The stars of the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games gathered at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts for the Team USA Awards on April 26. The event began with a two hour red carpet featuring several prominent celebrities alongside all the athletes in attendance. The main ceremony was an Oscars-style awards show hosted by sports broadcaster Mike Tirico, who hosted primetime coverage of the games in February.
Many of the athletes were thrilled at the opportunity to spend time with their teammates from PyeongChang. David Wise, a freestyle skier who won gold in the halfpipe, repeating his performance from Sochi in 2014, described what an honor the event was for him and his teammates.
“It’s a cool celebration at the end of the season for a lot of winter sports athletes,” he said. “We all get to come together as one olympic team and celebrate together to acknowledge some exceptional, above-and-beyond performances.”
The ceremony began with remarks from Susanne Lyons, who was named acting chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee in March. Her predecessor, Scott Blackmun stepped down on Feb 28, citing health concerns. The announcement came after Blackmun received substantial criticism for his handling of sex abuse scandals within the U.S. Olympic community. Lyons’ speech was followed by a musical performance from Duke Ellington students before Tirico began the awards section of the show.
On the red carpet, Tirico expressed his excitement at attending and hosting an event honoring so many phenomenal athletes. “It’s a great night to celebrate not just the accomplishments in South Korea, but really the lifetime accomplishments some of these athletes have put into their careers,” he said.
His opening remarks included several shoutouts to the gold medalists at PyeongChang. He mentioned the victories by snowboarders Red Gerard, 17, and Chloe Kim, 18, and emphasized their youth as a sign of good things to come for Team USA. Gerard was the youngest American man to win gold at the Winter Olympics and Kim was the youngest person to win her event, the halfpipe.
Tirico also acknowledged some of the team sports that were successful in South Korea. The men’s curling and women’s hockey teams both received praise for their gold medal victories, as did the men’s sled hockey team, which defeated Canada in its championship game at the Paralympics.
The event’s organizers made it clear throughout the night that the paralympic athletes deserve equal praise for their outstanding accomplishments. Keith Gabel, a veteran paralympian who won silver in the snowboard cross in PyeongChang, sought to quell any notion that the paralympians were any less deserving of being there.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that paralympians aren’t elite athletes,” he said. “We work just as hard as the able-bodied men and women. It’s not like they just take whoever they can get. We have to fight for a spot just like anyone else to keep those world rankings high and keep everyone engaged as well.”
The first of eight awards of the night was presented by the U.S. flag bearers at the games in South Korea, Erin Hamlin and Mike Schultz. Hamlin is a four-time olympian and a legend of the women’s singles luge competition, having won the bronze medal back in 2014 (a first for the US), and Schultz is a paralympic snowboarder who, at the age of 36, won a gold and a silver at the 2018 games.
Before the show, Schultz described the feeling of being selected as a flag bearer. “It was the ultimate honor and totally unexpected,” he said. “This was my first games and to be chosen by my fellow athletes, and them wanting me to lead the team, is hard to describe. Definitely goosebumps.”
The first award, Female Olympic Athlete of the Games, went to Kim, who delivered a remote video acceptance speech from South Korea where she was attending her sister’s wedding. Shaun White won the same award for male athletes.
The remaining award winners gave speeches thanking the U.S. Olympic Committee and their fellow athletes for their dedication. But for many of the athletes, the ceremony was a mere pitstop on the road towards the Beijing games in 2022. Brittany Bowe, a bronze medal winning speedskater at the PyeongChang games, certainly has an eye towards the future.
“It’s incredible to not only be reunited with my Team USA teammates, but to be in the nation’s capital. It’s awesome,” she said. “But here shortly, we’re going to be going back to Salt Lake City and starting all over again. Four more years: Beijing.”
The awards show will be broadcast on NBCSN on May 12.
Here is a complete list of the winners:
Female Olympic Athlete of the Games – Chloe Kim, snowboarding
Male Olympic Athlete of the Games – Shaun White, snowboarding
Olympic Team of the Games – U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team
Olympic Coach of the Games – Jason Cork, cross-country skiing
Female Paralympic Athlete of the Games – Oksana Masters, Nordic skiing
Male Paralympic Athlete of the Games – Dan Cnossen, Nordic skiing
Paralympic Team of the Games – U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team
Paralympic Coach of the Games – Gary Colliander, Nordic skiing