Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Before I could finish my question, I was immediately corrected. Lesson learned.
While speaking with members of the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association who are in town for today’s Reunion 2016 banquet at the Tropicana Hotel, I unintentionally referred to one of them as a “former Olympian.”
“You are never former, never past or ex,” said Tamara Christopherson, a kayaker who competed in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. “We all feel like we can still hurdle, swim or dive.”
Not in my wildest imagination could I understand the dedication, determination and fight needed to earn a spot in the Olympics. It’s a lifetime achievement, and rightfully so. As I quickly started to process the pride Olympians still have in their achievement, my embarrassment was obvious. I was standing next to some of the greatest competitors in the world.
Many of us can recall staying up late to cheer for some random athlete, regardless of the event. We know Michael Phelps and Mary Lou Retton and Jim Thorpe, and at one point surely dreamed of one day representing the red, white and blue. We headed to the pool with inspiration to swim like Phelps or asked a friend to time you running sprints to see if you could equal Carl Lewis.
There is something addicting about the Olympics. It is athletes from all over the globe coming together with similar aspirations: To win, not only for themselves, but for country. It’s just once every four years and we are instantly hooked, finding that athlete to cheer for and screaming loudly as if it was your favorite NFL team in the Super Bowl.
The Olympians walked around the Tropicana with name badges identifying which Games and sport they competed in. New friendship were formed and stories were exchanged. For us outsiders, it was a chance to take in the history — and see an Olympic medal.
You quickly learn to refrain from being starstruck in my profession. LeBron puts his pants on the same way I do, right? But I have to admit it was pretty cool walking through an area with Olympic memorabilia, everything from an Olympic torch to medals from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake.
You simply had to touch the gold medal and feel its thickness, to realize the prestige in medaling or understand the rarity of qualifying. These Olympians, not former or ex Olympians, sure earned my respect.