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Obama salutes Olympians, Paralympians

4/22/2010 - Olympic Sports

WASHINGTON -- The weather problems of the Vancouver Games followed the U.S. Olympians to the White House.

Steady rain forced the pleasantries indoors when the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams visited President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Instead of hanging out on the South Portico for the customary public words of support from the president, the 225 or so athletes clustered about in several rooms in the executive mansion to hobnob privately with the first family and Vice President Joe Biden.

"It never gets old coming to the White House," said short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, whose three medals in Vancouver gave him a U.S.-record eight career Winter Olympic medals. "We get to see something new every time. We actually got to see Obama's dog today."

The spring showers were reminiscent of the weather at the so-called "Spring Olympics" two months ago in Vancouver, where the snow turned to slush and some events had to be postponed.

The rain didn't dampen the spirits of the athletes, who presented gifts and took photos.

"This experience has been out of this world," said short-track speedskater Katherine Reutter, a double medalist in Vancouver. "This is it. This is America. I'm at the capital. This has put a top on my Olympic experience."

The Vancouver Games had few doping violations, and Ohno said he would like to see athletes in all sports tested the way Olympians are.

"My personal opinion is that as athletes we should all be held to the same standard," Ohno said. "I think it would make sense to have one unified body testing everyone."

Some of the Olympians hit the government trifecta, visiting all three branches on the same day. There was a visit to Capitol Hill in the morning, and a Supreme Court reception in the evening.

Paralympic skier Alana Nichols' day included a morning visit to River Terrace Elementary School with the first lady, helping promote Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign against childhood obesity.

"As a Paralympian, it really is a big deal right now for me to even be on the same stage as Apolo and Katherine," Nichols said. "We adapt to the same sports that Olympic athletes are doing, and I think we deserve the same credit for the effort that we're putting forth."

Two-time Olympic speedskating champion Shani Davis also attended the event, showing off his medals before some 150 enthusiastic but well-behaved students. He shared a gentle high-five with the first lady when she noted they both come from the South Side of Chicago.

"We didn't grow up with speedskating," Mrs. Obama exclaimed. "How'd you even know about speedskating?"