fame where fans can revisit the legacies of the 139 current members, learn more about the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and peruse a gallery of “magical moments” featuring hall of fame members Owens, Ali, Mary Lou Retton and more.
That’s appealing to five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, member of four gold medal-winning basketball teams and a 2009 inductee, who said she loves the historical aspect of the hall of fame.
“I’m looking forward to the stories to be told for generations to come,” she said. “To actually be chosen for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame was my biggest accomplishment. … It made me feel complete as an athlete and truly complete on the world stage.”
The website offers answers to many frequently asked questions, including when athletes become eligible for consideration; descriptions of the legend, team, coach, and special contributor categories; who sits on the official nominating committee; and the composition of each hall of fame class.
Starting this year, a new class will be inducted every two years. The class of 2019, including 12 individuals and one team, will be announced in late September and inducted in November. Of the 12 individuals, five will be Olympians and three Paralympians, reflective of the current U.S. team sizes. The others will include two legends, a coach and a special contributor. The legends, coach and team can now come from either the Olympic or Paralympic side.
Most important: fans can vote.
“I think that’s so fantastic,” said Shannon Miller, a seven-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics and 2009 hall of fame inductee. “That’s a big deal.”
“It’s surreal,” she added. “When you think about the first inductees, the 1980 Olympic hockey team was the first Olympic moment I ever saw. My parents had it on VHS tape and I watched it over and over and yelled and screamed and cheered. For me, it’s these athletes that inspired me to get back up when I fell, or failed.”
Voting will be open at TeamUSA.org Aug. 12-Sept. 3.
More is in the offing.
Starting in early 2020, the hall of fame will be housed at the U.S. Olympic Museum in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado, which is also home to the United States Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Training Center. By then, the current hall of famers will be joined by other athletes who have retired since the 2012 Games.
Who will be in the group of newcomers? Get involved and have your say.