Flint’s Shields shines in White House spotlight

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Barack Obama welcomed U.S. Olympians to the White House on Thursday, and he singled out one of Flint's own for her performance in the boxing ring in Rio de Janeiro.

President Barack Obama with, from left, first lady Michelle Obama, Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles and Paralympic closing ceremony flag bearer Army veteran Josh Brunais.

“Only one American boxer, male or female, has ever won back-to-back Olympic golds – Claressa Shields,” Obama said to applause.

He noted that the United States had more women competing in the Rio games than any other nation ever, and that American women won more bronze, silver and gold – 61 – than some countries did. The U.S. women also bested the U.S. men’s 51 medals.

“One of the reasons our country is so proud of this year’s Team USA is 2016 belonged to America’s women Olympians. I mean, no question,” Obama said during an event in the East Room.

“And as the father of two young women, for them to have that example of health, and drive, and competition, and persistence, and strength – it makes me really proud. So thank you – all the great jobs that you guys did.”

John Carlos, 1968 U.S. Olympian takes a picture with his cell phone during the East Room event as President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcome the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House to honor their participation and success in the Rio Olympic Games this year.

Shields was among 600 members of Team USA in the audience, wearing matching cherry red warmup jackets, navy tights and neon yellow Nike sneakers.

“I am humbled and honored to be recognized by @POTUS,” Shields later posted on Twitter with the hashtag, “just a kid from Flint.”

Shields, 21, also posted photos of herself with other Olympians, including sprinter Allyson Felix, basketball players Angel McCoughtry and Tamika Catchings, and long-jumper Mike Hartfield.

Swimmer Allison Schmitt, a Canton native, posted a photo with teammates in the East Room, saying, “We were playin ball with the president.”

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he is presented with a Team USA surfboard by Olympian Josh Brunais.

Jeff Porter, a former track All-American at the University of Michigan who works for the athletic department, also tweeted about his experience: “Just met @POTUS @FLOTUS & @VP! I’m too excited. Truly genuine ppl.”

Prior to the ceremony, the athletes stood in a receiving line and shook the hands of the president, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“I don’t know how they did it, but all of us got to talk to them, shake their hands. I know we all really appreciate that,” said swimming phenom Katie Ledecky, who won four gold and one silver medal in Rio.

Ledecky and Felix were among a half-dozen athletes who spoke to reporters after the ceremony on the North Portico of the White House.

Felix, the only female track athlete to win six gold medals, said she was humbled to hear personally from the Obamas about specific moments that they recalled from her races.

U.S. Olympians Allyson Felix, from left, Connor Fields, Katie Ledecky, Brad Snyder and Tatyana McFadden speak to members of the media at the North Portico after an East Room event at the White House September 29, 2016 in Washington, DC.

“That’s just so special, you know? When you’re running a country, you don’t think you would have time to tune into so much of the Olympics,” Felix said. “It made it really a special moment.”

Hugh Freund, 28, won a silver medal in the three-person keelboat sailing event in the Paralympics.

“I was saying to one of the Marines on the way in, this is right up there with walking into the opening ceremony right behind the flag-bearer,” Freund said.

President Obama also recognized Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the audience, who raised their fists in protest at the 1968 games in Mexico City.

“Their powerful silent protest in the 1968 games was controversial, but it woke folks up and created greater opportunity for those that followed,” Obama said.


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