American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy reunited with the dog he rescued from a South Korean dog meat farm.
USA TODAY Sports
The 2018 U.S. Winter Olympic and Paralympic teams are going to the White House Friday morning, but the group that will pose for pictures with President Trump will be much smaller than the delegations that competed in South Korea — and it will be missing many of the Winter Games’ biggest names.
Lindsey Vonn won’t be there. Neither will opening ceremony flag bearer Erin Hamlin, or Adam Rippon, or almost all of his figure skating colleagues, or Chloe Kim, or Gus Kenworthy, or Jessie Diggins, or David Wise.
Some, like Vonn, Rippon and Kenworthy in particular, have made it clear they are skipping the U.S. Olympic Committee’s White House visit because they do not want to stand with the controversial Trump, who, among other things, bragged about sexually assaulting women in a video released during the 2016 presidential campaign, mocked a disabled person during the campaign and called some white supremacists “very fine people” after the deadly Charlottesville rally.
Others have just said they are going to be, um, busy.
For Rippon, it’s actually a combination of the two. He already has had a very full week, being honored at the Time 100 Gala in New York City Tuesday while he practices for his upcoming appearance on Dancing with the Stars and continues to be one of the headliners on the 22-city “Stars on Ice” skating tour with a Friday night show in Pittsburgh.
“It’s a convenient out,” Rippon said with a smile in a recent interview, referring to his various commitments, “but I was not going or planning on going (to the White House) anyway. I have been invited to so many incredible things, to the Human Rights Campaign dinner, the GLAAD Media Awards. I was so honored and so excited to go to those, more so than I would be to go to the White House. I feel like it was more important for me to go to those events because it’s a cause that I really believe in, it’s a message that I believe in. It’s important for me to align myself with those people who have the same ideals that I have.”
Always outspoken, the openly gay Rippon made news in mid-January when he criticized Vice President Pence in a story I wrote in USA TODAY. When Pence surprisingly fired back little more than an hour after the story appeared online, Rippon’s profile soared.
“I knew that it would all pass,” Rippon said of Pence’s interest in engaging with him. “Even getting a tweet at the Olympics is almost disingenuous. It’s not sincere: ‘I’m with you and I’m with all the athletes.’ He was just trying to save face and trying to put the whole thing to rest. But are you with me when I go back home? Are you with me when I want to get married? No.”
So, obviously, Rippon would rather be practicing his triple jumps in Pittsburgh than posing for pictures with Trump and Pence in Washington. All his fellow “Stars on Ice” cast members — a majority of the 2018 U.S. Olympic figure skating team — also will miss the White House visit due to the conflict with the Pittsburgh show, said tour spokeswoman Lynn Plage.
Hamlin, the four-time Olympian and 2014 bronze-medal winning luger who led the U.S. team into the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang in February, said in a text Thursday that she is not going to the White House but is “heading over to do a visit at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center Friday morning.”
But what of the others?
The entire gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s ice hockey team is expected, according to Brant Feldman, the agent for team captain Meghan Duggan.
“Everyone wanted to go,” he said. “It’s not about liking Trump or not liking Trump. They all wanted to be together again.”
The week of the White House visit and related events does serve as a reunion of sorts, especially for Olympians in a team sport.
Five Olympians from different sports – Alpine skier Stacey Cook, biathlete Maddie Phaneuf, snowboarder Arielle Gold and gold medalists Diggins (cross-country skiing) and Wise (freestyle skiing) – came together Wednesday to brief Congressional leaders as members of the Protect Our Winters Alliance, a climate change advocacy organization. But none of them is staying for the White House visit.
“Of the five participating in the Congressional briefing, none of them will be part of the White House visit,” said Samantha Killgore, Protect Our Winters communications manager.
Why? “These athletes have made doing this Congressional briefing their priority,” she said.
I’ve covered quite a few White House ceremonies over the years and have never seen this many Olympians bailing out on meeting the President of the United States just two months after the Games. Mike Moran, the former USOC spokesman who attended every White House visit from 1980-2002, also was struck by how things have changed this time around.
“What’s remarkable is the number of athletes who have spoken out about not visiting the White House,” he said over the phone Wednesday. “It’s very much the same thing that’s going on with professional teams: athletes who feel very aggressive about making their comments known about the White House visit.
“We had athletes who were angry about the 1980 boycott (of the Moscow Summer Olympics) and spoke privately to President Carter about that when they were on the platform getting their picture taken with him, but that wasn’t public. This is. I don’t remember any time when I was with the USOC that an athlete spoke out about not wanting to go to the White House.”