For the first time since 2000, the United States delegation to the Olympics will not include the president, vice-president or first lady.
There’s a strong message behind President Obama’s choices for the United States’ representatives to the opening and closing ceremonies next February in Sochi: Two of the delegation’s members, tennis great Billie Jean King and two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow, are openly gay. In a statement announcing the makeup of the delegation, the White House did not specifically mention Russian laws banning “gay propaganda” as a motivating factor, stressing instead U.S. “diversity.”
“President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington,” the statement, released by the White House, said. “He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.”
Obama will not attend because of his schedule, the White House said. France and Germany also are not sending their presidents to the Games.
“I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi,” said King, who will attend the opening ceremony, “and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.”
Cahow, a law-school student at Boston College, will attend the closing ceremony.
“It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,” Cahow told USA Today’s Kelly Whiteside. “Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the Constitution. That’s really what we’re representing in Sochi and it’s not at all different from what’s espoused in the spirit of Olympism.
“So I think it’s just a great group of people. I can’t believe I’ve been named one of them because it’s a remarkable roster and I just think that we’re going to represent what the best America can be. Hopefully, it will unify all of Team USA and send a message of love and acceptance to the world.”
Vice-president Joe Biden led the delegation to the 2010 Games and first lady Michelle Obama attended the 2012 London games. Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of homeland security who is president of the University of California system, will head the delegation to the opening ceremonies; Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns will head the delegation for the closing ceremonies. Olympic medalists Bonnie Blair, Brian Boitano and Eric Heiden are scheduled to attend, along with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and Obama aide Rob Nabors.
The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, hailed the choice of King and Cahow and called Russia’s anti-gay laws “heinous.”
“The inclusion of gay athletes is incredibly important,” Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the HRC, said (via The Post’s David Nakamura) and sends a potent message about the inclusive nature of our democracy.”