By AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday hailed Team USA for bringing a bit of unity to a pandemic-weary nation as he hosted a White House celebration with about 600 athletes from this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing and the coronavirus-delayed Summer Games held in 2021 in Tokyo.
Among the athletes at the South Lawn ceremony were swimmer and seven-time gold medalist Katie Ledecky, celebrated bobsledder Elena Meyers Taylor and ice dancer Zachary Donohue, as well as competitors from the past two Paralympic Games.
Biden noted the Team USA athletes won some 260 medals in Beijing and Tokyo. Equally impressive as their performances, Biden suggested, was the athletes’ ability to unite Americans during a period marked by the unrelenting coronavirus pandemic and deepening partisanship after the 2020 election.
“You represent the very soul of America,” Biden told the athletes. “It’s been a very divided nation … but you brought us together. No matter the divisions, when we see you compete, we feel a common pride in those three letters: USA.”
The Tokyo Games were delayed one year due to COVID-19 and took place last summer, largely without spectators. First Lady Jill Biden led the U.S. delegation to Japan. At the Beijing Olympics this past winter, also held largely without spectators, the U.S. staged a diplomatic boycott due to China’s human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Jill Biden, in her remarks Wednesday, hailed the athletes for persevering under challenging circumstances, saying Americans were “grateful for the gifts” they gave the country at a difficult time.
“Now I know that these Games may not have been exactly as you once imagined with stadiums packed with people and all of your loved ones screaming from the sidelines,” she said. “Olympian or a Paralympian is a rare accomplishment in a normal time, but you did it during a global pandemic. You are forever one of the most elite, most celebrated athletes in this world.”
The president also recognized that the unusual and largely fan-free games were a hardship for the athletes.
“I’m sorry you had to wait that year. … I mean, you’ve been through so damn — darn much,” Biden said.