WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump welcomed Team USA Olympic athletes to the White House on Friday, congratulating them on representing the U.S. at the 2018 winter games.
“You made us very proud,” Trump said to the rows of young men and women standing on the White House’s north portico in matching windbreakers. “You overcame setbacks, you powered through obstacles. And I will tell you this, because of your hard work and your sacrifice, you were given the greatest honor in sports: to represent the United States as an Olympic athlete.”
Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic athletes has been a decades-old tradition at the White House and the group included a long list of medal winners, several of whom Trump invited up to the podium to speak.
But missing were several of the games’ biggest names, including figure skater Adam Rippon, a champion of gay rights.
Some had said they had competing commitments. But others made clear they were boycotting in protest.
“Olympians from the 2018 Games have been invited to go to the White House today. I will not be going,” Rippon tweeted Friday. “I will not stand with people who discriminate against those that they perceive as different.” In lieu of going to D.C., he said he had donated to several charities, including GLAAD and the Red Cross.
American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy also chose not to attend and tweeted an article that quoted former Olympic committee spokesman Mike Moran saying he couldn’t remember a time during his tenure that an athlete had spoken out about not wanting to attend.
“The resistance is real,” Kenworthy tweeted.
All US Olympians and Paralympians are invited to visit the White House and meet the President after the Games. Today is this year's visit and USOC spokesperson says he's never seen so many athletes turn down their invites. The resistance is real. https://t.co/6mKJGicWDS
— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) April 26, 2018
The White House did not immediately release a list of who attended and who didn’t, but USOC spokesman Mark Jones said the attendance numbers this year were similar to 2014.
“It’s always an honor for Team USA to be invited to the White House and all the athletes that attended had a great time,” he said.
During the event, Trump appeared in his element, joking with athletes and commending their genes, while also appearing to take credit for the crowds in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I have to say, without certain backing, those crowds were not looking good,” Trump said. “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?”
Trump has previously taken credit for helping to dial down tensions between the North and the South ahead of the games, which he says boosted attendance.