WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama gathered Team USA at the White House on Friday to hail the Olympians and Paralympians as conquering heroes.
“We could not be prouder of you. You gave us a summer that we will never forget,” he told more than 400 athletes crowding bleachers on the South Lawn.
Obama was joined by his wife Michelle, who was in London for the opening of the 2012 Summer Games and led the official U.S. delegation, and Vice President Joe Biden.
It was a banner year for U.S. athletes, who took home 104 medals — 46 of them gold — for their biggest haul at an Olympics not held in the United States. The Paralympics, which came immediately after, attracted 2.7 million spectators, a record.
Obama said he was jealous of his wife’s Olympic trip but did his best to keep up with the games by watching TV coverage.
“I’ve mastered the DVR so I was able to catch a little bit of everything,” Obama said, adding he often began his days in the White House exercise room “watching you guys do things that I did not think were humanly possible.”
“I was inspired to run a little bit faster watching (Olympic sprinter) Tyson Gay … (or) do a few more crunches after watching Michael Phelps and the other swimmers,” Obama said. He said he personally strained a lot harder — jogging on his treadmill.
Phelps, who became the Olympics’ most decorated athlete ever in London, grinned broadly, seated with the other athletes and wearing aviator glasses and team jacket.
The U.S.flag-bearers at the games — Olympic fencer Mariel Zagunis and Paralympic swimmer Brad Snyder, a Navy veteran — presented the Obamas with flags carried during the events’ opening ceremonies. Afterward, the president doffed his jacket to shake hands and pose for pictures as the Marine band played the Olympic fanfare.