The Olympics at the White House

September 17, 2009 | 16:22

President Obama and The First Lady host Olympic and Paralympic athletes on the South Lawn of the White House. September, 16 2009. (public domain)

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Remarks by the President and the First Lady at Olympics, Paralympics, and Youth Sport Event

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                 September 16, 2009
South Lawn
1:11 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon!
MRS. OBAMA: Awww. (Laughter.) We're thrilled to welcome all of you to the White House today as we honor some of America's top Olympic and Paralympic athletes and express our excitement about the opportunity to host the 2016 Summer Olympic/Paralympic Games.
I want to thank Mayor Daley for that warm and heartfelt introduction, but I also want to thank him for his outstanding work to prepare Chicago's bid, and for his visionary leadership to move a city to great places, a city that is so near and dear to my heart, to our hearts, to the Obama family.
And I want to say a special hello to all these wonderful young people who are here that so politely said hello to me -- (laughter) -- who've come here from our local schools in our area. Hey, guys.
MRS. OBAMA: Hey! I think it's safe to say that everyone here is really feeling the Olympic spirit today, right?
MRS. OBAMA: That's right. (Applause.) Yeah! We can do this. (Applause.) And I know that we are pretty eager to see some judo, right? We're going to see some gymnastics today. And what else? Fencing. You should have seen the President in there fencing. (Laughter.) It was pathetic. (Laughter.) But he passed the baton really well.
And I want to recognize the Olympians, the Paralympians, and the coaches -- not just for their extraordinary athletic achievements, but also for taking the time to inspire young people today here at the White House, and every day in communities across this nation. You all make us so very proud of this country.
As we can see from today's event, the Olympics isn't just about what happens in one city every two or four years. It's not just about those weeks when we watch the greatest athletes in the world push themselves to new heights of achievement. It's also about how a nation is transformed during the years leading up to the Games, and it's also about the legacy that lasts in those cities long after the closing ceremonies are over.
The Olympic charter states that, by "blending sport with culture and education," the Olympics aims "to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example."
And that's what I'm reminded of today -- how the Olympic Games teach important lessons and set an important example for so many young people.
I'm reminded of the commitment to excellence that the Games embody -- the belief that no matter where you're from, or what your background is, that if you dream big enough and work hard enough, there are no limits to what you can achieve.
I'm reminded of the lifestyles that the Games promote -- the commitment to physical activity and nutrition that are so important for a healthy life, and that we're working so hard for to reach in this nation.
I'm reminded of the mission of the Paralympic Games that it fulfills, opening the highest levels of athletic competition to anyone with the talent and drive to succeed -- men and women who refuse to let their disabilities limit their horizons.
And I'm reminded of the example of citizenship and service our Olympic and Paralympic athletes are setting every day all across the country. More than 2,500 of those athletes have already signed up to be athletic ambassadors for Chicago 2016's World Sport Chicago Initiative. They're committing to work as coaches and mentors, and holding sports clinics to encourage young people to stay active. They've already reached more than 30,000 children in just Chicago alone. And they're planning to take this initiative across the nation, including right here in D.C. What you guys were doing today -- you went out to some of our local schools and you talked to young people about what's important about athletics and nutrition.
And I have to say that I'm proud of those efforts, but I am also proud of the fact that Chicago may be the host. I cannot think of a better city to host the 2016 Games than my hometown. I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. You probably already know that. So I know a lot about this city. We have our home so close to many of the proposed venues. We can say that we are so pumped up about this, aren't we? (Laughter.)
And I can tell you, personally, what makes Chicago the ideal home for the 2016 Games and I'm very excited to be able to do that in Copenhagen. It's not just the infrastructure or the resources of the city, and it's not just the beautiful parks, because there are many. It's not that gorgeous lakefront that so many will see during the Olympic Games. And it's not just the excellent public transportation and the accommodations. What makes Chicago such a great host is its people. It's truly the people.
Nobody loves sports like the people of Chicago -- trust me. I have spent endless hours -- (laughter) -- in front of baseball TV games, you name it. Whether it's football or soccer, baseball, boxing or a good marathon -- Chicagoans know how to enjoy sports. You know, you have to admit, even White Sox fans are impressed by the fact that even though the Cubs haven't won a World Series in centuries, Cubs games sell out. (Laughter.) Everybody's there. It doesn't matter. Win or lose, we are going to watch the Cubs. (Laughter and applause.)
And if you want to see a truly international city, there's no place like Chicago. It is home to more than 130 countries speaking more than 100 different languages. So even the athletes that are going to be travelling halfway around the world to get to Chicago, they might find that they have more of a home court advantage than they might even think when they come to this city.
And Mayor Daley has been working around the clock on this 2016 bid. He has poured his heart and soul into this effort, along with everybody else on the Olympic Committee. The Chicago City Council has voted unanimously to back it. Nearly 20,000 Chicagoans from all walks of life have already volunteered their time and effort to support it. And the organizers are working to ensure that each of the city's 77 individual neighborhoods is part of the Games in some way, shape, or form -- because that city, our city, believes that everyone has to feel included in this extraordinary moment.
And I know that Barack and I would feel such tremendous pride to see the Olympic torch burning brightly in the city that we love so much. So I am honored, deeply honored, to have the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen to make the case for my hometown. (Applause.) And I am also honored, as always, and pleased to introduce someone who's going to talk a little bit more about what hosting the 2016 Games would mean for America -- my husband, the President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. It is true that I always wanted to fence -- (laughter) -- and I thought that would be cool. So I might get a couple tips from you guys. (Laughter.)
