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TODAY: Olympic hopefuls crowd-fund to get to Sochi

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Getting to Sochi is no easy task, athletically or financially. To help out with the latter, Olympic hopefuls are turning to crowd-funding for help, reports TODAY.com.

Athletes create profiles on sites like GoFundMe, Indiegogo and the athlete-centric RallyMe, seeking online donations to help them make it to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Many of the athletes on crowd-funding sites are U.S. speedskaters, bobsledders and skeleton racers, who don’t have big sponsors like many of the snowboarders and skiers.

“Let’s be honest, I’m not LeBron James,’’ U.S. speedskater Patrick Meek told TODAY.com. “I’m not going to have a billboard in Times Square to promote my story. Athletes can use these sites as another tool in their arsenal. It’s an inexpensive way to get our stories out there and thank our sponsors. Every little bit helps.”

Many Olympic sports athletes train six to eight hours per day and work part-time jobs. Even with a USOC stipend, it can be hard to make ends meet. Crowd-funding websites can connect the dots.

Recent crowd-funding stories have led to more public awareness. Meek, a part-time valet at a Park City, Utah, hotel, recently started his own RallyMe page because he fielded questions from potential donors.

“We’re a little bit more real, and people can feel like they’re part of our story,’’ Meek said. “I think that’s something fans today relish. You don’t have to spend $10,000 on season tickets. You can spend a little on an athlete and feel like you’re part of the journey. It breaks down the barrier between the athletes and the fans and creates a real connection.”

Short-track speedskater Chris Creveling has raised $5,500 out of a goal of $35,000 on his GoFundMe page.

“The Russian skaters aren’t thinking, ‘Am I going to spend this money on rent or groceries?'” Creveling said. “They are thinking, ‘How am I going to get this gold medal?’ Having this extra money gives us the peace of mind to focus on our main goal, too.”

Ski jumper Lindsey Van raised over $20,000 on her RallyMe site through Facebook and even wearing a RallyMe sticker on her competition helmet.

“We’ve become aware of how much people can make, and good for them,” said speedskater Brittany Bowe, who has a RallyMe page. “If that gets them one step closer to making their dreams come true, then awesome. You can’t do anything but be happy for those people. Everybody is out here trying to make their dreams come true.”

Short track speedskater overwhelmed by crowd-funding response

Tommie Smith, John Carlos set to join Team USA at White House

FILe - In this Oct. 16, 1968, file photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward while extending gloved hands skyward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. Smith and Carlos, the American sprinters whose raised-fist salutes at the 1968 Olympics are an ageless sign of race-inspired protest, will join the U.S. Olympic team at the White House next week for its meeting with President Barack Obama. Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Olympics after raising their black-gloved fists in a symbolic protest during the U.S. national anthem. They called it a ``human rights salute.''
The USOC asked them to serve as ambassadors as it tries to make its own leadership more diverse. (AP Photo/File)
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the American sprinters whose raised-fist salutes at the 1968 Olympics are an ageless sign of race-inspired protest, will join the U.S. Olympic team at the White House next week for its meeting with President Barack Obama.

Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Olympics after raising their black-gloved fists in a symbolic protest during the U.S. national anthem. They called it a “human rights salute.”

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun asked them to serve as ambassadors as the federation tries to bring more diversity to its own ranks. They will join the team at the White House next Wednesday, then later that evening at an awards celebration in Washington.

The sprinters have been referenced frequently in the recent protests, spurred by Colin Kaepernick, during national anthems at NFL games. One player, Marcus Peters of the Chiefs, raised his own black-gloved fist before Kansas City’s season opener.

“I think Tommie and John have played an important and positive role in the evolution of our attitudes about diversity and inclusion, not only in the United States but around the world,” Blackmun said Friday night at a dinner to celebrate the U.S. performance in Brazil this summer.

MORE: Usain Bolt says he received offers to play wide receiver in the NFL (video)

Wilson Kipsang: I am very focused on the marathon world record

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The men’s marathon world record has been broken five of the last nine years at the Berlin Marathon.

Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, who broke the world record at the 2013 Berlin Marathon, believes that he can do it again on Sunday, when the race will stream live on the NBC Sports app beginning at 2:30 a.m. ET.

“I’ve trained well and, three years down the line from my world record here, I feel good and believe I have the potential to attempt the world record once more,” he said at today’s press conference, according to the IAAF. “Running at the top level, there is a lot of wear and tear on the body, especially when you are running for a time, but I am very focused on the world record.”

Kipsang clocked 2 hours, 3 minutes, 23 seconds when he broke the world record in 2013. A year later, fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto lowered it to 2:02:57 on the same course. Kimetto will not race in Berlin this year.

Kipsang will be challenged by Kenyan compatriot Emmanuel Mutai, who has the fastest time (2:03:13) in the field, and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele.

Bekele is a three-time Olympic track champion and the 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder, but acknowledged that his marathon personal best of 2:05:04 places him a distant fourth in the field.

“I consider my personal best of 2:05 to be slow compared to the best runners,” he said. “I want to run as fast as I can on Sunday and beat my best.”

MORE: Berlin Marathon to live stream on NBC Sports app