LONDON – A man with a familiar name in the Charlotte area has had an incredible impact on the Olympics.
Irwin "Ike" Belk has been to more Olympics than most anyone alive. At 90 years old, Belk is back in London for another Olympic experience.
"Every Olympic is unique in each city you go to," Belk said. "The English people really put it on right and USA is going to be number one."
Belk's father started the Belk department store chain back in 1888 and Ike still works for the family business. But his passion and philanthropy extend well beyond clothes and shoes.
"I'm a strong believer in amateur sports," he said.
Belk has commissioned hundreds of sculptures to colleges and universities across America, and for nearly 50 years he has served on the U.S. Olympic committee.
Belk is so synonymous with the Olympics. Parts of the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs carries the family name.
"You've got to have money to put any type of sporting event on," he said.
He may give more money to the U.S. Olympic committee than anyone else, but that doesn't mean Ike Belk always gets his way.
When the committee was considering allowing professional athletes to compete at the Olympics, Belk was on the losing end.
"I voted against it and it's over with now," he noted.
Belk is familiar with Great Britain. He served there with the Air Force in World War II. Seven decades later, he's back on a mission to celebrate the best in athletic competition with an affinity for Carolina athletes.
“We go to a little bit of everything. But I don't miss track and field. Before you were born, I used to be a hot shot. But I can't even walk a block now," he joked.
Daughter Marilyn, son-in-law Edward and granddaughters Jamie and Charlotte—named after his beloved hometown—have joined him on this trip.
“I really enjoy everyone coming together and everyone's coming together for the athletes, which I think is amazing," Charlotte said.
“I love all the Olympic events,” Jamie said. “I love all the support the athletes give each other. Everyone comes to watch the games and the games unite the world.”
As he has for five decades, Belk is determined, once again, to take in everything these games have to offer.
“My dad's very giving and believes in athletes and supports them and has made me learn that as well,” Belk’s daughter, Marilyn said.
"I get to see my family and they get to have fun and I have fun when they have fun," Belk added. "Making friendship and fellowship with men and women of the world—it's the greatest program you can think of."