By Caryn Maconi | Aug. 11, 2016, 4:45 p.m. (ET)


USOPF guests take a selfie with U.S. Olympic silver medalist divers Steele Johnson (far left) and David Boudia (second from left).

Molly Cohen and her husband, Rob, have traveled the world over to cheer on Team USA at four Olympic Games.

Each Olympic experience has been special in its own way, but they share a few common themes – themes that keep the Cohens coming back for Games after Games.

“It’s always interesting, the flavor of these different Games,” Cohen said. “I think the neatest thing is being exposed to people of other countries and seeing their passion for their own countries, and then being a part of the U.S. sport community. You’re really seeing something that is a force for good, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world.”

This year in Rio, the Cohens are guests of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation. More than 100 families experiencing the Games with the USOPF have provided critical philanthropic support to Team USA, playing an important role in the success of the U.S. delegation.

The first wave of guests, most of whom arrived in Rio the day before Opening Ceremony and departed on Wednesday, witnessed U.S. athletes making history in a variety of sports. Michael Phelps won his 19th, 20th and 21st career gold medals in the pool; Katie Ledecky set a world record in the 400m freestyle; and Marta Karolyi’s “Final Five” defended the U.S. women’s gymnastics team gold medal.

The weeklong experience included a visit to one of the USOC’s Rio-based High Performance Training Centers, where athletes can continue their usual training routine and practice with their teams up until their day of competition.

“I’m just in awe of the dedication and fortitude of the athletes – the daily grind they go through to make it here,” Cohen said. “It’s so fascinating to see all of the different sports, the skill set in each sport that it takes to get to that level of athleticism.”

Guests also spent time experiencing the culture and natural beauty of Brazil – including meals of local cuisine, and excursions to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city of Rio.

Finally, attendees had the opportunity to meet several U.S. Olympic legends, including 1988 Olympic volleyball player Laurel Kessel; seven-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Shannon Miller; five-time Olympic swimmer and 12-time medalist Dara Torres; and nine-time Olympic track & field champion Carl Lewis.

While speaking to the group at a reception at USA House, Lewis reiterated the importance of donor support for Team USA. He also expressed the uniqueness of being a part of one of the only fan-funded – rather than government-funded – Olympic and Paralympic Teams in the world.

“I prefer the challenge that we have now, because it engages Americans,” Lewis said the morning after the U.S. women’s gymnasts won gold. “When I was in the gymnastics arena last night, I felt like the entire country was in there with me. There’s a difference – because on Team USA, you’re amongst 300 million people.”

Lewis noted the impact of that support not only on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, but also on generations of athletes to come.

“You’re giving something to someone you’ve never met and may never meet, so that they can touch everyone in the world,” Lewis said. “Being a former Olympian and understanding what these Olympians are going through, it can’t be done without you. The work of the U.S. Olympic Committee takes a village, and you’re a part of that village.” 

For many of the foundation’s guests, that investment becomes more meaningful when they watch U.S. athletes achieve their dreams – and experience the magic of the Olympic Movement – in person. 

“Sport has the ability to bring people together in a peaceful and respectful manner,” Cohen said. “With all the bad things happening in the world, it’s nice being a witness to something that’s cohesive.”  

Interested in joining the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games? Contact Games Hospitality Director James Bjorklund at James.Bjorklund@usoc.org