Opening Ceremony brings back memories for local past Olympians

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 7:14 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Friday’s Opening Ceremony in Tokyo will look quite different from years past, as the parade of nations is held in front of a mostly empty stadium. The best athletes in the world in one place will still be a sight to behold and be quite an experience for those who have earned the right to march in behind the flag.

Jon Lugbill knows that feeling well. Now the executive director of Sports Backers in Richmond, Lugbill was regarded as one of the best kayakers in the world back in 1992, taking part in the canoe slalom, and marched into the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona as part of Team USA.

“It really comes across that this is a huge international event,” Lugbill recalled. “The size and scale of it always kind of overwhelms you.”

James River graduate Kellie Brinkley, then Kellie Wells, would take the Olympic stage 20 years later in London. She hit the track in the 100-meter hurdles, but her Opening Ceremony experience was a little bit different than most, as her coach encouraged her to skip the festivities.

“He explained that it’s about eight or nine hours worth of your day of just walking, sitting, waiting,” explained Brinkley. “He didn’t want us to walk our races out of our legs.”

Lugbill did make that walk during his Olympic journey and found himself shoulder to shoulder with superstars. The kayaker marched in the delegation next to the 1992 basketball Dream Team.

“Mike Krzyzewski was literally- we talked to each other the whole way in,” smiled the Sports Backers’ lead man. “It was kind of wild. Charles Barkley was right there. It was quite a crew.”

“We had a watch party and ordered all of this great food and watched the Opening Ceremonies,” Brinkley said. “I felt like I was there with them, but I wasn’t physically there.”

Another reality set in for Lugbill looking around the stadium during the ‘92 games.

“Tanks and armored personnel carriers and attack helicopters all around the outside of the stadium, and you kind of realize ‘oh my God, we’re actually a potential terrorism target.”

Lugbill would finish fourth during his only Olympics, while Brinkley grabbed the bronze medal in 2012. They know that this year’s Olympians will pick up some valuable lessons and experiences over the next two weeks that reach far beyond sports.

“If things are uncertain, if things are troubled, I know that if you work hard, do the right things, you can persevere,” Lugbill noted. “The Olympics really helped define that for me.”

“Just take every minute in, soak it up, enjoy all of the wonderful, beautiful things that you’re doing,” said Brinkley. “Just smell the roses along the way.”

The Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony kicks off at 6:55 a.m. You can see it live on NBC12 immediately following 12 News Today.

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