Hughes shares Olympic dream at United Nations

Olympic gold medalist speaks at UN, chats with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Sarah Hughes imparts some wisdom at the United Nations.
Sarah Hughes imparts some wisdom at the United Nations. (courtesy of Sarah Hughes)


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By Sarah Hughes, special to
(12/21/2012) - On July 26, 2012, the 69th day of the 70-day London Olympic torch relay, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began his journey of carrying the Olympic Torch from Parliament Square to Constitution Hill. Ebullient, celebratory crowds flanked all sides of him, cheering as he continued the final leg of a relay that would signal the official start of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games the very next day.

What many who applauded him on as he ran -- in person and on TV -- did not know, was just how juxtaposing that day was for him. Before running with the Torch, he spent the morning in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. There, he spent time with "mothers of those slain in the horrendous massacre" in the 1995 Bosnian massacre, a massacre former Secretary-General Kofi Annan described as "the worst on European soil since the Second World War."

This past Tuesday, Ban shared the range of emotions he had that day -- from visiting with the distraught mothers to then participating in the uplifting Torch relay -- with a large audience gathered in the lobby of the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The reason the Secretary-General took part in the relay, he said, was to support and promote the Olympic Truce.

"The call for warring parties everywhere to lay down their weapons during the Games. These pauses in fighting," he said before the relay, "save lives. They help humanitarian workers reach people in need. And they open diplomatic space to negotiate lasting solutions."

"The UN and the Olympics" event, organized by the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, was to unveil an Olympic display featuring the Olympic Torch that Secretary-General Ban carried and the tracksuit he wore during the relay. The display will be featured in the visitors lobby in the UN Headquarters until next year, when it will be donated to a charity to benefit peace and development projects around the world.

The unveiling allowed the Secretary-General to emphasize how the Games provide a unique opportunity to highlight the positive role sport and athletes can play in promoting greater ideals.

"Achieving a universal end to hostilities, even for a day, may seem a dream, but it is a dream we must resolutely pursue each day -- just as Olympians follow their own dream. Our honored guest today, Sarah Hughes, had a dream that few thought possible. But she and her family believed, and her dream came true."

The event, hosted by UN Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, also featured remarks by Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN Mark Lyall Grant, followed by my remarks. After I spoke, Secretary-General Ban came on stage to sign his tracksuit and take a few photos. During this time, I had an opportunity to speak with him.

In 2018, the Winter Olympics will be hosted by South Korea in Pyeongchang. Secretray-General Ban and I spoke a bit about that, about sports, and -- of course -- fellow South Korean figure skater Yu-Na Kim.

My guests for the event included Jessica and Jzana, who are in the Figure Skating in Harlem program, Michael Rodgers from the Women's Sports Foundation, one of my brothers, my father and my sister, Emily. However, this wasn't the first time Emily had heard Secretary-General Ban speak. While at Harvard, Emily was present for a speech he gave on energy and sustainability during a summer program she was enrolled in at Waseda University in Toyko, Japan.

"It was very interesting to hear the Secretary-General talk about the Olympics and how the Games are a conduit for peace," she said. "I also enjoyed hearing how closely the United Nations works with its Member States to pass resolutions like the Olympic Truce and keep its members on board with those goals."

Following the presentation, we had a tour of the General Assembly and Security Council.

"It was an honor for me and my students to go to the United Nations," said Sharon Cohen, founder and executive director of Figure Skating in Harlem. "The girls were really looking forward to the entire experience.

"Going on the tour was interesting too. We've never been inside the UN. A highlight for us was being inspired by the positive impact sports and young leaders can have around the world."

The Torch and tracksuit are currently on display to all UN visitors for a limited time.