Winter Athletes Reunite, Meet President Obama

The following is an excerpt from an article published at

As a member of the Swedish Olympic team in 1994 and 1998, Bengt Walden got a chance to meet the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf.

On Wednesday, Walden, who became an American citizen in October and represented the United States at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games in luge, will be among more than 200 Olympians and Paralympians who will meet President Barack Obama and tour the White House.

Which is bigger, a brush with royalty or meeting the president of the United States?

“I think this is pretty big,’’ Walden said. “I mean, this is Obama, right?’’

The anticipation of the White House tour was high Tuesday night as many of the Olympians and Paralympians who competed in Vancouver and Whistler gathered at a reception held, appropriately, at the Sports Legends Museum in downtown Baltimore.

Ralph Green, a Paralympic alpine skier, said he couldn’t wait to meet the president, noting that his 90-year-old grandmother in Orlando was envious of his opportunity.

And then there was Olympic ice dancer Evan Bates, who was excited about getting two chances to see the president in less than a month. In addition to his visit to the White House on Wednesday, Bates is lucky enough to have scored tickets to the University of Michigan’s graduation ceremonies, where Obama will be the commencement speaker on May 1. Bates lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and is a student at Michigan.

As U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun told the athletes, “Tomorrow is going to be a great opportunity, an awe-inspiring opportunity.’’

As excited as the athletes were about the White House visit, they also seemed genuinely excited to be reunited with each other as well. Many of the athletes had not seen each other since they had competed in the Olympic or Paralympic Games back in February and March. Some of them, like Olympic bobsled gold medalist Steve Holcomb, barely have had time to visit their own homes let alone hang out with fellow athletes. Holcomb said he’s having a hard enough time getting his new puppy trained.

During the reception, however, ice dancers were seen mingling with snowboarders and mogul skiers were hanging out with hockey players. And then there were some who thought Olympic luge athlete Julia Clukey was Lindsey Vonn. In fact, just as Clukey was telling a reporter that several people had mistaken her for the alpine skier, someone walked up and asked if she was indeed Vonn.

“See what I mean?’’ Clukey said.

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