WASHINGTON – Swimmer Michael Phelps won a record eight Olympic gold medals,made dozens of television appearances and received a homecoming parade with tens of thousands of fans in his hometown,Towson, Md.
But he said Tuesday there is nothing quite like meeting President Bush at the White House.
Phelps called the event honoring all Olympians and Paralympians an “amazing experience,” and said he relished one of the president's jokes.
“People say,did you ever get to meet Michael Phelps?” Bush said. “I said I did. So that was the highlight? I said,not really; meeting his mother was more of a highlight. She reminded me of my mother – plainspoken and full of love. So,Michael,we congratulate you. We thank you for joining us today. And we congratulate all the swimmers for the Olympic team.”
Bush and the first lady welcomed Phelps and more than 500 athletes from the 2008 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the South Lawn. The president lauded both teams for their hard work,perseverance and medal counts.
The teams won 209 medals at the Beijing games. The Olympic team alone won 110 medals – a new U.S. record for an Olympic games with full participation by all countries.
“Whether you won a medal or not,it really doesn't matter in the long run,” Bush told the athletes,who wore bright red and blue jackets on the stage and White House balconies behind him. “What really matters is the honor you brought to your sports and to your families and to your country.”
Members of the Marine Corps band played the Olympic theme and music from the superhero movie “The Incredibles.”
Hundreds of relatives and friends of the Olympians crowded the sunny lawn in front of the president.
Bush recounted his memories from the games,including how swimmer Larsen Jensen gave his bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Bush after winning the bronze medal in the 400 freestyle relay at the Water Cube.
“It was an incredibly kind gesture – and by the way,Larsen,our anniversary is next month if you'd like to go,” Bush joked.
The president said he was saddened that volleyball star Misty May-Treanor was injured on the ABC television program “Dancing With The Stars.”
“God,if only she had me as a partner,you know?” he said. “Except,I can't dance.”
Bush joked about huddling with the U.S. basketball team.
“You can just imagine what it was like when the men's basketball team asked me to get in one of their huddles right before the game against China. I was like a jockey,” Bush said to laughter from the crowd.
After his speech,Bush took several minutes to greet the throng of athletes behind him,and all of the athletes toured the White House.
One of them was swimmer Ryan Lochte,who won the gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke. Lochte appeared genuinely impressed by his visit to the White House.
“It's awesome. Not Many people get to say they met the president,” he said.
Gold medal gymnast Nastia Liukin said she enjoyed the reunion.
“It was really great to be back with the whole team,” she said.
Many of the Olympians are just beginning to settle into a regular lifestyle again after making dozens of television appearances and traveling around the country. Phelps,who hosted the season premiere of NBC's “Saturday Night Live,” said he is getting his Maryland house organized again.
Discus gold medalist Stephanie Brown-Trafton,wearing her medal,said her town of Galt,Calif.,threw her a party,complete with fireworks,cotton candy and corndogs. Even after winning gold halfway across the world in front of an audience of millions,she said that there is nothing quite like meeting the president at the White House.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.