CHICAGO -- "Thank you for letting me represent all of you on Team USA."
With those tearful words, decathlon gold medalist and Yahoo! Sports correspondent Dan O'Brien ended an evening filled with memories of the greatest Team USA Olympic performances. O'Brien was part of a class that included Olympians Gail Devers, Lisa Fernandez, Gary Hall Jr., Kristine Lilly, Jean Driscoll, Jenny Thompson, the 2004 softball team, and special contributors Ed Temple and Sen. Ted Stevens.
O'Brien, the last speaker of the night, was honored for his record-breaking performance in the 1996 decathlon. Lilly, who holds the U.S. record for being both the youngest and oldest woman to score a goal for the U.S. women's national team, was introduced by teammate Mia Hamm.
"She was there for everything great in my career, so why not this?" Lilly said.
Now a doctor in Maine, a very pregnant Jenny Thompson was called the best relay swimmer of all time.
"I'm so nervous, the baby inside is doing flip turns," the 12-time medalist joked.
Gail Devers was honored for winning three gold medals across five Olympic appearances. Her daughters, decked out in tiaras, joined her on stage. Hall was introduced by his father, also an Olympic medalist. He told the crowd a story about the importance of taking small steps to their goal.
It was a bittersweet induction for both Fernandez and the softball team. Fernandez won three golds with the U.S. team, and the 2004 team was so dominant it only gave up one run in nine games.
However, softball was dropped from the Olympic slate after the Beijing Olympics. Lori Harrigan asked the inductions attendees to continue to be passionate for the sport so it will be brought back to the Olympics.
Paralympian Driscoll started out as a wheelchair basketball player, but switched to the marathon, where she's won five gold medals.
Temple was the longtime coach of the Tennessee State Tiger Belles. He coached 40 Olympians who brought home a total of 23 medals. The audience was filled with women who ran for Temple and were eager to cheer him on.
Stevens, the driving force behind the Amateur Sports Act and the lone senator who spoke on the Senate floor against 1980 Olympic boycott, was remembered for being a driving force behind the Olympic movement in the U.S.
With the Olympics just two weeks away, tomorrow's inductees will soon start to distinguish themselves. The class of 2012 proved they will have a hard act to follow.
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