The Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony

When I was interning for Special Olympic NYC last spring, I met Annamaria who was also an intern. In 2004, she attended the Opening Ceremony for the Athens 2004 Olympics with her family. The Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony is one week from today, so I asked her about her experience at the Athens Ceremony 12 years ago.

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Annamaria with her grandpa at the Opening Ceremony

The Olympics of Blogs: How old were you when you watched the Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony?

Annamaria: I was 10 years old.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite part?

Annamaria: The entire ceremony was amazing, but if I had to choose one part, it was when there were two men beating a drum. One on screen at the site Olympia and one in the stadium. Immediately after this, a flame flew into the Olympic stadium and created the Olympic rings. I remember that being a powerful moment and apparently the drum beats were supposed to represent the beating of the heart.

Here is a video of that moment! Click the link to open it on YouTube!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2atZjcBqs4

The Olympics of Blogs: As someone who is Greek and American, do you think that you experienced the Ceremony differently from people of different nationalities?

Annamaria: I would say for Greek people from Greece and around the world, this Ceremony was very important to them and once in a lifetime. I was very proud to have the Olympic Games back at home in Greece and very grateful that I could experience the Ceremony in person. I also think the Olympics are very important to Americans, and they also have a lot of pride as well. So it was a really special night, experiencing the entire ceremony as both a proud Greek and American. We had both the American and Greek flag with us; this made the whole experience of cheering for the Greek and American athletes really fun! We were cheering for everyone though. The people sitting near us were from different areas around the world, so we were cheering with them too and just having a great time!

The Olympics of Blogs: Could you describe the ceremony?

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Annamaria: The entire ceremony felt surreal. I was sad when it ended because I didn’t want it to end! It was a very well put together ceremony and very symbolic, which ties in with the importance of symbolism and philosophy in Greek history and culture. A large portion of the ceremony was the procession of the history of Greece until modern day. It was so beautiful to watch. A moment that stuck out to me the most was when the athletes from Iraq walked out. The entire stadium started cheering very loud for them to support them, given the political tensions that were happening around the world at that time. It really proves how the Olympics can be unifying and bring peace during times of political division in the world. Overall, the entire ceremony was beautiful and well put together. The feeling in the stadium was full of happiness, excitement, and pride from everyone.
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I’m still working on trying to get Opening Ceremony tickets of my own! We’ll see how that goes as we get closer to August 5. Only 7 days to go until the 2016 Rio Opening Ceremony.

For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs.

Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Commercials

The weeks leading up to the Olympics and Paralympics are always really exciting. This year, they’re even more exciting for me because the countdown keeps getting smaller until I’m actually in Rio!

Something that always helps build the excitement are the commercials, and because we’re getting closer and closer to the Games, more and more commercials are appearing.

Here are some of the best Olympic and Paralympic commercials I’ve seen:

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I’m hoping that as we get closer to the Paralympic Games (September 7-18, 2016), there will be more Paralympic commercials, but here’s a sample of the Olympic and Paralympic commercials so far! It’s time to get excited! 😀

Enjoy watching these commercials as you watch the Olympics and Paralympics! Don’t forget to look for me on TV!

I head to Rio this Monday! For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs.

The U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

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Leah Braswell, a 16-year-old who trains and competes with the York YMCA in Pennsylvania, recently competed at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on July 1 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Olympics of Blogs was able to interview her about her experience at the Trials, and here’s what she had to say.

The Olympics of Blogs: What event did you compete in?

Leah: I competed in the 800 freestyle.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you do at the Olympic Trials?

Leah: I added a few seconds in the 800 and didn’t do as well as I had hoped.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were the Trials? Could you describe them?

Leah: Trials was an indescribable experience. It was so exciting being able to watch finals and getting to see people make their first or fifth Olympic team. There was an extreme mix of emotions between people making the team and others getting third and just missing it.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think you will try again for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

Leah: In 2020, I hope to be swimming in college and will most likely try again.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were you feeling before you competed?

Leah: My race was on one of the last days of the meet, so I had already been there to watch preliminaries and finals for five days and see how the meet ran, which definitely helped me with nerves. However, I was still pretty nervous before the race because it’s a very intense atmosphere.

The Olympics of Blogs: How did you feel after you were done?

Leah: After the race, I was a little upset because I added to my time, but it was still an amazing experience that I will never forget.

