N.C. Olympians honored at banquet

CorrespondentOctober 2, 2012 

— Twenty-five years ago, the late N.C. State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer would return two more times before the 34-year Wolfpack coach succumbed in January 2009. On Saturday night, at the N.C. Olympic Celebration banquet at the Embassy Suites in Cary, Yow’s courage was remembered.

The Kay Yow Courage Award went to Western Carolina graduate Manteo Mitchell, who ran the first leg of the men’s 4x400-meter relay at the London Olympics this summer on a broken leg.

“I had no idea how bad it was until I heard my leg snap in half while I was running,” he said. “That’s when I had to decide, and I just kept running. I wasn’t going to let my country down. I wasn’t going to let my teammates down. I had trained four years for 45 seconds.”

Also at the banquet was former N.C. State center Tommy Burleson. It has been 36 years since terrorists murdered 11 athletes at the 1976 Munich Olympics. But for Burleson, who participated in the Olympics that year, the memory is still fresh. Burleson was a member of the U.S. men’s basketball team. He choked up as he recalled that fatal time during a moment of remembrance Saturday. Burleson said he could still hear the sobs coming from the murdered players’ teammates as they walked the Olympic village.

“Some of them had just sat across from each other in their dorm rooms 30 hours before, and then they were dead,” said Burleson, a member of the Wolfpack’s 1974 NCAA championship team.

The evening concluded a two-day N.C. Sports Summit hosted by the Triangle Sports Commission to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Olympic Festival-’87. The festival still holds the record as the largest event ever held in North Carolina with 34 Olympic and Pan American Game sports, 4,000 athletes, 10,000 volunteers and 464,000 spectators stretching from Raleigh to Greensboro.

The banquet honored several of the athletes who participated in the games and the volunteers that assisted. N.C. State alumnus Cullen Jones was the keynote speaker.

Jones, the first African-American to win a gold medal in swimming in 2008 Beijing, returned from the London Olympics with a second gold and two silvers. But it was the silver in the 50-meter freestyle that was the most special. The other medals had all come from relays, but the 50m was his first individual award.

“My coach told me ‘I don’t think you’ll make the (Olympic) team. Don’t think you’ll win a medal.’ No one was thinking about me,” said Jones who lives in Charlotte. “So, the pressure wasn’t on me. I gave my everything. People thought there was no way I could bring this (pulls out silver medal) home.”

Jones was also honored with the LeRoy Walker Outstanding Male Olympian Award.

The Al Buehler Coaching Excellence Award, named in recognition of Duke’s legendary track and field coach, was given to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. The coach received the award on Friday during an Olympic Coaches Luncheon.

Ashley Thomas of BridgeIISports was the Hill Carrow Regional Sports Leadership Award recipient. The nonprofit organization provides individual and team sports for physically challenged children and adults.

“The beauty of sports is that it does open doors,” Thomas said. “The Paralympics is the other side of the coin. The thing that inspires and challenges us makes us better.”

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