President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and delegates on Thursday at the White House. The Obamas congratulated the teams on their performance and representation of the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“The last couple of months we saw some dominating performances by team U.S.A.,” President Obama said.
The U.S. Olympic team finished second place in the overall medal count at the Sochi Olympics with nine gold medals,seven silver and 12 bronze.
First place went to Russia with 33 medals,13 of them gold.
The U.S. Paralympic team finished in eighth with two gold medals in ice sledge hockey and snowboarding,seven silver medals and nine bronze medals.
“American women won more medals in the Olympics than woman of any other nation,” President Obama said. “The men swept the podium in slope style skiing and Paralympic snowboarding.”
A few of the Olympians and Paralympians spoke at the event.
Mikaela Shiffrin,19,alpine skier and resident of East Burke,Vt.,won gold in women’s slalom.
“It’s been a wild ride,but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Shiffrin said.
She was the youngest Olympian ever to win gold in the slalom at 18.
Julie Chu,32,silver medalist and forward for the ice hockey team and resident of Fairfield,Conn.,said attending the White House is always a great opportunity for her.
“It never gets old,” Chu said. “As you get older you have to work harder … I know I have to earn it every day.”
Chu was the flag bearer at the closing ceremony of the games.
She competed in the Olympics since 2002,where she won her first silver medal.
Sage Kotsenburg,20,a slope style snowboarder and resident of Park City,Utah,was another gold medalist. He said being in Russia again was a completely new experience for him.
“I had a great time there,” Kotsenburg said. “Sochi was awesome,the hospitality was amazing.”
Kotsenburg,who had never been to the White House before,said going through all the rooms was pretty exciting.
“All the pictures and paintings of previous presidents are pretty insane to see,” Kotsenburg said. “Just being in there is crazy.”
She said being in D.C. was a great opportunity.
“We all share this passion for sport and we all know what it takes to get here so there is a special connection between all of us,” Jallen said. “It’s great to have the closing of the year here at the White House.”
Being a Paralympian and an Olympian requires a lot of training and mental preparation.
“You train your whole life and then you have one minute to show off everything you have done,” Jallen said. “Most winter sports are 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental … having your head on straight is one of the most important things.”
Jallen,who is 18,said that being so young is helpful to her career.
“I have so many people to look up. I have so many role models,” Jallen said. “That is actually an advantage for me … I want to take in everything they can tell and everything they can give me.”
Michelle Obama encouraged all Olympians to continue working hard and inspire others to do the same.
“You all show us that being an Olympian is about heart,is about guts and it’s about giving it your all no matter what stands in your way,” she said. “And that’s a message that I try to convey to young people all the time — the idea that if you work hard and commit yourselves to a goal,and then pick yourself up when you fall,that there is nothing that you can’t achieve.”
Reach reporter Alejandro Alba at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.