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Olympic Spirit Inspires White House

By Brandon Penny | Sept. 14, 2012, 5 p.m. (ET)

President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama is very jealous of his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.

Sure, he receives all the accolades that come with being the president of the United States, but she was the one who traveled to London to lead the U.S. delegation at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“It is true, I was pretty jealous of the fact that she had the chance to go to London. But, like millions of Americans, I had almost as much fun just following you guys from here and what you did,” President Obama said.

Nearly 400 members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams were gathered on the South Lawn of the White House to be honored by the president, first lady and Vice President Joe Biden for their success in London, where Team USA earned more than 200 medals.

“I usually work pretty late, but I mastered the DVR so I was able to catch a little bit of everything,” continued the president. “It was a great way to end the day, watching you guys do things that I didn’t think was humanly possible.”

President Obama noted that while working out together each morning, he and Mrs. Obama often talked about Team USA’s impressive performances that they watched on television the night before. He was inspired to run faster after watching the stellar speeds of sprinter Tyson Gay, inspired to lift more after watching the impressive strength of weightlifter Holley Mangold and inspired to do a few more crunches after watching Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time.

“And wheelchair rugby, I’m just glad you guys aren’t taking me out!” the president said with a laugh, referring the sport that has become known as “murderball.”

The performances of the 532 Olympians and 227 Paralympians truly did “inspire a generation,” the theme of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. President and Mrs. Obama took the time to call out several more athletes by name, highlighting their inspirational journeys to the greatest stage in sports.

“Thirteen years ago, Kari Miller was serving in the army when her car was hit by a drunk driver,” President Obama said. “She lost both her legs, went on to college, learned how to play sitting volleyball. Today she is the proud owner of two silver medals.”

The president also highlighted the story of discus athlete Lance Brooks, who worked 12 hours a day pouring concrete prior to the Games, but still found the time to train and make the Olympic team. There is also 15-year-old Katie Ledecky, who earned gold in the 800m freestyle in London, setting an American record. While in London, Ledecky “still had to finish the summer reading assignments for her high school English class,” the president pointed out. Ledecky hails from Bethesda, Md., and some of her classmates from Stone Ridge High School of the Sacred Heart were in the front row at the ceremony.

President Obama’s favorite story of the Olympic Games is of Manteo Mitchell, who broke his left fibula with 200m to go in the first leg of the 4x400m relay prelims. Mitchell finished the race, in 46 seconds, to help Team USA qualify for the final.

“Thank you for being such great role models, especially for our young people,” President Obama said. “We could not be prouder of you.  You gave us a summer we will never forget.

“I’ve been told that because of my schedule I’m not allowed to shake everybody’s hands but I am gonna break the rule and try to shake as many as I can before I get dragged out of here,” the president said at the end of his speech.

And true to his word, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden personally greeted each and every athlete in attendance.

Paralympic swimmer Cortney Jordan, who swam away from London with four medals to add to her four medals from Beijing, walked away from her encounter with the president practically in tears.

“I hugged the president!” Jordan continued to exclaim.

“It was so cool! It’s an honor to even be here, and the fact that President Obama’s taking the time out to individually talk to us and shake our hands and hug us, it’s a dream come true and I’m so proud to be representing my country right now.”

Jordan’s good friend and fellow swimmer, Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, was selected by his peers as the flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. He and Olympic fencer Mariel Zagunis, who was selected as the flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, presented President Obama with a very unique American flag.

“A special thing about this flag is the USOC launched the Raise Our Flag campaign for this summer and it was a fundraising effort to support Olympians and Paralympians,” Zagunis explained as they presented the president with the flag. “Over 29,000 people donated to this cause and each donation was turned into a stitch that was incorporated in the flag that Brad and I carried.”

Snyder's is one of the stories Mrs. Obama enjoyed most during this summer’s Games.

“Just one year ago, Lt. Snyder was blinded by an IED [improvised explosive device] in Afghanistan but this summer he competed in London, winning two gold medals and a silver,” the first lady said.

In the past the past three months, Snyder has had several out-of-this-world experiences. According to him, each one has trumped the next, from making the Paralympic team to competing in London, then winning gold and being selected to carry the flag in the Closing Ceremony.

“And then to be able to present that flag to the president is the epitome of patriotism,” Snyder said. “I’m really very proud and honored to be here. Words don’t give it credit. It’s an absolutely fantastic experience.”

Related Athletes

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Tyson Gay

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Holley Mangold

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Michael Phelps

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Kari Miller

Sitting Volleyball
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Lance Brooks

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Katie Ledecky

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Manteo Mitchell

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Bradley Snyder

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Mariel Zagunis