Team USA Awards Bring Olympic Stars to Campus


ALY PACHTER/THE HOYA Gymnasts Laurie Hernandez and Aly Raisman, left, joined their teammates in winning the Team of the Olympic Games award, while swimmer Katie Ledecky, right, won the Female Athlete of the Olympic Games Award.

Gymnasts Laurie Hernandez and Aly Raisman, left, joined their teammates in winning the Team of the Olympic Games award, while swimmer Katie Ledecky, right, won the Female Athlete of the Olympic Games Award.

Georgetown was abuzz with belated Olympic fever Wednesday when more than 500 Olympians and Paralympians came together in McDonough Arena for the first time since the conclusion of the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Team USA Awards.

The ceremony also served as a homecoming for three alumni who participated in the Olympic or Paralympic Games: track and field Olympian Emily Infeld (MSB ’12), Paralympic swimmer Michelle Konkoly (COL ’14) and Olympic sailor Charlie Buckingham (COL ’11).

The United States Olympic Committee recognized outstanding performances by individual athletes and teams in six categories during the ceremony, which is set to air Oct. 4 on NBC Sports Network.

In addition to the awards ceremony in McDonough Arena, the night featured a two-hour red carpet athlete procession and an after-party in the Healey Family Student Center. The award ceremony, hosted by Akbar Gbajabiamila and Matt Iseman from NBC’s series “American Ninja Warrior,” featured prominent guests including Secretary of State John Kerry and Olympian Carl Lewis.

Around 100 students were granted tickets to the red carpet and 100 to the awards ceremony. The university distributed tickets Monday on a lottery system basis.

The red carpet also featured performances by the Georgetown Pep Band and the Georgetown cheerleading team. The student section, which was located on one side of the red carpet, cheered as each of the athletes stepped out of buses and onto the red carpet.

For each award, every National Governing Body and High Performance Management Organization in the United States was invited to nominate one female, one male and one team. Winners were selected through a combination of fan voting and Olympic and Paralympic family voting. The awards selection process attracted around 400,000 votes for finalists.

During his introductory remarks, University President John J. DeGioia referenced his pride in the athletes as well as Georgetown’s opportunity to participate in the event.

“The spirit of seeking excellence, of pursuing your personal best, of exemplifying sportsmanship and of supporting your teams. This is at the heart of the Olympic and Paralympic games, and it comes alive in each of them,” DeGioia said. “On behalf of our entire Georgetown community, I wish to express how deeply proud we are of your accomplishments, your example, your determination and of your leadership. Congratulations on all you have accomplished. We look forward to celebrating with you tonight.”

Vice President for Public Affairs Erik Smulson emphasized the importance of Georgetown’s own history of Olympic athletes.

“We were honored when the US Olympic Committee asked us to host the Team USA Awards on Georgetown’s campus,” Smulson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We look forward to celebrating the Team USA athletes and their accomplishments and highlighting Georgetown’s own Olympic history and athletes to a national audience.”

In an interview with The Hoya on the red carpet, Infeld said she was happy to be back on campus.

“This is amazing — it’s so fun. I love Georgetown. I’m so nostalgic. I miss it so much. It’s really, really fun being back and exploring,” Infeld said. “I love the culture here and that was one thing that made me want to come to Georgetown. I feel like it made me love it and have such great memories and it’s great to see that that culture is still there.”

Kerry, who led the official U.S. delegation to the Rio Olympics this summer, presented the first award of the night to swimmer Katie Ledecky for Female Athlete of the Olympic Games. Kerry emphasized the strong performances of Team USA’s female athletes.

“As secretary of state, I have been able to participate in some incredible moments, but I have to tell you leading the U.S. Official Delegation to Rio this summer was a really special privilege and I thank you for it. The 2016 American Olympic team was the most successful ever,” Kerry said. “The performance of our women really stood out above all, bringing home 61 medals.”

Before winning the award, Ledecky expressed a similar pride in the women athletes of the U.S. Olympic Team in a red carpet interview with The Hoya.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be nominated with so many fantastic female athletes. I think it was a banner year for Team USA female athletes,” Ledecky said. “I don’t know if I’m going to win, I don’t really care, I’m just proud to have been a part of it. Just to see those athletes here tonight is going to be fun.”

Ledecky, a native of Bethesda, Md., who took classes as an undergraduate at Georgetown last year while she trained for the Olympics, also acknowledged her connection with the school.

