Thanks Team USA!

The Olympic spirit of small-town athletes

By Diane Smith

Anyone who’s ever followed or participated in small town sports knows that rural and small town athletes often punch above their weight. So it’s no big surprise that rural and small communities are well represented at this year’s Olympics in Rio. Some interesting 2016 Olympic facts: 554 athletes from across America are representing Team USA in this year’s Olympics. U.S. athletes are competing in 244 of the 306 medal events, reflecting 27 sports. 46 U.S. states are represented by Team USA. 124 U.S. athletes hail from California, 39 from Florida, and 33 from Texas. Our oldest athlete is 52, the youngest 16 years old. There are 10 mothers and 42 fathers on Team USA.

Even though small town and rural residents make up less than one-third of our national population, two-thirds of the 2016 U.S. Olympics triathletes are from small cities or rural areas. One half of U.S. taekwondo competitors and 40 percent of the U.S. shooting team looks to be from rural or small communities.

The U.S. track and field team has 129 athletes from all over, including folks from Festus, Missouri (pop. 11,829), Sand Hill, Mississippi (no population count available), Carlinville, Illinois (pop. 5,813), Ovilla, Texas (pop. 3,543), Crested Butte, Colorado (pop. 1,487), McAlmont, Arkansas (pop. 1,873) and Boring, Oregon (pop. 8,000). Our volleyballers include athletes from Hopewell, Pennsylvania (pop. 230) and Hooper, Nebraska (pop. 830)!

Here in my backyard, I’m surrounded by athletes; young and old, tall and small, just about everyone has a favorite sport. Even more amazing, so many folks are thrilled to embrace the risks of scaling a mountain or cartwheeling through whitewater and are willing to put the sweat and dedication into becoming really good at it. I guess that’s why it’s not a big surprise anymore that so many Olympians come from off the beaten path and I’m jazzed to cheer for every one of them. I think the Olympics is such a big deal that I choke up every time the Star Spangled Banner plays. No matter the sport. Every time.

This might explain why my favorite 2016 Olympic moment so far didn’t even happen at the Olympics, but did come from a small town athlete. It was when rower Megan Kalmoe of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin (pop. 2,094) wrote about the media coverage of the health risks and pollution in Rio, “I will row through s**t for you, America. And I will do it gladly, and proudly, because rowing on this Team in Rio is not something I’m afraid of, or going to complain about … get behind us and cheer your faces off. Put your rally caps on. Let’s pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Let’s go for the gold together… Long Live the Dream.”

That’s the Olympic spirit. That’s a small town athlete. You all make us proud. Thanks Team USA!

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