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US Olympic legends believe Rio 2016 will inspire golf to new heights

2 abril, 2016 | Redacción
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Some of the United States greatest ever Olympians believe golf’s return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 is an inspiring, game changing moment for the sport globally even if those within the sport don’t know it yet.

Speaking on the sidelines of the first major in golf in 2016, the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, California, Missy Franklin, Lindsey Vonn, Abby Wambach, Kristi Yamaguchi, Jessica Long and Caitlyn Jenner all voiced their wholehearted support for golf’s return for the first time since 1904.

Golf’s return was announced in 2009 yet there have been mixed reports from leading golfers and officials especially those hailing from golf’s traditional heartlands who feel the pinnacle of the game belongs solely at its own historic major championships not at the summer Olympics.

Yet the refreshingly positive stance taken by some of the most decorated Olympians in living history who have amassed 11 Olympic Golds and 12 Paralympic gold medals between them, is a powerful indicator of the potential the game has to reach new audiences and increase participation numbers when Rio 2016 gets finally underway.

Speaking at the groundbreaking new ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference held in the build-up to the LPGA’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Abby Wambach said:

“For me, in my experience at any Olympic Games, to be able to don your country’s jersey, to be able to play for your countrymen and to hopefully to see your flag go up and listen to your anthem being played as a result of winning a gold medal, there’s nothing better. Of course, now that I’m an avid golfer since retiring, I’m excited to watch golf at the Olympics. But golf needs to grasp its opportunity.”

“A lot has been said with golfers saying it’s not a priority for them. But that’s before those people have actually experienced it, tasted it for themselves. I’m sure that will change. There’s nothing like representing your country and now for golf to be in it, I think that it will legitimize some of these golfers. They’ll say, it’s not just about me, it’s about team USA and it’s bigger than them – that’s the biggest takeaway I’ve had from any Olympic games I’ve been a part of.

“Now people are asking major or an Olympic gold. But why not both? Surely you want to win everything you play in, especially when you represent your country. I’ve an Olympic gold and a World Cup winner’s medal. Both mean something different and both have taken women’s soccer in the US to a new level. Surely can be the same for golf? It’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity.”

The significance of the comments coming during tournament week of one of the most iconic and historic majors at a venue that has hosted more majors than any other in golf apart from the Masters at Augusta was expanded upon by ANA Inspiration Tournament Director Gabe Codding. He added:

“Each year this tournament sets the tone and marks the start of major golf season. The addition of the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference with so many great sporting icons has definitely got everyone excited for the year ahead. Having so many Olympic gold medalists in attendance has certainly enriched the 2016 ANA Inspiration and I am sure the golfers are looking forward to their Olympic debut more than ever after hearing all they had to say.”

Echoing golf’s Olympic opportunity current world number 1 and 10-time winner on the LPGA, Lydia Ko, the youngest ever player to win a professional golf event recently commented that winning gold would mean more to her than a British Women’s Open victory.

Four-time swimming gold medalist Missy Franklin who was joined on stage at the conference by Lydia Ko added:

“I’m so beyond thrilled for golf and the athletes themselves. They already have their big tournaments and big events, but being a part of the Olympics is something that is so special and so unique. I would really challenge them to use this opportunity to the best of their ability to create their platform to inspire and show the world who they are not only as athletes, but who they are as people because so many people will be watching them for the first time ever on an Olympic stage and it’s their time to shine, so enjoy it, be yourself and make the most of it.”

After playing in the ANA Inspiration Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Decathlon gold medal winner commented:

“What I love about golf is that it’s the only sport that as you get older, you can still get better at because it’s all about touch, feel and experience. But it takes the same dedication as it does to win gold medals.

“You watch these guys and gals who are out there on tour. They make very good money, they go to tournaments every week and the top players are making millions. But watch how hard they are going to fight for that Olympic gold medal where they don’t even earn a dime. To me, that shows you the prestige of an Olympic gold medal and what it means. I think for the golfers going, it’ll be such a tremendous experience. Having the opportunity to go to an opening ceremony, there’s nothing like it.”

The Golf tournaments at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are scheduled to be held in August at the new Olympic golf course (Portuguese: Campo Olímpico de Golfe), built within the Reserva de Marapendi in the Barra da Tijuca zone. It will be the first time for golf to be played at the Olympics since the 1904 Summer Olympics and it is to feature two events, the men’s and women’s individual events.

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