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The York YMCA Swim Team

Good luck to Leah in the future in college and Tokyo 2020!

Less than 2 weeks until I head to Rio! For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs.

 

Special Olympics Southern California’s Summer Games

IMG_0489Special Olympics Southern California’s Summer Games were held June 11-12. These were the fifth Special Olympics Games I had been to, and they definitely didn’t disappoint. With my internship at SOSC, I was able to work behind the scenes and definitely had a different perspective from the other Games I’ve attended.

The entire week before was very fast-paced, and everyone in the department worked really hard. There was so much to do! There was a very strong sense of team in my department and in the entire organization. I was impressed by something called the Dog Pound where we had lunch and dinner every day after Wednesday. The volunteers of the Dog Pound were so close-knit and so passionate about Special Olympics. Some of the volunteers no longer lived in Southern California, but they still came back every year just for this! Some even had volunteered at the Summer Games for over 40 years!

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We were primarily stationed in Games HQ, which was in the pyramid on campus (Cal State Long Beach has a giant blue pyramid!). During the Games, people came here with questions, problems, and for lost and found.

Saturday started with the Opening Ceremony. They kept it short and very athlete-centered. All of the delegations filed in, and then there were speeches from various important people involved in the Games (like Bill Shumard, the CEO of SOSC). Additionally, two of the stars of Born This Way, a reality tv show on A&E about people with Down Syndrome who live in Southern California, were there and spoke. This was cool because I’ve seen this show! The two who spoke were Sean, a Special Olympics golfer, and Carly, a swimmer (she’ll be on the show next season). I also met Carly later that day! She was really awesome to talk to, and I’m excited to see her on the show!

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On Saturday, I was able to shadow the Director of Competitions, and she gave me tips on IMG_0404how to properly manage large competitions like the Summer Games. We went to each venue to make sure everything was going well and to see if they needed help. In addition to the tips, this was really cool and helpful because I had never seen the inner workings of a Summer Games.

The Athlete Dance was Saturday night, and I went with a few other people to see what it was like. It was held in the Student Union, which was so big, and it even had a bowling alley inside! Athletes could choose to bowl, play pool, or dance. There was even a DJ and a live band for them to choose from. I danced a little with one of the athletes, and it was a lot of fun!

Sunday was a little more relaxed, and we were able to attend many of the competitions. I saw Rhythmic Gymnastics, Bocce, Athletics, the Festival, Unified Bocce, Basketball, and Aquatics! This was a really fun day because there wasn’t a lot left for us to do, so we were able to enjoy everything we had done to make the Games happen.

All in all, it was a really great learning experience for me. Special Olympics Southern California has one of the best Summer Games in the country, and I’m really grateful that I was able to work to make them happen with the SOSC Sports and Programs team!

After the Summer Games, my internship ended, and I got another internship at the LA 2024 Olympic Bidding Committee (see this blog post for information about the LA 2024 bid)!!! This past Thursday, we had an Olympic Day celebration at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, so check back here in the upcoming week for a blog post about it!

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A Look Ahead to the SOSC Summer Games

This weekend, June 11 and 12, is Special Olympics Southern California’s Summer Games! As an intern, I’ve been working hard to help prepare for these Games. Over 1,100 athletes from all over Southern California are coming to California University Long Beach to compete in Aquatics, Athletics, Basketball, Bocce, Golf, and Gymnastics. Here’s a little about what to expect at the Games.

Aquatics

I’ve seen Special Olympics Aquatics once at the Special Olympics New York Fieldston Aquatics and Basketball Invitational in April, and it was really fun to watch! Athletes can compete in Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Butterfly along with the Individual Medley (IM) and Freestyle and Medley relays. The Southern California Games will be different from anything I’ve seen because the pool’s outside!

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From Special Olympics Southern California’s website

Athletics

Always exciting to watch, Athletics is comprised of race walking, long jump, shot put, softball throw, standing long jump, wheelchair races, and various track events like the 100 meter run. Here are some photos of Athletics from last year’s Metro Tournament.

Basketball

Depending on skill level, Special Olympics athletes can play basketball on teams or compete in individual skills competitions. The individual skills competitions include target pass, ten-meter dribble, and spot shot.

Bocce

I’ve never watched Bocce at a Special Olympics competition. It would definitely be a very exciting sport to watch because of the intense strategy needed. The Special Olympians who are competing in Bocce this weekend will compete in teams of four, and each team’s goal is to get as many of their balls closer to the smallest ball (the pallina) than the opposing team’s closest ball.

