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Olympics: Obama heralds Team USA at White House

Published September 14, 2012 1:38 pm

Politics • Olympians, Paralympians visit the White House.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Calling himself the Fan-in-Chief, President Barack Obama heralded Team USA on Friday for inspiring Americans and reminding the world of the nation's passion and perseverance against challenges.

"As Olympians and Paralympians, you guys all find the strength to keep pushing on good days and bad days —- because you believe that no matter where we come from, or no matter what hand we've been dealt in life, with enough effort, there is no limit to how far we can go," the president said. "That's what sets all of you apart. That's what sets America apart."

After the ceremony on the White House South Lawn, Obama blew off his schedule and stood for an hour to shake the hands of some 200 Olympians and Paralympians, including two with strong Utah ties.

"Fist bumps?" the president could be heard saying as athletes lined up to greet him, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

With his teammates behind him decked out in letterman-like jackets, Paralympic flag-bearer and two-time gold medalist Brad Snyder presented Obama with the U.S. flag he carried into the Olympic stadium.

"It hits a patriotic nerve, it really does, and to be able to stand here on the White House lawn and be able to do that, it was absolutely amazing," said Snyder, who, as a Navy lieutenant lost his vision after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

"The last year has been a succession of amazing events," he added.

Salt Lake City's Randi Smith, the national coach of the Paralympic archery team that racked up a gold and a silver medal, was in the audience for the event and said it was like a reunion to see all America's competitors back in one spot.

"It's one of those things, there's not a lot of words for it," Smith said in an interview. "You're done over there and done a good job and represented the country well and now you get to be recognized for it."

Smith shook the president's hand, and on advice of her mother, shared a fist-bump, too.

Richard Lambourne, a graduate of Brigham Young University who helped win the gold medal in volleyball at the Beijing 2008 Games and

competed in London, was also at the White House on Wednesday.

Both Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, have touted the Olympics athletes in recent weeks, with Romney, the former head of the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, asking several medalists to speak for him on stage at the Republican National Convention. But sport drove the conversation Wednesday at the White House as athletes declined to weigh in on the political contest.

"I'm voting for the right man for the job," said Meb Keflezighi, a marathon runner who won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games and placed fourth in London.

Keflezighi, all smiles after his second visit to the White House — he met President Bill Clinton in the 1990s — said he agreed with the inspiration part of what Obama said and he has strived to provide that.

Some 15 miles into his own marathon and in 20th place, Keflezighi said, "I thought about stopping but I'm like, 'no, this is all about our country' and I kept going. A lot of people said they got inspired by that because of the courage and discipline and determination not to give up throughout the race."

He finished in fourth place, he said, but he finished.

In lauding the athletes, Obama cited several Olympians and Paralympians who he said exemplified "stories of determination and perseverance."

"As president, you made me especially proud to see how you conducted yourself on a world stage," Obama said. "You could not have been better ambassadors and better representatives for the United States and what we stand for."

tburr@sltrib.com

@thomaswburr