Now you see one of the reasons that I love Chicago so much. It's the city where I met the woman I love.
Sixteen days away -- we're just 16 days away from the deciding vote on which world city will host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
So let's get right down to business here: The United States is eager to welcome the world to our shores. This nation would be honored to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and to serve as host to thousands of athletes and millions of visitors from around the world. And within this great country of ours, there is no better city than that than Chicago, Illinois. (Applause.)
Now, I may live in Washington these days. I love Washington, D.C. And our house here is a little bigger than the one we got in Chicago. (Laughter.) But I've called Chicago home for nearly 25 years. It's a city of broad shoulders and big hearts and bold dreams; a city of legendary sports figures, legendary sports venues, and legendary sports fans; a city like America itself, where the world -- the world's races and religions and nationalities come together and reach for the dream that brought them here.
In Chicago, old and new exist in harmony. It's a city rooted in an industrial past that laid this nation's railroads, forged this nation's steel, rebuilt itself after a great fire, and reversed the course of a mighty river. And it's also a city of bustle and gleaming promise that Mayor Daley has pledged to make the greenest in America. And that's why I think that one of the most exciting parts of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is that all of the plans being made in Chicago exist within minutes of the city center; easily accessible to commerce and culture, parkland and water -- because we don't want these venues to be far-flung, all over the place. We want to host these Games where we live and work and play.
We want them in the heart of our proud city -- the city that opened the way westward in the 19th century, that showed the way skyward in the 20th century, and that is leading the way forward in the 21st century. So Chicago is ready. The American people are ready. We want these Games. We want them. (Applause.)
The Olympic and Paralympic Games, they hold a special place in our psyche. They lift us up. They bind us together. They're the sources of fleeting moments -- instants, really -- that have become permanently seared in our collective memories: The humble victory of Jesse Owens. The perfection of Nadia and Mary Lou. Michael Johnson's astonishment at his own feat. Derek Redmond and Kerri Strug bravely making it through with a little help. Jean Driscoll racing her wheelchair to gold after gold, be it over 100 meters or 26.2 miles. Moments of euphoria after years of hard work, and moments when the human spirit triumphed over injury that should have been impossible to overcome. Moments of a team's shared glory, and moments of lonely disappointment despite one's best efforts. Countless moments we live and relive again and again, silently and subconsciously, nodding yes, we do believe in miracles.
We find ourselves riveted by the Games. Because even as we cheer, even as we live and die for each point or each tenth of a second, what we see reflected in the Olympic and Paralympic Games are simple truths of our common humanity; and that no matter who you are, where you're from, or what you look like, with hard work and dedication and discipline you can achieve your dreams. You can make it if you try.
What we see is that although we may come from vastly different stories and very different walks of life, we are one people who possess common values and common ideals; who celebrate individual excellence but also share a recognition that together, we can accomplish great and wonderful things we can't accomplish alone.
It's the stuff from which our young nation was forged, and it is a set of timeless values that serves as the underpinnings of the Olympic spirit. And so the United States of America does more than just stand behind the Olympic and Paralympic Games -- we stand behind their ideals.
Ands that's why we've created the first ever Office of Olympic, Paralympic, and Youth Sport right here in the White House. (Applause.) Now, this office does the work of coordinating with federal agencies to support and promote Olympic and Paralympic Games, but it also works to support and promote the Olympic spirit. We've been working hand in hand with Chicago 2016, the United States Olympic Committee, Olympians and Paralympians -- some of whom have joined us here today -- to get our young Americans active and involved in sports, because we want to do more than just bring the Olympic Games to America -- we want them to create a lasting legacy here in America.
I want to thank the members of the International Olympic Committee for their dedication to the Olympic and Paralympic movement and the values it represents. I am confident that they'll find no greater partners than the City of Chicago and the American people to fuel this movement, to ignite it in new generations, and to inspire the world in 2016 with magnificent Games that bring this world together in noble competition and shared celebration of our common humanity.
The energy, excitement, and enthusiasm on display at the White House here today, these aren't new. The folks gathered here this afternoon have had the Olympic spirit blazing within them for years, working tirelessly to bring these Games to the city and the country we love. And, I promise you, we are fired up about this.
I would make the case in Copenhagen personally, if I weren't so firmly committed to making -- making real the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American. But the good news is I'm sending a more compelling superstar to represent the city and country we love, and that is our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.) She's going because she and I share the conviction that bringing the Games to the United States isn't just important for the city, but for the American people. And I'm confident she, and my senior advisor and Director of the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic, and Youth Sport, Valerie Jarrett, will represent the American people well.
Our nation, from the local to the national level, is committed to the success of these Games. The Chicago City Council unanimously supports this bid. Both Houses of the United States Congress support this bid. I support this bid. And on behalf of the nearly 20,000 volunteers, the more than 1 million who've already signed up in support, and all who've already taken up this cause and made it their own -- first as the cause of the city, and now the cause of a nation -- the United States supports this bid.
Americans, like Chicagoans -- we don't like to make small plans. We want to dream big and reach high. We hope deeply. We want these Games. And if you choose Chicago, I promise you this: Chicago will make America proud, and America will make the world proud.
So as I said when we first were announcing this bid in Chicago, let the Games begin right here in the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
1:27 P.M. EDT

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