Apr 17 Ringing the bell ... and Olympic spirit

By Amy Rosewater | April 17, 2012, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Greg Louganis
Not only did Greg Louganis throw the light switch on the Empire State Building on April 17, but he also joined fellow divers in ringing the Closing Bell at the NASDAQ offices.

NEW YORK -- Before the 100-day countdown to the London 2012 Olympic Games could begin, there was a pre-countdown of sorts.

It took place at the NASDAQ office, located in the heart of New York City’s Times Square, during the minute leading up to the Closing Bell at 3:59 p.m. EDT. As the final seconds ticked away, several Olympic dignitaries -- U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun and three generations of Team USA divers, Sammy Lee, Greg Louganis and Brittany Viola -- participated in the ringing of the Closing Bell.

The NASDAQ composite closed at 3,042.82, up 54.42 points, a good day at the market and, hopefully, Team USA will beat expectations as well when the Olympic Games begin July 27.

After bunch of cheering in the TV studio when the Closing Bell rang, the Team USA athletes signed a digital screen. Video of the ceremony was shown outside on TV screens in Times Square.

On Wednesday, Times Square will be transformed into an Olympic Village of sorts, complete with sport demonstrations, giveaways and autograph sessions.

For the athletes who hope to be in London this summer, the countdown to the Games is coming fast.

“The 100-day countdown is motivating to me,” Viola said. “It’s more exciting than anything because I know that every day counts.”

For Viola, it was especially exciting to share the experience with Olympic champion divers Lee and Louganis.

“It was an honor to be a part of history like that, to be there with Sammy Lee and Greg Louganis and just knowing their results and hoping and aspiring to follow them,” said Viola, who will compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials June 17-24 in Federal Way, Wash. “I thought it was funny when the man who introduced all of us said, ‘Olympic medalist Brittney Viola,’ he changed it to ‘Olympic hopeful’ but I was like, ‘That’s awesome, you can keep it like that.’ ”

Perhaps the Olympic karma from Lee and Louganis will rub off onto Viola.

Lee competed in the Olympic Games the last time London played host, in 1948, and he won the gold medal in the 10-meter platform and a bronze medal in the 3-meter springboard. He followed up his performance four years later by claiming the gold medal again in the 10-meter platform in the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games. Louganis is a four-time Olympian (including the 1980 Olympic team) and captured four Olympic gold medals.

Lee, 91, was in full Olympic spirit, wearing a USA hat, an Olympic blue blazer and a gold ring with the Olympic rings on his hand. He was excited to be at the NASDAQ event and especially enjoyed a photo that NASDAQ officials handed him on his way out.

“I can’t believe they got those pictures out right away,” said Lee, who attended the event with his wife, Roz.

Pictures are printed a little bit faster than they were in 1948.

“That’s right,” he said with a grin. “It took about two weeks.”

When asked if he had given Viola, who turns 24 on April 19, any advice as she prepares for London, he replied that he hadn’t had much time to talk with her but was happy that she was a platform diver since that was his specialty.

Louganis, meanwhile, has interacted with Viola quite a bit since he is an athlete mentor with USA Diving. In fact, he plans on working with her at practice sessions next week.

And he keeps in regular contact with Lee as well.

“I was at his 90th birthday party,” said Louganis, who runs into Lee periodically at diving events.

All three of them hope to be in London. Lee said he has plans to be there. Louganis said he cannot wait to go and see the London Underground train stop that is named in his honor. And Viola simply wants a chance to leap off the Olympic platform.

The University of Miami star came close to making the U.S. Olympic Team in 2004 and 2008. Should she make the 2012 team she will have a special guest in attendance in London: her father.

The former Major League Baseball pitcher, Frank Viola, now works with the New York Mets minor leagues and is based in Savannah, Ga.

“He’s very busy,” she said. “He won’t be able to go to the Trials, but the Mets organization already told him that if I make it to London he can come to watch my event.”

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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