Red Gerard, the 17-year-old snowboarder who won the first of America’s 23 Olympic medals in PyeongChang — a gold in the men’s slopestyle event — looked as if he had just seen someone land the sickest jump in the history of his sport when Trump mentioned his name and gestured for him to approach the lectern.
“Come on! You can’t put me on the spot like this,” Gerard said, with his medal draped around his neck. “Thanks for having us.”
“He was more nervous here than he was when he was doing the flips,” Trump said.
Most of Gerard’s fellow Olympians who were singled out by the president kept their remarks similarly brief.
“Hi, everybody,” said snowboarder Arielle Gold, who won a bronze medal in the women’s halfpipe.
“It’s a real honor to be here in our nation’s capital, representing Indiana and the Midwest,” said Nick Goepper, who won silver in men’s slopestyle skiing. “America!”
Trump teased women’s hockey gold medalist Amanda Kessel about her brother Phil, whose Pittsburgh Penguins are in town for a second-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals.
“Is he as good as you?” Trump asked. “I don’t know about that. I wasn’t sure, but now I think you’re better.”
Several of Team USA’s biggest stars were absent Friday, for various reasons. Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, Alpine racer Lindsey Vonn and figure skaters Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon were among those who previously indicated they wouldn’t attend for political reasons.
“I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the president,” Vonn told CNN in December. “I take the Olympics very seriously and what they mean and what they represent, what walking under our flag means in the Opening Ceremonies. And, you know, I want to represent our country well, and I don’t think there are a lot of people currently in our government that do that.”
“The resistance is real,” Kenworthy tweeted Thursday in response to a column by USA Today’s Christine Brennan about how many athletes decided to skip this year’s traditional White House visit.
“I will not stand with people who discriminate against those that they perceive as different,” Rippon tweeted Friday.
Other Americans had previous commitments that prevented them from making the trip. Snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim had weddings to attend. Figure skater Mirai Nagasu was one of four Olympians busy taping “Dancing With the Stars,” which will debut Monday, while several other American figure skaters are in the middle of a “Stars on Ice” tour.
They missed Trump seeming to take some of the credit — again — for the turnout at the Olympics during his remarks. (In March, Trump said South Korean President Moon Jae-in told him the Olympics would have been “a total failure” without his support.)
“You had very good crowds, and I have to say, without certain backing, those crowds were not looking good,” Trump said Friday. “But all of a sudden, those crowds got very, very big, very powerful, and it became a very, very successful Olympics aside from everything else. They had a lot more people show up than they thought, and you think you know why, right?”
At the end of the ceremony, Elana Meyers Taylor, who won silver in the two-woman bobsled; John Shuster, a member of the gold medal-winning men’s curling team; and Paralympic snowboarders Brenna Huckaby and Mike Schultz presented Trump with two flags signed by the members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic delegations.
“You come back here anytime you want,” Trump said, before departing to prepare for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We love you at the White House.”
Meyers Taylor, who played softball at George Washington University, told reporters afterward that it was an honor to be at the White House representing her country, and described what it’s like to compete as an Olympic athlete in times of heightened partisanship.
“As an athlete, I think it’s even more important to go out there and represent the best we can,” Meyers Taylor said. “We’re charged with this job of putting on our uniforms, representing Team USA, and when things are crazy politically, we want to be that inspiration, that hope for the entire country. In those times, it’s even more important for us to be the best representatives of ourselves, and just go out there and win as many medals as possible.”
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