Photo Gallery: Olympic Visitors at the White House Through the Years

  • Mrs. Obama Is Lifted By US Wrestler Elena Pirozhkov

    First Lady Michelle Obama is picked up by U.S. Olympic wrestler Elena Pirozhkova (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

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  • First Lady Michelle Obama Hugs Venus Williams

    First Lady Michelle Obama hugs Venus Williams while her sister Serena Williams looks on (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

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  • President George W. Bush and President George H.W. Bush with U.S. Olympic swimmers

    George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush with U.S. Olympic swimmers Larsen Jensen, left, and Michael Phelps at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing

    3 of 18
  • President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics

    George W. Bush and Laura Bush acknowledge the entrance of the U.S. athletes into China's National Stadium in Beijing, for the Opening Ceremonies.

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  • President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton  with the U.S. Olympics Women's Gymnastics team

    President Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton with six members of the 1996 United States Summer Olympics Women's Gymnastics team.

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  • President George H. W. and First Lady Barbara Bush with USA Winter Olympic athletes

    George H. W. and Barbara Bush participate in a ceremony honoring the 1992 Albertville, France, USA Winter Olympic athletes at the White House.

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  • President Ronald Reagan with Mary Lou Retton

    Ronald Reagan posing with Mary Lou Retton and the 1984 U.S. Olympic team at the Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, California, August 13, 1984.

    7 of 18
  • President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games

    Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan viewing opening ceremonies at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, July 28, 1984.

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  • President Gerald R. Ford watches high jump athletes practice in Plattsburgh, New York

    Gerald R. Ford watches high jump athletes practice in Plattsburgh, New York at a Farewell Ceremony for the 1976 United States Olympic Team.

    9 of 18
  • President Richard Nixon with the Russian Soviet Women's Gymnastics Team

    Richard Nixon with the Russian Soviet Women's Gymnastics Team. Olympic Gold Medal winner Olga Korbut stands next to President Nixon, March 21, 1973.

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  • White House Memo for the Meeting with Soviet Women’s Gymnastics Team

    White House Memo for the Meeting with Soviet Women’s Gymnastics Team, March 21, 1973.

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  • President Lyndon B. Johnson picks a flower for Olympic figure skater Peggy Fleming

    Lyndon B. Johnson picks a flower from a magnolia tree for figure skater Peggy Fleming, who won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, March 27, 1968.

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  • President Lyndon B. Johnson pins a flower on the lapel of figure skater Peggy Fleming

    Lyndon B. Johnson pins a flower on the lapel of figure skater Peggy Fleming, who won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics.

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  • President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson meet with Wilma Rudolph

    John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson meet with Olympic track and field gold medalist Wilma Rudolph, and her mother, Blanche Rudolph.

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  • Olympian Jesse Owens

    Photograph of Olympian Jesse Owens. Berlin, 1936.

    15 of 18
  • Telegram to Franklin D. Roosevelt from Bishop R Wright, Jr.

    Telegram to Franklin D. Roosevelt from Bishop R Wright, Jr., stating that Jesse Owens was selected to march as head of the American Olympian parade.

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  • Olympic champion Jesse Owens speaking in the East Garden at the White House

    Olympian Jesse Owens speaking in the East Garden after being Presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald R. Ford.

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  • Section of the "1932 Olympic Map" from the X Summer Olympiad in Los Angeles

    Section of the "1932 Olympic Map" from the X Summer Olympiad in Los Angeles.

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Last week, as President and Mrs. Obama welcomed the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams to the White House, we were all reminded of the incredible talents and amazing journeys that these athletes shared with us, and how our summers were even more thrilling as we watched them on the world stage. It has long been a tradition for the President and First Lady to invite the Olympic teams to the White House, and as President and Mrs. Obama exclaimed last week, they, too, were fans just like the rest of us. The holdings of the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives offer a special look at Olympic memories of years past, and I hope you enjoy reliving not only the recent excitement of the London games, but also recall some wonderful memories from previous years.