“It’s great to be home, it’s great to feel the support. I’ve been around Georgetown my whole life — my mom worked at Georgetown for a while, I have two cousins here, and they’re here tonight,” Ledecky said. “It’s just fun to share it with family and friends and to see everyone.”

The Team of the Olympic Games Award went to the women’s gymnastic team, with four of the so-called Final Five, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian, taking the stage to accept the award. The fifth member of the team, Gabby Douglas, could not attend due to wisdom teeth surgery. Meanwhile, the Team of the Paralympic Games went to the sitting women’s volleyball team, which won its first-ever Paralympic gold medal in Rio.

In an interview with The Hoya before the ceremony, gymnasts Raisman and Hernandez said they were thankful for the student support they witnessed while walking the red carpet.

“It’s really cool. It’s really crazy. We definitely weren’t expecting all the support so it’s really surprising,” Raisman said. “We saw the cheerleading team and all of the athletes so it means a lot to us just because it’s incredible to feel all this support.”

“This is amazing. I knew that we had a lot of support, but it’s cool to see it in person,” Hernandez said.

Kocian said despite the excitement of the night she was most excited to be reunited with her team.

“I’ve been busy starting school so it’s just exciting to be back with the girls. Every time we come back together we’re just so happy to be back together and just share all of our recent memories and experiences and just kind of catch up,” Kocian said. “So I think that will probably be the best part.”

The Male Athlete of the Paralympic Games award went to Paralympic swimmer Brad Snyder. Snyder said he was grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Team USA’s successes with everyone who contributed to them.

“I think coming home and celebrating what we’ve accomplished in Rio together as a team, together as Team USA, means a lot and to be able to celebrate our community in this way is something I’m mindful of,” Snyder said.

The Male Athlete of the Olympic Games award went to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who was attending the Ryder Cup, a golf tournament in Minnesota, and accepted the award via teleconference.

“I want to say what an honor it is to be nominated for this award. I wish I was there with you guys celebrating and hanging out with you all,” Phelps said. “I will see all of you soon.”

In addition to the athlete awards, the women’s water polo team Head Coach Adam Krikorian won the Coach of the Games award after leading the team to its second straight gold medal this summer.

The Building Dreams award, which is given to an individual, group or community that has gone above and beyond to help Team USA went to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, which placed five swimmers, including Phelps, on the 2016 U.S. Swimming team.

Track and field Paralympic athlete Tatyana McFadden collected the award for Female Athlete of the Paralympic Games.

New to the awards this year was the inaugural Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit award, which is meant to recognize an individual who has served as a force for good in society. Jesse Owens’ granddaughter, Marlene Owens, presented the award, which was posthumously bestowed to Olympic champion boxer Muhammed Ali. His wife, Lonnie Ali, accepted the award on his behalf.

Marlene Owens described the lasting impact her grandfather had on the athletic world, an impact the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award seeks to recognize.

“It celebrates my grandfather, not just for his remarkable athletic accomplishments, but also for the impact he had on changing for a better world. Throughout his life, he used the power of his work to motivate youth,” Marlene Owens said. “His great sense of pride in our family that his life continues to inspire people around the world trying to do their best, even today, 80 years later.”

While accepting the award on her husband’s behalf, Ali stressed the importance of unity despite racial and cultural differences.

“The Olympics are an appreciation of other people and cultures, as we all are humans bound together by our abilities and not torn apart by political differences,” Ali said. “The Summer Games in Rio are a reminder of how great we are together, people of all countries, backgrounds and religions. We appreciate how people can come together to celebrate the things that unite us all.”

Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber said despite GUPD’s experience in providing security to high-profile figures, it had never had to secure an event of this magnitude before.

“We’ve never had an event quite this size before with such high-profile people,” Gruber said. “The preparation is different because the amount of people that we had. In this case, we had close to 600 people we had to be concerned about.”

Despite the concerns and the combined 100 GUPD and Metropolitan Police Department officers patrolling the space, Gruber said the event went smoothly and expressed particular satisfaction with the behavior of the attending students.

While presenting the award for Male Athlete of the Paralympic Games, Konkoly expressed happiness at being back at Georgetown to celebrate the 2016 games.

“Thank you so much, it’s so great to drop in on campus, it’s so great seeing my Hoya family and my Team USA family in one place,” Konkoly said.

Hoya Staff Writer Paolo Santamaria contributed reporting

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