February 29, 1984

The President. Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. Nancy and I just want you to know how proud all of us -- your families, your friends, and countrymen -- how proud we are of the job that you did representing us in Sarajevo. And we were all watching and we were by your side, in spirit at least, during the entire competition. We're aware of the enormous commitment of time and effort that your participation in the winter Olympics represents.

It's said that in sports, it's not just the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference. And it took enormous preparation for you to compete, and we're grateful for your dedication. Whether you won or lost, you're now part of that elite group of citizens who represented our country in the Olympic games. It's a distinction that will be yours for the rest of your lives.

For those of you who won medals, we have a special word of thanks. The competition was fierce and your achievement was well-deserved. You've proven that a free country like ours, where support for the Olympics is totally voluntary, can hold its own against societies which subsidize their athletes.

Debbie Armstrong, you not only won our first gold medal at the games, you're also the first American woman to win a gold medal in Olympic skiing competitions since 1972. Your victory was especially sweet. So, congratulations to you and many thanks for giving us all a big lift in spirit.

And Scott Hamilton, the image of you skating a victory lap waving the Red, White, and Blue is now fixed in the memory of this nation. Your battle against a childhood illness and your commitment to the years of practice and training needed to excel on the ice now -- well, they're indeed an inspiration. And now you hold three world championships and a fresh Olympic gold medal.

Kitty and Peter Carruthers, you've taken another step up from your showing at Lake Placid 4 years ago. Your silver medal in the pairs competition adds another accomplishment to a great career that's included many national titles and world team appearances for our country.

And Rosalyn Sumners at the young age of 19 took home a silver medal for figure skating. And you add that to the world and national championships you've been winning -- no wonder you're the honorary mayor of your hometown -- Edmonds, Washington. [Laughter] If the burden gets too heavy, just get in touch and we'll talk things over. [Laughter] I know there are days like that. [Laughter] But I'm sure they're all very proud of you.

And, Rosalyn, with you, Scott Hamilton, the rest of the fine skaters, America is well represented on the ice. And that goes for all our medal winners -- the Mahre brothers, Phil and Steve, Bill Johnson, who smoked them -- [laughter] -- and Christen Cooper, too.

All of you here who competed and those who couldn't be with us: You gave your country thrills beyond description. Most important, you reminded us that the qualities of personal commitment -- courage, character, and heart -- are the mark of greatness in sport. You have your country's thanks and best wishes. And believe me, all Americans -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, from whatever race, religion, or creed -- we're all on the same team in this, cheering you on.

This year's winter contests were in the finest tradition of the Olympics. I've read of the warmth and enthusiasm with which the citizens of Sarajevo greeted athletes and visitors from around the world. I'm sure that the people of our country will be equally as friendly and hospitable, particularly those in southern California, who will actively host the summer Olympic games.

I was out in California not too long ago -- you undoubtedly read that -- [laughter] -- and they're leaving no stone unturned in preparation for the games. The city of Los Angeles has rolled out the welcome mat, and I'm certain that the teams and visitors from around the world are going to feel as welcome as all of you did in Sarajevo.

In closing, I'd like to offer a special note of congratulations to two other American medal winners in winter Olympic sports -- Mike May and Ron Salviolo. Mike skis better blind than most sighted skiers. And your skill and your spirit are doing much to encourage others who might otherwise needlessly limit their own expectations. Mike, you and the other competitors here are a testimony to all young people that they should never be afraid to dream big dreams, and they should never hesitate to try to make those dreams a reality.

I participated in sports quite awhile ago. And today, I work a little bit upstairs in the gym at staying fit. Then my other favorite exercise is exercising a horse. But my experience in high school and college athletics -- I know, as the years go by and I look back, more and more I see them as providing just as much education and as much benefit for me at later life than any of the things that happen in a classroom or a lecture hall.

And I know in the years ahead all of you will feel the same way about your experience in the Olympics. So, thank you all for being such fine representatives of our country. And thank you especially for being here today. And now let's get behind the summer team for the next round of the Olympics in Los Angeles. And, again, God bless you all.

Mr. Hamilton. Hmmmm. [Laughter] Well, I've been elected on behalf of the athletes to say a few words. And it's really a thrill and an honor for me to be able to address the President directly. I -- my heart -- again -- [laughter] -- --

First, personally, I'd like to thank you for calling me after I won my medal. I'm sorry if I was short with you -- [laughter] -- but I'm short with most people. [Laughter]

I know as President of the United States you're also the honorary president of the Olympic Committee. But I don't think that's enough. And I just hope I'm speaking the hearts of all the athletes here. We would like you to be a member of the Olympic team with all of us, and we have some gifts for you.

First, we have this plaque with all the different disciplines of all the sports and their pins, their official pins, and we'd like you to have this.

The President. Well, thank you very much.

Mr. Hamilton. Secondly, what kind of team member would you be if you couldn't be recognized in the street as an Olympic athlete? [Laughter] We have this jacket, our official jacket, from Levi's, and we'd like you to have that. And also these pins, Mrs. Reagan -- --

The First Lady. Thank you.

Mr. Hamilton. -- -- and President Reagan.

The President. Thank you.

Mr. Hamilton. And thank you from all of us for sharing your afternoon with us and for having -- I know it's an extreme honor and a thrill for all of us to finally meet you. Thank you very much.

The President. Well, thank you very much. Thank you all very much. We're very greatly honored. And I have to confess to you that I once did have some dreams myself. But it was before the water froze; I was going to do it in swimming. [Laughter] So, finally, I've made the Olympic team. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 2:11 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.