This summer’s Olympics made household names out of a whole new group of dynamic athletes. Among them, of course, is the talented women’s gymnastics team. However, before the “Fab Five,” another U.S. Olympic gymnastics team captured the team gold medal, the hearts of the American public, and the attention of the First Family. President William J. Clinton, First Lady Hillary, and daughter Chelsea met with six members of the “Magnificent Seven” at the White House following the 1996 games. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum still holds pieces of Olympic history, including three Olympic torches—two from the 1996 games and one from the 1996 Paralympics, both held in Atlanta.

President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton  with the U.S. Olympics Women's Gymnastics team

William Jefferson Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton with six members of the 1996 United States Summer Olympics Women's Gymnastics team. The athletes L-R, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu, Kerri Strug, Amanda Borden, Jaycie Phelps, August 7, 1996. (Photo Credit: Presidential Libraries of the U.S. National Archives)

 

Another great moment of the White House intersecting with the Olympics was captured on film when figure skater Peggy Fleming met President Johnson after winning gold in the 1968 games in Grenoble, France. President Johnson picked a flower from a magnolia tree on the White House grounds and presented it to Fleming in the Oval Office. Asked about the visit later, Fleming revealed a little bit about her impression of the President in an interview with the Vancouver Sun : “He is a wonderful man—I adore him . . . the President wanted to talk about the Olympics, the countries I had visited and the people I had seen.”

Our Presidents have also welcomed international Olympians to the White House. In 1973, President Richard Nixon met the Soviet gymnastics team following the 1972 Munich summer games. In a pre-meeting memo to President Nixon in the holdings of the Richard Nixon Library, Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut was described as “the star of the team,” who “captured the fancy of the American public” and had received Athlete of the Year awards from multiple news outlets while on a two-week tour of the United States with her team.

Some Olympians, such as Jesse Owens, interacted with multiple Presidents over the years, particularly when their accomplishments were significant beyond the medals awarded at the podium. Owens made history in 1936, when he won four gold medals in the Berlin Summer Olympics, much to Adolf Hitler’s dismay. In 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower named Owens an Ambassador to Sports. The next year, he was sent as a Presidential representative to the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. In 1976—40 years after the Berlin games—President Gerald R Ford presented Owens with the highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, commenting that “Giants like Jesse Owens show us why politics will never defeat the Olympic spirit. His character, his achievements have continued to inspire Americans as they did the whole world in 1936.” In 1979 Owens was once again invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter—this time to accept a Living Legends Award from the National Caucus on the Black Aged.

When Presidents and First Ladies travel to the Olympic games, they may find themselves up close and personal with the athletes they come to support. Such was the case in 2008 in Beijing, when former President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush congratulated U.S. Olympians Larsen Jensen and Michael Phelps after their swimming events. Before meeting the Presidents, Jensen had won a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle, and Phelps had set the world record in the men’s 400 medley.

President George W. Bush and President George H.W. Bush with U.S. Olympic swimmers

George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush with U.S. Olympic swimmers Larsen Jensen, left, and Michael Phelps at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing, August 10, 2008. (Photo Credit: Presidential Libraries of the U.S. National Archives)

Mrs. Obama cheered on Team USA at the London games, and last week at the White House, she recalled that one of the highlights of the experience was spending time with the athletes and hearing their stories. In her welcoming remarks, she laughed about one particularly memorable moment that occurred at the U.S. Olympic Training facility in London, when wrestler Elena Pirozhkova picked her up in both arms and “literally swept me off my feet… I’ve never been picked up before by a wrestler.  It was good.”

The First Lady is picked up by U.S. Olympic wrestler Elena Pirozhkova

First Lady Michelle Obama is picked up by U.S. Olympic wrestler Elena Pirozhkova during a greet with Team USA Olympic athletes competing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, at the U.S. Olympic Training Facility at the University of East London in London, England. July 27, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Herbert)

For more highlights of Presidents and Olympians through the years, take a look at this gallery from the holdings of the Presidential Libraries of the U.S. National Archives. You will also find unique holdings from the collection of the 13 Libraries nationwide.

 

Learn more:
Susan K. Donius is the Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives and Records Administration
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