Amagansett homeowner Michael Novogratz got to enjoy the Olympic games in London, but he didn't just get to watch the games, he got to be a part of them.
Novogratz, a former collegiate wrestler and a National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee, was selected as the US Men's Freestyle wrestling team leader.
The president of Fortress Investment, a publicly traded company, Novogratz got back into the sport about eight years ago. He soon started Beat the Streets, a youth wrestling program in New York City that supports about 3,000 wrestlers.
The team included freestyle wrestlers Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner, who won gold at 163 lbs and 211.5 lbs., respectively.
They are returning from London with much more than medals. Novogratz, 47, is one of the forces behind the “Living the Dream Medal Fund," a program that pays $250,000 to any American wrestler who wins gold, $50,000 to silver medalists, and $25,000 to bronze medalists, according to Bloomberg News. Dave Barry, president of a Hoboken-based real estate development company and a former wrestler, is the co-founder.
Novogratz took some time right after the closing ceremony on Sunday to fill in East Hampton Patch via email about his experience at the Olympics:
Question: Had you ever attended the Olympic games before? If so, when?
Winter games only in Vancouver and Nagano…loved Vancouver…Nagano not so much. The key is energy…London had it in spades.
Q: You are a former Princeton wrestler and in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, but how did it come to be that you were named the US men's freestyle wrestling team leader? What does that position entail?
A: I am part cheerleader, part mentor, part fundraiser, and part strategist…. Was asked 4 years ago…I met many of the senior leadership in wrestling through my involvement in Beat the Streets… the wrestling community is a tight one.
Q: What was it like to walk in the Opening Ceremony with the team?
A: Top 5 life experience as a non-athlete. I'm guessing a top 2 as an athlete. Just so cool.
Q: Have you had a chance to take in other games? If so, which ones and what has been your favorite to watch?
A: Gymnastics was awesome…Usain Bolt's 100 was awesome…beach volleyball had a great vibe... To be fair, almost all the venues had great energy and great fans.
Q: Can you share one story from behind the scenes?
A: The most popular food station in the giant Olympic village cafeteria is McDonald's – go figure.
Q: Who have you met at the Olympics that's given you the biggest thrill?
A: The hoops players were all awesome. I walked in the stadium with Kobe Bryant, but meeting the Russian Alexander Karelin, who was a three-time gold medalist wrestler and the thickest man in the world, was pretty cool too.
Q: You are behind the "Living the Dream Medal Fund." Why do you feel this is important?
A: To inject energy into wrestling…
Q: You chartered a private jet to fly the team over and it seems you have spent a lot of time with these athletes. What's the one key advice you've given them?
A: Not to feel the pressure of family, sport and country as a burden, but to feel gratitude for all those pulling for them and loving them… and to turn that gratitude into the strength necessary to smash their opponents.