by Dot Cannon
“Who do you think it is?”
That was the main question outside Tournament House on Thursday morning.
At 9:30, Tournament of Roses® President Brad Ratliff would announce the Grand Marshal for the 2017 Rose Parade. His choice would embody the 2017 Rose Parade® theme, “Echoes of Success”.
As always, before the announcement, visual and auditory clues were part of the fun.
These musicians played selections including the Olympic theme, “Chicago”, and “Chariots of Fire”. (“Chicago”, however, was a clever red herring–an allusion to the new World Series champs!)
Tournament House sported a Los Angeles Candidate City symbol. Gold curtains suggested Olympic gold.
Multicolored roses adorned the stage area. And guesses were flying among the gathered guests!
The orchestra played the first bars of a Rolling Stones tune as President Ratliff stepped onstage.
“Again with the ‘Start Me Up'”, he said, to laughter from the audience. They laughed harder as he shared a story about the email he’d sent to Tournament of Roses® members, inviting them to the Grand Marshal announcement.
“Yesterday, I (emailed them), ‘If you want to guess on who it is, if you read back through the email, I’ve used some clues. (I told them), ‘Please email your guesses’.”
“So–that was not the right move. I got hundreds of emails.”
Addressing the 2017 parade theme, Ratliff said he’d learned, over the last few months, that a lot of people measured success by numbers. He went on to share some figures.
“One hundred twenty-eight. That is the number of years the Tournament of Roses® has been putting on the greatest parade in the world…One hundred twenty is the number of Grand Marshals that we’ve had, over the last one hundred twenty-eight years. Two, is the number of puppets we’ve had, as Grand Marshals.”
President Ratliff told the audience that success involved not only accomplishments, but inspiration: “the many lives that have been touched, the ‘echoes of our Grand Marshal’s success’.”
“Sometime, it’s actually a challenge to find the Grand Marshal that exemplifies and embodies the Tournament of Roses® theme,” he said. “But not this year.”
“This Grand Marshal…, is our youngest female Grand Marshal since the first time Shirley Temple was selected, back in 1939,” Ratliff said. Detailing her background, he continued, “Our Grand Marshal would participate in four Summer Olympic games (including 2016 in Rio de Janeiro)…In addition to her three silver medals, she’s the only female track and field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals.”
Besides being in a tie for first place as the most decorated female athlete in Olympic history, Ratliff explained, the 2017 Grand Marshal was someone who believed in giving back. Her humanitarian efforts included working as an athlete ambassador for global organization Right to Play, which empowers disadvantaged youth through the power of play.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our choice, for the 2017 Tournament of Roses® Grand Marshal is Allyson Felix.”
“I am so honored and humbled, thrilled to be a Grand Marshal,” Felix said in her acceptance speech. “I’ve grown up watching the Rose Parade®, a family tradition in our home, and never would have imagined that I would be a part of it.”
Referring to the parade’s “Echoes of Success” theme, Felix said she was grateful to those who had made a difference in her life. Now, she said, she was happy to now be in a position to give back and help other young people succeed.
“It really, truly is important to me,” she said. “And I’m also part of the ‘L.A. 24’ bid, trying to bring the (2024 Olympic) games to Los Angeles. And I really love how many common themes (the Olympics) have with the Tournament of Roses®–things like American pride and teamwork with all the volunteers who take part.”
Amid the applause, Ratliff said, “Nine Olympic medals? Pretty impressive. How about we add to that count?”
2017 Rose Queen® Victoria Castellanos presented the new Grand Marshal with a bouquet of roses. Similar bouquets were forthcoming for–well, we’ll get to that.
“Our second Grand Marshal,” President Ratliff said, “has shown courage and spirit in countless ways. (As a role model, he inspired) countless people to break through their own boundaries and…pursue their own dreams.”
Numbers, once again, were just one of the components of this Grand Marshal’s success. Ratliff enumerated his achievements, from winning his first Olympic silver medal in 1976 to garnering forty-seven national titles.
“Please welcome an author of a New York Times bestselling autobiography, an activist, a humanitarian, a designer and arguably the greatest diver in history. Our second Grand Marshal, ladies and gentlemen, is Greg Louganis.”
The orchestra struck up the Olympic theme.
“Yes! The Rose Parade® is such an incredible family tradition,” Louganis said. “I grew up with it, (and) had the honor of being a part of it, years ago, on the Mission Viejo float when they had that water element.
“I also want to say, ‘Echoes of Success’ is such a wonderful theme. I’m a firm believer that you don’t achieve greatness on your own.
“We don’t get there without the support, whether it’s the unconditional love of my mom (or) an incredible coach, Ron O’Brien …I tell (young people) that if you don’t go through a few clouds and find yourself in some turbulence occasionally, then you’re not reaching high enough.”
And, one more
“Every day, people like these continue to prove that hard work, perseverance and courage are qualities that ensure success,” President Ratliff said. “But we’re not done yet.”
A ripple of laughter went through the audience.
Los Angeles, Ratliff continued, was the U.S. Olympic Committee’s selection as the American candidate city. The goal: to bring the summer Olympics back to the United States, for the first time in twenty-eight years.
“Our third Grand Marshal, a participant in three Olympic games: Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta…(She is) the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic and World Championship titles in one swimming event, the 800-meter freestyle. Seven world records. Five Olympic medals, four of them gold. Forty-five national titles.
“She’s a Southern California native, she’s a motivational speaker, vice-chair and director of athlete relations for L.A. 2024. Our third and final Grand Marshal: ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Janet Evans.”
“Speaking about ‘Echoes of Success’, I think it is very fitting that I can be here with one of my heroes from when I was a young child,” Evans said. “I watched Greg Louganis …”
The audience laughed as Louganis feigned embarrassment.
“I was twelve, I think that’s young, you were like seventeen, right?” Evans said. “When Greg Louganis competed here at the ’84 games, I was inspired by Greg and…all of the other athletes. They were my ‘Echoes of Success’ that inspired me to become an Olympian in 1988.
“I’m so proud to be here today on behalf of the L.A. 2024 Olympic bid committee. We’re trying to bring the Games home to Los Angeles, for the first time in twenty-eight years to America, and in forty years to our great city.”
The announcement of three Grand Marshals came as a surprise, but it’s not unprecedented. The Tournament of Roses® first had multiple Grand Marshals in 1952, according to their website. 2017, in fact, could almost seem small by comparison. The 1952 parade had seven Grand Marshals! (The 1952 honorees were seven Medal of Honor recipients, decorated for their bravery in the Korean War.)
The 2017 Tournament of Roses® Grand Marshal announcement was one of the most festive we’ve covered.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” President Ratliff concluded, “The Grand Marshals of the 2017 Tournament of Roses®: Allyson Felix, Greg Louganis and Janet Evans.”
With a “pop”, silk rose petals showered the 2017 Tournament of Roses® Grand Marshals–and the applauding audience.
Sam, the Olympic eagle, strolled onstage for a photo opp, amid clicking cameras.
“It was awesome,” President Ratliff said, after the ceremony. “The stories that our three Grand Marshals have to tell are so rich, and so different. All of their messages are so very, very different, but they really tie in with the theme, ‘Echoes of Success'”. The lives that these people have touched, because of the successes they each had in their own right, really paved the way for so many people to benefit from all that they have to give.”
Congratulations, Allyson Felix, Greg Louganis and Janet Evans, 2017 Tournament of Roses® Grand Marshals! Looking forward to seeing you on January second, 2017.