Washington• In his gnarly, snowboarder fashion, gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg recalled his introduction to President Barack Obama on Thursday as "chill" and noted how "down" he was with the lingo.
"I shook his hand," the Park City native said, "and was like, ‘Hello, Mr. President,’ and he goes, ‘Sage!’ He goes, "‘This guy was like [my] favorite moment of the Games, [he] did the sickest interviews.’"
Obama hosted Team USA, including a number of Utahns, at the White House on Thursday, praising the athletes’ drive and thanking them for representing their country so well. He also begged the exuberant crew not to break down any of the bathrooms’ antique doors or "tear up the place."
"You guys are too rowdy," Obama joked. "You didn’t bring anything you weren’t supposed to," right?
Nah. The teammates were just happy to see each other, to revel in their country welcoming them and their 46 medals home from the Sochi Winter Olympics with such a shout-out. They snapped photos and cheered as the president and first lady Michelle Obama heralded the team’s success. Kotsenburg decided against trying to take a selfie with the president as the Red Sox’ David Ortiz had done a few days earlier as part of a promotion for Samsung.
"I don’t know that I can one-up David Ortiz; that was pretty heavy a couple days ago," Kotsenburg said.
Obama saved a special thank you to Eagle Mountain resident Noelle Pikus-Pace, a skeleton slider who had returned from retirement after the 2010 Vancouver Games to compete in Sochi. Her husband, Janson, had convinced the mother of two to try again, Obama noted, "because raising a family and racing down the track don’t have to be mutually exclusive."
Pikus-Pace, the president added, was quoted after winning a silver medal that sometimes you’re bumped off course in life and you have to choose whether it will hold you back or move you forward.
"That’s the spirit we celebrate today," Obama said.
In the East Room, packed with America’s top athletes, Obama praised the men’s bobsled team, which included Utah’s Steven Holcomb, for being the first in 62 years to medal in the two-man competition. Holcomb, who helped the U.S. break a 62-year drought in the four-man event at the 2010 Vancouver Games, also led the U.S. to bronze in the Sochi four-man competition.
"Those are some tough guys on the bobsleds," Obama said. "Don’t mess with them."
Holcomb, a Park City native who walked away from Sochi a double-bronze medalist, said Obama was right.
"We’re all big, strong guys, like the football players of the Olympics," Holcomb said, noting that he was careful not to squeeze too tight when he shook Obama’s hand. "I had to be a little gentle. I didn’t want to break that hand."
This wasn’t the first visit to the White House for many Olympians in the room, including those who train in Park City.
"It’s so fun to experience something so different than our sport," said Alpine skier Stacey Cook, a Mammoth Falls, Calif., resident who lives part time in Utah and was visiting the White House for her third time.
"A lot of the times we’re in the position where fans are looking at us, and now all of a sudden, we’re the fans. It’s opposite of what we’re used to, like being at sea level."
Even though it was her second time meeting Obama, slalom skier Megan McJames of Park City said she was starstruck, but was happy to be back with the "big family" of Team USA.
"We all know what we’ve been through to get this and you don’t get to see that in sports too often, so events like this are fun," McJames said.
Obama, too, seemed to be enjoying the celebration.
"I would personally like to thank all of our snowboarders and freestyle skiers for making newscasters across America say things like ‘aired a fakey’ and ‘the back-to-back, double-cork 1260,’" Obama said. "I don’t know what that means, really, but I just want to say it. I’m pretty sure I’m the first president to ever say that."Next Page >
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