President George Bush welcomed the U.S. Olympic team to the White House Tuesday for a celebration of its accomplishments at the Beijing Olympics. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports hundreds of athletes traveled to Washington for the event.
They filled the stairs leading up the south side of the White House, spilling over onto adjacent balconies.
President Bush stood amidst the athletes in their red and blue team jackets, and spoke of his own memories of the games in Beijing.
He talked about the opening ceremonies in the Olympic Stadium, and how it felt to be sitting in the stands as Team USA marched onto the field.
"When the Team USA was announced, there was a notable increase in the cheers," the president noted. "And then came the greatest sight of all - more than 500 of America's finest athletes marching behind our flag."
He said in the weeks that followed the eyes of the world were fixed on Beijing. He said America's athletes rose to the occasion.
"The Olympic team finished with the top medal count of 110 medals. But more impressive was the decency and character that these Olympics brought on the world stage," Mr. Bush said.
President Bush spoke of the victors, and those who triumphed just by trying at both the Olympic Games, and the Paralympics (for disabled athletes) that followed.
"I know you worked hard - the Olympics and Paralympic teams worked hard - to get to this moment," he said. "Whether you won a medal or not really doesn't matter in the long run. What really matters is the honor you brought to your sports, and to your families, and to your country."
Among those attending the White House event was the most decorated athlete at the Beijing games. Swimmer Michael Phelps made history in the pool when he became the first athlete to win eight gold medals at a single Olympics.
"To be here at the White house is an absolutely amazing experience," Phelps said.
President Bush said Team USA amazed the world with its talent, grace and sportsmanship. He said these athletes inspired children to chase their dreams, and will be champions forever.