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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

Kerri Walsh Jennings eyes 2020 Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States celebrates a point during the Beach Volleyball Women's Bronze medal match against Larissa Franca Maestrini and Talita Rocha of Brazil on day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Beach Volleyball Arena on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If Kerri Walsh Jennings had to decide now, she’s in for Tokyo 2020.

In recent weeks, Walsh Jennings has warmed more and more to trying for a sixth Olympics at age 41, after taking bronze with April Ross in Rio. In 2020, the three-time Olympic champion will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

In December, Walsh Jennings told an NCAA women’s indoor volleyball championship crowd that her kids’ first words to her after she came home from Rio were, “You didn’t win gold,” according to Flovolleyball. Her response? “Tokyo 2020, kids.”

On Jan. 10, a tweet from Walsh Jennings’ account tagged “TokyoGold2020” and “AllIn.” Her Twitter bio now includes, “aspiring to be MY best #Tokyo2020.”

Then in an interview with Seth Davis published Wednesday, she reaffirmed it.

“You’re asking me right this moment. I’m in to go win a gold medal [in 2020],” she said. “That’s like, period, end of statement with regard to me. I’m a family of five, and this journey requires total commitment from not just myself but my kids and my husband and so many other people. So I need to get on the same page with my hubby because it’s a lonely life when I’m traveling the world. He’s an athlete as well [beach volleyball player Casey Jennings], but he’s retired from the international scene, so he’s home. If I go four more years, which I want to, I need to consider lots of things, but, yes, I’m in.”

Walsh Jennings and Ross are set to make their 2017 season debut in Fort Lauderdale next month. Previously, Ross was planning to take 2017 off to have a child.

MORE: U.S. beach volleyball Olympians open season with new partners

President Obama honors Olympians in final press conference (video)

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Barack Obama has honored Olympians in his final days as president, including specifically naming gold medalists Simone Biles and Michael Phelps on Wednesday.

At his final presidential press conference, Obama brought up the Olympics when asked if he thought there would be another black president.

His answer at the 41:45 mark in the above video:

“I think I’ve used this analogy before. We killed it in the Olympics in Brazil. And Michelle and I, we always have our — the Olympic team here. And it’s a lot of fun, first of all, just because, you know, anytime you’re meeting somebody who’s the best at anything, it’s impressive.

And these mostly very young people are all just so healthy looking, and they just beam and exude fitness and health. And so we have a great time talking to them. But they are of all shapes, sizes, colors. You know, the genetic diversity that is on display is remarkable.

And if you look at Simone Biles, and then you look at a Michael Phelps, they’re completely different. And it’s precisely because of those differences that we’ve got people here who can excel at any sport.

And by the way, more than half of our medals [in Rio] came from women. And the reason is is because we had the foresight several decades ago with something called Title IX to make sure that women got opportunities in sports, which is why our women compete better, because they have more opportunities than folks in other countries.

I use that as a metaphor, and if in fact we continue to keep opportunity open to everybody, then yeah, we’re going to have a woman president. We’re going to have a Latino president. We’ll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president. Who knows who we’re going to have.

I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call ’em.”

MORE: Obama appoints four Olympic medalists to positions