Some students at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice could not keep the smiles off their faces as they got their T-shirts signed by athletes representing different generations of U.S. Olympic history.

The athletes paid a visit to the Venice school Monday, November 13th, to kick off a new program in which they will visit Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools to motivate students to set and achieve fitness and health goals.

In launching the Ready, Set, Gold! program, the Olympic and Paralympic athletes were joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, LAUSD board of education president Marlene Canter and Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games officials.

While some students admitted they weren’t familiar with many of the Olympians, they were more than happy to have such accomplished athletes visit their school.

“I felt it was really cool they chose our school,” Coeur d’Alene fifth-grader Lukas Braun said.

Through the pilot program, 30 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes wanting to promote healthy living and active lifestyles in young people will be matched with 30 LAUSD schools.

Of the 30 schools involved in the program, five are within the Argonaut coverage area — Coeur d’Alene Elementary School in Venice, Loyola Village Elementary School in Westchester, Marina del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, Venice High School in Mar Vista and Westchester High School in Westchester.

Participating in the program are Olympic athletes who competed in sports ranging from kayaking to boxing — including high jumper Dwight Stones (1972 and 1976), boxer Henry Tillman (1984), gymnast Peter Vidmar (1984), sprinter Wyomia Tyus (1964 and 1968), and track and field hurdler Mark Crear (1996 and 2000).

The athletes will give the students real-life examples of how setting goals helped them be successful in both sports and life and encourage the youths to do the same.

Through the program, the athletes will meet with their adopted school five times during the school year. They will talk to the youths about what inspired them to become great athletes, how they set goals and how the students can also work for goals.

Villaraigosa said Ready, Set, Gold! will allow the athletes involved to show the students that setting goals can lead to success.

“We are going to bridge healthy bodies and healthy minds with physical and academic achievements,” Villaraigosa said of the program. “We will use this program to combine the excitement of the Olympics and the importance of goal setting to motivate not just young people, but everyone in the community to set and reach their goals.”

Program organizers say the program is a “legacy” of the ongoing bid of Los Angeles to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

But while the program is intended to celebrate the excitement of the city’s bid, it will continue to have an influence on youths even if the Olympic bid falls through, organizers say.

“No matter what happens in 2016, we’ve already won,” Rosendahl said. “We’re getting young people to be mentored by true role models. This is a tremendous movement.”

The program was also developed to complement Fitnessgram, a state-mandated fitness program for all California fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders.

All students take a pretest in the fall, and with the help of teachers, set goals and plan how to achieve them. The students are tested again at the end of the school year.

“We are thrilled to have America’s true heroes, Olympians and Paralympians, participate in the Ready, Set, Gold! program as a supplement to Fitnessgram, to help motivate our students toward a healthy lifestyle,” said Canter, who has made student health one of her top priorities.

Southern California Olympic Games Committee officials say they plan to expand the number of participating schools and Olympians, and hope to use the program as a model for other school districts in the state and across the country.

Chris Soule, who competed in the skeleton sliding event in the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games and was the World Cup Champion in 2003, is the athlete matched with Coeur d’Alene.

Soule said the Olympians have “unique stories and a lot to offer” the students about working to accomplish their goals.

“I know there are people in my life who have been a direct influence for me in being able to dream big,” Soule said. “I’m impressed with the program and the objective is really positive.”

Legendary high jumper Dwight Stones, who captured the bronze medal in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, also said the Olympians have “a lot we can pass along” in their visits with the students.

The athletes can emphasize to the youths that as long as they work to improve, they will be winners, Stones said.

“If you are improving yourself you are a winner, regardless of where you place,” said Stones, who was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1988.

Another legendary track athlete who came out to support the Ready, Set, Gold! effort November 13th was 1936 Olympian Louie Zamperini.

Zamperini seemed to be the main attraction for the Coeur d’Alene youngsters, who expressed admiration for his story as an Olympian turned World War II hero.

The students said they are excited to hear about more Olympian stories and are eager to get advice on how to reach for their dreams.

“It’s a good way for kids to learn about following their dreams and becoming healthier and fitter,” Coeur d’Alene fifth grader Gabriela Tapia said of the program.

Zamperini, a man who has persevered through seemingly unimaginable obstacles, had one more piece of advice for youths striving for their goals.

“When you get to a point where you feel you can’t go further, don’t give up,” Zamperini said.