Georgetown University was the host of the 2016 Team USA Awards ceremony Sept. 28. The red carpet event kicked off late afternoon with both Paralympic and Olympic athletes arriving at McDonough Arena for the awards show to be televised next week.
Close to 600 Team USA athletes showed off their flashy suits or dresses — and, of course, their medals — as they paraded around taking selfies with fans and displaying the hardware they trained so hard to acquire.
With the Georgetown University band playing rally songs and students chanting “Hoya Saxa,” amid other songs with Olympians names thrown in, the atmosphere was celebratory and festive. There were a lot of athletes, students and media personnel dressed in red, white and blue.
While many shot into the spotlight during the Rio Games, the athletes were humble in remembering their process in getting there.
Katie Ledecky, Bethesda native, reflected on her journey to winning a gold medal. “It’s a life long process you know? It’s years and years of hard work every day,” she said as students cheered her name. “You can’t take a day off. You just have to keep forging ahead and working towards new goals and bigger goals.”
The gold medalist shattered both the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle records, beating the competition in what seemed like a country mile. “I was really happy with how it all turned out in Rio, and now I am looking towards the next four years and to see how I can continue to work towards new goals.”
“Going into my first Olympics and walking away with a silver medal in diving is really tough to do,” said Steele Johnson, who medaled in synchronized diving. He credited his partner, David Boudia, on his success in Rio. “It has been a cool opportunity to dive along with an Olympic champion for the last few years, and he’s really taught me the ropes on how to prepare for my first Olympics.”
Veterans such as Paralympic Runner Lex Gillette reflected on the advice he gave to rookie athletes competing in their first games.
“Know that you have to continue to work at that and know that it’s a lot of dedication and a lot of determination,” the silver medalist said. Gillette placed silver in the Paralympics Long Jump in Athens, Beijing and London. This was his fourth Paralympic Games. “Never give up and know that you’re going to absolutely get to that point.”
Olympic legend Michael Phelps could not make it to the awards night, but athletes reflected on the advice they received from the decorated swimmer. “He gave some great advice to the whole team to just enjoy the Olympics experience and to just be a team,” said Ledecky. “We really came together as a team this year, and we come together as a team more than any other swim team in the world.”
Team chemistry was a huge factor in success in Rio — as in sports in general — and it was clear not only at the games but at the red carpet as well that unbreakable bonds had been created.
Olympic gymnasts Madison Kocian, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez were inseparable as fans screamed for their attention. The group dominated women’s gymnastics at the Olympics, but a huge key to success was their connection beyond the gym.
“The most fun during the Olympics was just being around my teammates,” said Madison Kocian, who won silver in the uneven bar event. “I think we just had so much fun together. We really bonded, and I think that’s what made our success so big over there in Rio,” she said as she, Biles and Hernandez laughed together. “We definitely had lots of laughs together. That was a really fun experience.”
Now that Rio is over, many are preparing themselves for the next Olympics in 2020.
“I have to continue to keep training,” sad wrestler Kyle Snyder. The Maryland native won gold in the 97kg weight class, becoming the youngest Olympic wrestler in U.S. history to win gold, at the age of 20. “I’m surrounded by great training partners and coaches. So, I feel like in four years, I’ll be better than I’ve ever been moving forward.”
Lashawn Merritt, a gold medalist in the 4×400 meter, explained his next step to 2020: “Just continue to train hard. Just continue to stay focused and train hard and stay dedicated.”
The next summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo.
Today, the Olympians are visiting the White House to meet with President Barack Obama.