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Willie Banks awarded "Olympic Torch Award"

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The United States Olympic Committee today announced the recipients of four annual awards, which will be presented at a celebratory dinner during the 2014 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly that will take place Sept. 25-26 at the Hilton Chicago.

The Friday awards dinner will conclude the Assembly, and feature six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen as the keynote speaker, and Tamron Hall, co-host of NBC’s TODAY show and host of MSNBC’s NewsNation, as host.

Willie Banks was named the Olympic Torch Award honoree, while Lucas Euser was selected as the recipient of the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award presented by BP, and Kristi Yamaguchi and the University of Central Oklahoma’s Endeavor Games were chosen as the Rings of Gold awards recipients.

The Olympic Torch Award recognizes an individual who has positively impacted the Olympic Movement by promoting the Olympic Ideals. A three-time Olympian, Banks – who is known for popularizing the triple jump by encouraging rhythmic clapping from the crowd – served 11 years with the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association, and oversaw the organization’s integration of Paralympics during his second term as president. A member of the World Olympians Association, Banks has also served in several leadership roles at USA Track & Field, where he now sits on the board of directors. Renowned for his 1985 world-record performance – which stood for more than a decade – he continues to serve on the USOPA board of directors and is a member of the Olympians for Olympians Relief Fund.

The Jack Kelly Fair Play Award presented by BP recognizes an athlete, coach or official for an outstanding act of fair play and sportsmanship. Euser made a selfless decision to abandon the 2014 U.S. National Road Cycling Championships after crashing with his training partner and two-time Olympian Taylor Phinney. Euser walked away from the crash, but Phinney was unable to continue after suffering a double fracture in his left leg. Although they were representing different teams, Euser ended the race to attend to Phinney until medical assistance arrived. Acting with grace under pressure, Euser’s unique act of compassion brought the spirit of friendship to the forefront of a sport typically characterized by fierce competition, especially among rival teams.

The Rings of Gold awards annually recognize an individual and a program dedicated to helping children develop their Olympic or Paralympic dreams, and reach their highest athletic and personal potential. Yamaguchi, the individual recipient, embodies what it means to be a champion through her Always Dream Foundation, which aims to support disadvantaged children in her native Bay Area. The foundation’s Always Reading program focuses on advancing early childhood literacy, while the Always Dream Play Park is designed to assist children with disabilities fulfill their potential through fitness and recreation. Additionally, the 1992 Olympic champion created the Always Striving scholarship to support aspiring figure skaters in pursuit of their Olympic dreams.

On the program side, the University of Central Oklahoma is known as a leader in advancing elite Paralympic sport. A U.S. Paralympic Training Site since 2005 (and also now a U.S. Olympic Training Site), UCO is home to the Endeavor Games, a nationally recognized competition that allows all athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments to participate in a multi-sport event. The 15th edition of the Games were held in 2014, attracting more than 300 competitors from nearly 40 states across the country. Additionally, UCO teamed with U.S. Paralympics and the Department of Veterans Affairs to serve more than 500 injured active duty service men and women and disabled veterans, providing introductory and emerging Paralympic sport training.

About the Assembly

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly was initiated in 2005 to give a voice to the various member organizations of the USOC; to keep dialogue open between members, staff and volunteer leadership; and to help further the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the United States. This year’s event – themed “Power of Sport” – welcomes more than 400 participants, representing Olympic, Paralympic and Pan American National Governing Bodies; U.S. Olympians and Paralympians; Multi-Sport Organizations; the Athletes' Advisory Council; the Paralympic Advisory Committee; and USOC board members and staff.

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