NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. first lady Michelle Obama launched a 100-days from the Rio Olympics street party on Wednesday featuring more than 75 Olympians in an interactive carnival on two blocks of teeming Times Square.
Obama, who developed the Let’s Move program to address the problem of child obesity, hailed the U.S. Olympians as role models and joined in demonstrations of basketball and fencing in the slender island that runs between Broadway and 7th Avenue.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be here today to kick this off, to be a part of the 100-day celebration, is that we’re not just talking about bringing home the gold,” Obama, wearing a U.S. track suit, said in a keynote to the six-hour event.
“The Olympics are also about inspiring young people here at home, truly, to get them active and to live up to the example that our Olympic and Paralympic athletes have always set with their dedication, their determination, their unyielding commitment to excellence.”
After engaging in a passing drill with members of the U.S. basketball team, Obama was shown some fencing moves using foam sabres with Ibtihaj Muhammad, who will become the first U.S. Olympian to represent her country wearing a hijab.
”Never allow other people’s misconceptions to block you from reaching your goals,“ she told Reuters about her path to the Olympics. ”We don’t have to fit into this box. We can come as we are.
“We don’t have to look the same, or dress the same or have the same cultural values to be successful.”
Decorated Olympians including nine-time athletics gold medal winner Carl Lewis, swimmers Janet Evans and Rowdy Gaines and gymnasts Shannon Miller and Nastia Liukin, gave autographs and visited with fans who filed past.
Matt Miller, who rows in the men’s Four boat, said the U.S. expected to challenge Britain, Australia and Italy for a medal and shrugged off worries about Rio pollution and the Zika virus.
“There’s a lot of hype over the dirtiness of the water, mosquitoes, whatever, but nothing could stop us from going,” he said.
Manteo Mitchell is desperate to get back on the Olympic stage after breaking his leg halfway through running the first leg of the U.S. team’s 4x400 meters relay at London 2012.
“I would give my soul,” he told Reuters about earning another Olympic berth. “I‘m working really hard to get back.”
Earlier 2008 gymnastics champion Liukin, sprinter/long jumper Lewis and diver David Boudia threw the switch in the Art Deco lobby of the iconic Empire State Building to light up the top of the skyscraper in Team USA red, white and blue.
Editing by Steve Keating