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Esther Williams, Godmother of Synchro-Swimming, passes away

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Champion swimmer and Hollywood star Esther Williams, best known for her “aqua-musicals” of the 1940s, passed away Thursday in LA. She was 91.

Williams was never able to compete in the Helsinki Olympics, due to the outbreak of World War II that led to the cancelation of the 1940 and ’44 Games, but she’s often credited with the IOC adopting synchronized swimming into its program in 1984, and served as a TV analyst for its inauguration.

“The life she had goes without saying,” her spokesperson and close friend for more than 15 years, Harlan Boll, told NBC News. “She stood out among other people. She’s the godmother of synchronized swimming and is the reason it became an Olympic sport.”

Williams was invited to join the Los Angeles Athletic Club when she was just a teen, and at one point held the national record for the women’s 100m freestyle race. When the Games were canceled for the war, Williams shed her amateur status and worked with five-time Olympic champ and Tarzan star, Johnny Weissmuller, in a water show for the 1940 Worlds Fair.

She was subsequently hired by MGM in 1941 at 19 years old, and went on to star in acquatic-themed films like Bathing Beauty, Million Dollar Mermaid, and more than twenty others with stars like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Ricardo Montalbán, and Mickey Rooney. Williams is one of only ten American women to have their careers inducted into the Smithsonian Institution.

In February, the International Swimming Hall of Fame announced the “Esther Award,” which recognizes “outstanding achievements in the film and entertainment industries that promote a positive image of swimming as a key to fun, fitness, good health, a better quality of life and an essential water safety and lifesaving skill.”

President Obama to female Olympians: ‘Y’all crushed it’ (video)

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President Barack Obama hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams at the White House on Thursday.

Obama opened his speech by saying that he had planned on doing a floor routine with Simone Biles, before ultimately deciding that the room was too crowded. First Lady Michelle Obama interjected to remind the crowd that her husband “can’t touch his toes.”

The President then singled out the athletic accomplishments of Olympians including Biles, Michelle Carter, Simone Manuel, Claressa Shields, Kristin Armstrong, Kim Rhode, Allyson Felix, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin, Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

He also recognized: Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, Sam Kendricks, the U.S. Army reservist who put down his pole and stood at attention when the national anthem started playing, Will Claye, who proposed to U.S. hurdler Queen Harrison after winning an Olympic silver medal, and Abbey D’Agostino, who helped an opponent to her feet after a crash.

“That is exactly what the Olympic spirit and the American spirit should be all about,” Obama said about the sportsmanship of D’Agostino.

The President was particularly enthusiastic about the performance of the female athletes.

“2016 belonged to America’s women Olympians,” Obama said. “Y’all crushed it.”

Watch Obama’s full speech here.

After Obama’s speech, Biles presented him with a surfboard autographed by the Olympians in attendance.

“I’m going to have a lot of time to surf next year,” Obama said.

MORE: Photos of Team USA at the White House

Photos: Team USA at the White House

Twitter: @TeamUSA
Twitter: @TeamUSA
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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams at the White House on Thursday.

Below are some of the best photos of Team USA from inside the White House: