The three Grand Marshals for the 2017 Rose Parade, Greg Louganis, Janet Evans, and Allyson Felix are happy to be on stage with Sam the Olympic Eagle from the 1984 Los Angeles games. The announcement took place on Nov. 3, 2016. All photos copyright 2016 Laura Berthold Monteros
by Laura Berthold Monteros
This morning at Tournament House in Pasadena, the biggest secret in town was revealed. Pres. Brad Ratliff announced that the Grand Marshals of the 128th Tournament of Roses Parade are Allyson Felix, Greg Louganis, and Janet Evans. All three are native Southern Californians who are world famous, multiple Olympic medal winners in multiple years, and world record holders. And all three serve on the LA 2024 Athletes’ Advisory Commission, ensuring that Olympians and Paralympians are involved in all aspects of the plans to bring the Olympic Games to Los Angeles in 2024.
Be sure to check out the album at the end of this article!
Ratliff, who chose the theme “Echoes of Success” for 2017, opened the ceremony by asking, “How cool is it that we’re at the house of the guy who built the World Series champion team?” Tournament House belonged to the William Wrigley family before it was donated to the City of Pasadena for use as the Tournament of Roses headquarters. He continued by rattling off numbers that can be considered indicators of success: 128 Rose Parades, 103 Rose Bowl Games, 935 volunteers and 37 staff members, 120 Grand Marshals, two of whom were puppets.
“All are successful in their own stories, even if their story is narrated by Kermit The Frog or Charlie McCarthy,” Ratliff said. He noted that it’s sometimes difficult to find a Grand Marshal who fits the theme of the year, “but not this year.” Indeed, he found three who are personally successful and whose success echoes in the many people they have inspired. Each swept through the golden curtains draping the front entryway and gave a short speech, and each mentioned that they grew up with the Rose Parade as a family tradition. Rose Queen Victoria Castellanos handed each a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses.
Evans held seven world records, five Olympic medals (including four gold), and 45 American national titles at the end of her swimming career. She is third only to Tracy Caulkins and Michael Phelps. She competed in the Olympics in 1988 in Beijing and 1992 in Atlanta. She mentioned that Greg Louganis is one of her heroes. It was through working with Evans that Ratliff was able to recruit the other two Grand Marshals.
Felix is the only female track and field athlete who has won six Olympic gold medals and, with a total of nine medals, is tied with Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female Olympian in track and field history. She is also the youngest Grand Marshal, other than Shirley Temple in her 1939 appearance. She has competed in four consecutive Summer Olympics, 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing, 2012 in London, and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Louganis is the only male and the second diver in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games. Ratliff cited his bravery and fearlessness; Louganis came back after a head injury during a dive in the 1988 Olympics. He competed in three Olympics, 1976 in Montreal, 1984 in Los Angeles, and 1988 in Seoul. He continued to compete despite the injury. Ratliff introduced him by saying, “He paved the way for countless people…. He freed others to pursue their own dreams.”
Louganis is the first openly gay Grand Marshal in Rose Parade history, and the big deal about that is that it isn’t a big deal. It was not mentioned until we mentioned it to him after the announcement. “Really? Really? That’s huge! That’s huge!” It’s also, in our opinion, a reflection of how the Tournament of Roses (and society in general) has evolved over the past 128 years, from strictly white male Grand Marshals to the inclusion of women, blacks, and Latinos.
In our interview time, we asked all three GMs three questions: Did the LA 2024 Exploratory Committee and the Tournament of Roses collude to nudge the world toward supporting Los Angeles’ attempts to host the 2014 Olympics? Have they ever received roses from a queen before?
Felix said that she is “shocked” to be one of the Grand Marshals. “I’m up here with legends.” she said. She gave an emphatic “no” regarding the roses, and stressed that LA 2024 and the Tournament “have so much in common.” Both she and Evans said they only found out that they would be GMs three or four weeks ago.
Evans said, “We are doing our best” for LA 2024. “It’s incredible. Ninety-seven percent of the venues are already built.” One of those is, of course, the Rose Bowl Stadium which would host the soccer competitions. She said, “I never got roses from a queen, especially Queen Victoria.”
Louganis hesitated on the rose question. “I’m sure I’ve gotten roses from a queen,” he said carefully, then added with a grin, “Maybe a drag queen!” He was less hesitant about collusion. “Yes, we were all colluding!” He said that the presence of the three in the Rose Parade will bring awareness and attention to the efforts to host the Olympics and underscore the sustainability LA has.
Ratliff, for his part, stressed that the stories of the three are “so rich and so different,” but they all tie in with “Echoes of Success.” “It’s a diverse collection of stories. Each one does great things.” He affirmed that the GMs only had a few weeks’ notice.
“We waited a while to see how the theme played out,” he said. The Tournament worked with LA 2024 indirectly through Janet Evans and her team and developed “such a great partnership with LA 2024.” As to how the ride along Colorado and tossing the coin at the Rose Bowl Game might assist in the Olympic efforts, he said, “I don’t see how it wouldn’t help. The timing is good for them and for us.”
The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game will be held on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.