Turn back the clock 20 years and we are in Centennial Olympic Stadium.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics opening ceremony featured something never done before — cheerleading.
“We were the very first thing. it started with the cheerleaders and it was so neat, that other countries don’t know what cheerleading is, so we’re the first time they get to see what’s involved in cheerleading. Throwing people in the air twenty to twenty-five feet, and the ohs and ahs that come with that, it’s just insane,” said Julie Weeks with the Olympic Cheer Staff.
A Longview native, Julie Weeks was recruited by the National Cheerleaders Association to help choreograph the routine for the opening ceremony.
Their weeks of work played out in four minutes on the field.
“I don’t know that I had always paid as much attention to the opening and closing ceremonies, as seeing the Olympics themselves and the athletes and things. Well now watching you know what goes into it and how much that brings all those countries together, so everybody has their own thing and we brought cheerleading to the Olympics,” said Weeks.
The ’96 Summer Olympics put another East Texas resident on the map.
“To be on the field is probably one of the highlights of my life.”
Brian Olson is a four-time Judo Olympian, with more than 34 years of experience competing on the mat.
“You know it’s tough when you’re a six year old kid to have aspirations of the Olympics,” said Olson.
Olson knew from an early age that he wanted to participate in the leading international sporting event.
“Your first Olympics I would say is definitely your most overwhelming experience. It is literally packed and your walking next to some pretty high profile athletes,” said Olson.
Olson currently lives in Singapore and runs a martial arts academy in Longview.
He credits being an Olympic athlete for his work ethic, but he isn’t quick to forget the obstacles he’s overcome.
He says you never know what it’s going to take to actually truly get you there.
He’s not alone, Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross’ torn right hamstring ended her career on the track.
“This season, of course, I envisioned things going a little differently. I wanted to go to Rio and represent team USA for the fourth time, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Richards-Ross.
Considered one of the world’s fastest women, the former Texas Longhorn brought home Gold in the 4 by 400 meter relay in Athens, Beijing and London.
“It has been an amazing career and I feel very very blessed and I’ll be cheering team USA on,” said Richards-Ross.
Moving forward, she plans to start a family and go into broadcasting, but offers some advice for those entering the realm of competitive sports.
“If you are a young person that loves sports I would encourage you to give it 100 percent, because whatever you give to the sport it gives it back to you,” said Richards-Ross.
And the sport has created the Olympics, an experience unlike any other, where athletes from across the world connect.
“There are so many things that happen in the world today, to see a peaceful movement like that, where people can put aside their differences and really come together for a sport is truly an amazing thing,” said Olson.