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From Special Olympics Southern California’s website

Golf 

Athletes compete in Individual Skills, Unified Golf (the athlete is partnered with an athlete without disabilities), Nine Holes, or 18 Holes. I’ve never watched this at a Special Olympics competition either, but I would like to.

Gymnastics

Just like the Olympics, Special Olympics athletes can compete in Rhythmic or Artistic Gymnastics. Rhythmic Gymnastics is where athletes perform using a ball, hoop, clubs, ribbon, or a rope. Artistic Gymnastics includes Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse, Rings, Vaulting, Parallel Bars, and Horizontal Bar for the men, and women compete in Floor Exercise, Vaulting, Uneven Bars, and Balance Beam. I was able to watch a little of the Rhythmic and Artistic Gymnastics at World Games last year, so I’m really excited to watch them at the Summer Games! I’m stationed here this weekend.

I hope now you’re as excited about the Summer Games as I am!

Additionally, happy birthday to my blog! The Olympics of Blogs turns 1 today!

From SONY to SOSC

May 13 was my last day at Special Olympics New York City. I was really sad to leave because the employees and athletes had become my family. I will definitely volunteer with them again in the fall because interning at Special Olympics NYC changed my life. I started out very quiet but determined to be a good intern, and I ended as a super intern with a really strong passion for Special Olympics!

IMG_2151.jpgHere is a look back at my five favorite parts of interning at Special Olympics NYC:

  1. Fall State Games

This was my first State Games as an intern, and I really enjoyed it! It was different from my first New York State Games because I actually knew a lot of the staff and the athletes, and I was there with my friends/co-workers from Special Olympics NYC, Amy, Kaitlin, Sam, and Bill. I was stationed at Equestrian, which was so much fun to see. Before that, I had never seen Special Olympics Equestrian because NYC doesn’t have it. All in all, it was a magical experience. Seeing the love Special Olympics athletes have for their sports while they’re competing makes me so happy, and that love was definitely there all day.

Here’s my blog post about the Fall State Games:    https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/special-olympics-new-york-fall-state-games/

2. Metro Tournament

This was my first Special Olympics NYC competition, and it took place May 30, 2015, right after I started my internship. This day was so exciting, and it gave me a really good look into Special Olympics. I met some awesome athletes, including three athletes who ran the Flame of Hope in with Law Enforcement officers, Valerie (who won a gold medal at the National Games), Thomas (who would compete at the World Games later in the summer), and Doug (Thomas’ dad and also a fierce Special Olympics competitor). I took photos throughout the day, and being given free reign to wander around the competition allowed me to fully immerse myself in Special Olympics. My favorite event was the Powerlifting because each Powerlifter competed with a different persona (see the photo below of the Skullcrusher).

Here’s my blog post about the Metro Tournament:    https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/countdown-to-the-world-games-day-3/

3. Halloween!

Although this wasn’t an official Special Olympics event, it still is one of my favorite moments while working at Special Olympics New York. Luckily Halloween fell on a Friday, so I was able to celebrate it while at the office! The day contained a lot of eating, sugar highs, scaring people with masks, and a piñata! It was a really fun day spent being with my Special Olympics family. ❤

4. Winter State Games

These Games had some of the best competition that I’ve seen since I’ve started working for Special Olympics. Thanks to a really nice volunteer photographer, I was able to see Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Snowshoe, and Figure Skating, in addition to watching the Opening Ceremony and dancing in the Closing Ceremony! Watching the skiing and snowshoe competitions was really fun because I have no background in those sports. I had never even watched someone ski in real life before! Of course, the Figure Skating was still my favorite. I love watching the athletes play to the audience and seeing the audience react with cheers and applause.

Here’s my blog post about the 2016 Winter State Games: https://theolympicsofblogs.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-2016-winter-state-games/

5. Anytime with Special Olympics Athletes

Special Olympics athletes are some of the best people I know. After a year at Special Olympics New York, I know how hard they work to accomplish everything they do, and it’s really amazing and inspiring.

