WASHINGTON – An ocean blue wave of 2006 Olympic and Paralympic winners covered the staircase on the south side of the White House on Wednesday morning as President Bush honored them for their athleticism and character.
Bush noted that first lady Laura Bush led the U.S. delegation to the competition while he stayed home.
“I wish I could have been at the games there in Turin,but fortunately we do have TVs here in the White House,” he said to laughter from the athletes. “It was such a thrill to watch you all compete.”
About 190 athletes along with some coaches,team leaders and U.S Olympic staff,all wearing their blue Olympic uniforms,toured the White House before the ceremony.
“The fact that you compete hard and train hard and set high goals and succeed is a really important part of encouraging others to follow in your footsteps,” Bush said. “Being a champ means that you’ve got enormous responsibilities,and I thank you for upholding those responsibilities with the class that you’ve showed as athletes in Turin.”
The president added,“America’s Paralympians overcame incredible odds to earn 12 medals for our nation.”
Bush also praised the snowboard team,which took seven medals,referring to gold medalist Shaun White by his nickname,although White did not attend the ceremony,according to the White House.
“We’re honored that the ‘Flying Tomato' represented our country,and we want to thank all the dudes and dudesses of the snowboarders who are here,” Bush said.
The Olympic flag bearer,Christine Witty,a long track speed skater,presented the president with an emblematic torch she said represents the Olympic spirit in everyone.
After the ceremony,some of the athletes described the experience.
“It is unbelievable being an Olympic winner,” said Derek Parra,a long track 2002 gold and silver Winter Olympic medalist and 2006 team member. “You feel like you are standing on top of the world. Especially after September 11th,we felt like we had the country behind us.”
Greg Mallory,a 38-year-old Nordic skiing Paralympian,said,“It is pretty impressive being in the White House.”
Although his team did not win a medal this year,he said the athletes are planning for the next Paralympics.
“I try to take it one day at a time,” Mallory said.