White House celebrates Olympic and Paralympic success in its own backyard
The White House invited participants of the summer Olympics to attend a ceremony on the South Lawn in honor of their achievements and to thank the athletes for inspiring the American people.
“You made us proud. And, as president, you made me especially proud to see how you conducted yourself on a world stage. You could not have been better ambassadors and better representatives for the United States and what we stand for,” President Barack Obama said.
His pride in the U.S. athletes was so great that he vowed to shake every athlete’s hand before the day was over, even if it conflicted with his schedule.
“And I’ve been told that, because of my schedule, I’m not allowed to shake everybody’s hands, but I am going to break the rule and try to shake as many as I can before I get dragged out of here,” Obama said.
Obama stayed true to his word, taking almost an hour to greet, thank and shake the hand of every Olympic and Paralympic athlete present, longer than it took Kristin Armstrong to snag a gold medal in the women’s road race. She won the 29-kilometer bike race in just over 33 minutes.
Swimmer Katie Ledecky had summer homework to complete while competing in London, while Manteo Mitchell broke his shinbone during the 4x400 relay, but still finished the race to qualify the U.S. team for the final.
Individual effort was a cause for celebration, Obama said, but it was also a way to unify the country.
“That’s what sets all of you apart. That’s what sets America apart. We celebrate individual effort, but we also know that, together, we can do incredible things that we couldn’t accomplish on our own,” Obama said.
The atmosphere was lighthearted as Obama made jokes about feeling lazy, jogging on a treadmill, watching U.S. athletes compete on TV. He said that, even though he couldn’t keep up with the Olympians and Paralympians, he still felt inspired.
“I was inspired to run a little bit faster watching Tyson Gay, and lift a little more after watching Holley Mangold, or do a few more crunches after watching Michael Phelps and the other swimmers,” Obama said.
Before Obama made his exit, Olympic diving gold medalist David Boudia gave Obama a chance of a lifetime opportunity as well: to wear a gold medal. Obama slipped it over his neck and posed for pictures.
Immediately following the ceremony, Obama traveled to Joint Base Andrews to witness the return of the remains of the four U.S. diplomats killed earlier this week in Libya.
Reach reporter Tanya Parker at Tanya.Parker@shns.com or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.