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It has been an incredible year at Special Olympics New York City. Last summer, I said I pass the flame for happiness, and Special Olympics does mean happiness for me.  Even though I left Special Olympics New York, I’m carrying that flame of happiness with me to my internship at Special Olympics Southern California this summer. Thank you to everyone who made Special Olympics New York special. 🙂

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An Interview with Marlene Owens Rankin, the Daughter of Jesse Owens

RACE is a movie about Jesse Owens, one of the most inspiring Olympians of all time. He competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin right before Hitler and the Nazis came into full power. Owens won four gold medals, and his wins showed the Nazis that people of all races can become champions. Released on DVD today, RACE stars Stephan James as Jesse Owens and co-stars Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, and Carice van Houten.

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Jesse Owens had three daughters, Gloria, Marlene, and Beverly. Together, they run the Jesse Owens Foundation, which “perpetuate[s] the spirit and beliefs of Jesse Owens through its support of The Ruth and Jesse Owens Scholars Program at The Ohio State University as well as through serving as a resource for information on the life and legend of Jesse Owens” (see http://jesse-owens.org/ for more information). Although Owens passed away in 1980, his foundation carries on his memory.

The Olympics of Blogs was able to interview one of Jesse Owens’ daughters, Marlene Owens Rankin, about the movie, the foundation, and her father. Enjoy!

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Left to Right: Beverly Owens Prather, Marlene Owens Rankin, and Gloria Owens Hemphill. Photo from the Chicago Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/j4yqev4)

The Olympics of Blogs: What was it like to grow up with your dad?

Marlene Owens Rankin: Growing up with my father was much like any other family. He was a disciplinarian and he and my mother had high expectations and standards for me and my sisters. It was not until we reached our teenage years that we realized that he was a celebrity and the level of his celebrity. He was just Daddy to us.

The Olympics of Blogs: Were you ever able to watch your dad run? Could you describe the experience?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I was not born when my father was in his prime as an athlete. Watching films of his athletic accomplishments is awe inspiring. Such talent – such grace.

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Competing at the 1936 Olympics.                                                                                                                  Photo Credit: USATF Hall of Fame (http://www.usatf.org/halloffame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=126)

The Olympics of Blogs: Have you ever been to Berlin? Were you able to see where your father competed?

Marlene Owens Rankin: My sisters and I have been to Berlin a number of times and each time has been a heartwarming and enjoyable experience. I remember the first time that I saw the Olympic stadium and his name etched in the wall, it gave me chills. It is an amazing place. Today, there is a street that leads to the stadium named for him – Jesse Owens Allee. In the stadium there is a Jesse Owens Lounge which is most impressive with large photos of him surrounding the two story room. Our last visit was to be on set for the filming of one of the scenes for the movie RACE.

The Olympics of Blogs: What is your role in the Jesse Owens Foundation?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I am the Managing Director of the Jesse Owens Foundation. I have managed the Foundation since 1991 and duties included administering the Scholarship and other programs, fund raising, managing up to 100 volunteers, working with the Board of Directors on policy issues, mentoring students and supervising staff. Today, we have downsized and endowed our program (scholarships) to The Ohio State University. The Foundation now provides occasional small grants and provides information and referral on the life and legacy of Jesse Owens.

The Olympics of Blogs: How does the work of the Jesse Owens Foundation showcase the spirit of Jesse Owens?

Marlene Owens Rankin: By providing information on Jesse Owens, we keep history from being rewritten. Our participation in the accuracy of the script for the movie RACE is an example of how we manage that. Our work with The Ohio State University in providing underprivileged young people with an opportunity for an education is another and our efforts on behalf of the youth of this country is yet another.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your role in the creation of RACE

Marlene Owens Rankin: The creation of RACE was the brainchild of Luc Dayan, a French businessman and sports enthusiast. We participated in it by providing guidance with the script in terms of context and time.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think your dad would like the movie?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I think that my father would be very proud of the movie.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite part of RACE?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I loved it all but the part that tugged at my heart the most was when my parents were not allowed to enter the Waldorf at the front door but had to use the freight elevator. It breaks your heart that such a kind, caring and giving individual such as he was could be treated so shabbily.

The Olympics of Blogs: If your dad were alive right now, what do you think he would say about track and field as it is today?

Marlene Owens Rankin: I’m not sure what he would say about it. I know that he loved the sport and was proud of his accomplishments. He encouraged others to strive for excellence and be the best that they could be. He was modest and appreciated his good fortune.

Here is RACE‘s trailer:

I would like to thank Marlene for allowing me to interview her and for giving me this amazing opportunity to learn more about such an inspirational figure in the Olympics.

Make sure to get out and buy a copy of RACE today!