President Obama welcomed the American Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House in a bizarre ceremony that celebrated athletes for checking a diversity box rather than winning gold.
Of the 20 Rio Olympians and Paralympians that the president recognized by name on Thursday, 16 were female. Michael Phelps alone among the men who won gold at Rio heard his name called by the commander in chief. At one point, he read off descriptions of the feats of 12 Olympians — all of them women. In this list, he mentioned the sports that these 12 women competed in save for Kim Rhode, whom he calls a “female Olympian” who “medaled at six straight Games.” Medaled in what? Shooting.
“You will notice that there was a preponderance of women that I was mentioning here,” he explained regarding a list entirely comprised of women. “One of the reasons our country is so proud of this year’s Team USA is 2016 belonged to America’s women Olympians, I mean, no question. We had more women competing in these Games than any nation ever. Our women alone won more golds than most countries did. Our women’s 61 medals — most ever by any women’s team — breaking the record set by, of course, Team USA four years ago.”
Despite the president’s claim that “2016 belonged to America’s women Olympians,” the American men and women won almost the same number of medals with the males claiming 55, the ladies taking home 61, and mixed teams grabbing five. America’s team in Rio consisted of 291 women and 263 men.
“And then there are some firsts that show the world America’s greatness doesn’t come only from high scores or fast times, but from our diversity and our tolerance and our open hearts,” the president announced of a bronze medalist at this year’s games. “This summer’s fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, became the first American female athlete to compete in the Olympic Games in a hijab. And that’s important too, because one of the wonderful things we love when we see our Olympians is everybody is from all kinds of different backgrounds and shapes and sizes — although all very good-looking.”
President Obama maintained that the essential ingredients to sending such a successful delegation of athletes to Rio included gay rights and open borders. He explained:
There’s no kid in America who can’t look at our Olympic team and see themselves somewhere. That’s part of the reason why we’re successful — because we gather talent from every corner of the globe. And through the years of people arriving — whether it’s in Ellis Island or Angel Island or coming over the Rio Grande; some cases, coming not of their own accord — we’ve become something more than just the sum of our parts. We’ve become Americans together. And there’s something special about that — all races, all faiths, all traditions, all orientations, all marching together under that same proud flag. Not bound by a creed or a color, but by our devotion to an enduring set of ideals: That we’re all created equal, that we can think and worship and love as we please, and that we can pursue our own version of happiness.
The president also recognized two past Olympians, runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who gained fame for raising black-gloved fists during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Obama characterized the two track stars as symbols of unity. The president, who invited the pair to the event, held: “Their powerful silent protest in the 1968 Games was controversial, but it woke folks up and created greater opportunity for those that followed.”
In one part of the event devoid of politicization, gymnast Simone Biles presented the president with a surf board signed by the Olympians attending the White House event. The Hawaii-born Obama noted that next year offers him much time to surf.