President Biden Tells U.S. Olympic Squad It 'Restored The Soul Of America'
President Joe Biden congratulated the U.S. Olympics team during a Saturday Zoom call that included some of the nation's top athletes, heralding their achievements as having "restored the soul of America."
"I know you have a sense of it, but I don't think you'll appreciate 'till you get home how proud you made America," said Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden on the livestreamed call.
President Biden said Team USA's displays of sportsmanship were not just about athleticism but also about "moral courage."
The president made specific mention of Katie Ledecky's performance, in which the swimmer won gold in the 1,500- and 800-meter freestyle competitions and silver medals in the 400-meter freestyle and, with her relay team, the 4 x 200-meter freestyle.
"I realize that you can probably swim a mile quicker than most people could run a mile. It's just amazing — all you've done," Biden said.
Biden also praised gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from the all-around gymnastics event and other competitions citing mental health. Biles also said she had come down with a case of the "twisties," a terrifying mental block that can cause gymnasts to lose track of the ground while spinning through the air.
Biles told the president, "The Olympics was not how I expected it to go, but putting my mental and my physical health first will probably be one of my greatest accomplishments."
"If you would have asked me in my younger years, I would have probably been too stubborn. But at that point I knew that I just had to take a step back, let the other girls go up and do their job," she said.
Biden told Biles that she set an example for the American people and compared her pressures at the Games to those of military personnel who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"You had the courage to say 'I need some help. I need some help. I need some time,'" Biden said. "And you became an example to everybody. And guess what? You got back up on that damn beam!"
Biles went on to take the bronze medal in the balance beam competition.
During the 2020 Tokyo Games, the U.S. won the overall medal count — pulling in 113 total medals, with 39 gold, 41 silver and 33 bronze.
"These are the things that people look at around the world, more than anything that I do as your president or other people do in public life," Biden said. "They get the impression of who we are as Americans — who we are. And you handle yourself with such grace and such decency. You made me so damn proud."
Biden extended an invite to the athletes to visit the White House: "We'll set a date."
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.