Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jon Lujan, Julie Chu

What U.S. Olympians told President Obama at White House

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WASHINGTON — Sage Kotsenburg joked that he would say “What’s up dog?” to President Obama on Thursday. Actually, the coolest part of their meeting at the White House was spoken by Obama.

“He said I was chill,” Kotsenburg said, smiling, shortly before Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama addressed a group of Sochi Olympians and Paralympians stretching their arms in the air to take photos of them at a room inside the White House.

Obama said more than that to Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion. An estimated more than 200 Olympians and Paralympians met the Obamas (and some saw their dogs, too) over a 90-minute to two-hour stretch.

“[Obama] goes, ‘Sage, this guy was like the favorite moment of the Games. He had the sickest interview, chill,'” Kotsenburg said. “I had no idea what to say. He watched all my interviews or something. He was down. He said I was chill.”

The humor-filled Kotsenburg joked on “TODAY” earlier Thursday that he would tell Obama, “What’s up dog?” He later carried around a bouquet of vegetables — “brussel sprouts and green beans,” he thought — picked from a kitchen garden on the South Lawn.

But when the meeting finally happened, he was at a loss for words.

“I was too mind blown from what [Obama] said,” Kotsenburg said. “I managed to get some stuff out, ‘Thanks. It was awesome that you watched.’ I said thanks probably 100 times.”

Kotsenburg did not get a selfie with Obama, like Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz managed Tuesday. The athletes handed over their phones before meeting the Obamas, but a White House photographer snapped more official images.

What did other Olympians tell the president?

“I asked him if he wanted to try skeleton,” skeleton slider John Daly said. “He said maybe. He said it looked a little too crazy.”

Snowboard cross bronze medalist Alex Deibold came away from his meeting cherishing his hug with the first lady and impressed with the president’s firm handshake and smile.

“They tell you, don’t make any quick actions, don’t stick anything in your pocket,” Deibold said while wearing his bronze medal. “I wanted to be like, ‘Hey, have you guys actually gotten to see these [medals] yet?’ When I see military personnel, they see us walking by, I take it off and hand it to people. They’re really cool. I try and share it with as many people as I can, but in there I decided that it was probably best to be professional.

“I got the hug from Michelle, which was something I was really looking forward to. A good, firm handshake [from the president]. Barack has a great smile. I don’t know if he practices that, but I’m sure it’s something that he has to do all the time.”

Luger Kate Hansen had her heart set on recording video of her dancing with the first lady. That wasn’t possible, but the first lady still made a move or two as the Obamas were very engaging to all the athletes on a personal level, a U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson said.

In his address to the entire delegation, Obama opened by joking about one Olympian in particular.

“We double checked to make sure that all the bathroom locks are working in case [bobsledder] Johnny Quinn tried to bust down some of these antique doors,” Obama said. “We didn’t want that to happen.”

Obama also made reference to slopesyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy‘s adoption of Sochi stray dogs.

“That doesn’t count in the medal standings,” Obama said, “but it tells you something about the freestyle skiers.

“I would personally like to thank all of our snowboarders and freestyle skiers for making newscasters across America say things like, ‘Air to fakie,’ and the ‘Back-to-back double cork 1260,'” Obama added. “I don’t know what that means, but I just wanted to say it. I’m pretty sure I’m the first president to ever say that.”

On slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin‘s dream to win five gold medals at the 2018 Olympics?

“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama said. “Go for it.”

Obama closed with the story of skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace, who missed the 2006 Olympics after she broke a leg when a bobsled collided with her on a track, then finished .01 out of a medal in 2010, retired and came back to compete in Sochi as a mother of two.

“Life is never going to go as planned,” Obama read as a quote from Pikus-Pace, who was not in attendance Thursday. “You have to decide when you’re bumped off course if it’s going to hold you back or move you forward. … That’s the spirit we celebrate today.”

In one final remark, Obama told the young athletes, “Don’t tear up the place.”

“We already did!” shouted a female voice in response. A few athletes said afterward that exclamation came from Olympic halfpipe champion Kaitlyn Farrington.

Here were some of the Olympians’ and Paralympians’ social media highlights from the White House visit:

Kotsenburg among winners at Best of U.S. Awards

Mother, son set to compete in same Olympics for first time

Nino Salukvadze, Tsotne Machavariani
AP
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TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Going into her eighth Olympics, former shooting champion Nino Salukvadze has plenty of reasons to be proud of her long career.

She has something even more special to celebrate in Rio de Janeiro: She and her 18-year-old son will both be competing.

While there have been previous cases of parents and their children competing at the same games, this is believed to be the first time a mother and son will participate in the same Olympics.

Salukvadze’s son, Tsotne Machavariani, shot a personal-best in the 10-meter air pistol at the European championships in February to snatch a surprise Olympic qualifying spot.

“I am very happy as the representative of the Georgian shooting federation but a million times happier as a mother that my son managed to do this,” the 47-year-old Salukvadze told The Associated Press.

In the 28 years since she won a 25-meter pistol gold medal for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Games, Salukvadze and her family have kept Olympic shooting alive in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Salukvadze and her father handle the coaching at a tiny range in the basement of the Sports Ministry which she helped pay to build. The main hall is bedecked with her medals, but the range can hold only five shooters at a time, meaning mother and son often head abroad to train at more modern facilities.

Over the decades, Vakhtang Salukvadze has mentored his daughter and grandson as they became world-class shooters, but he won’t be going to Rio because of his age.

“His dream always was to see me and my son competing at the same Olympic Games. We made his dream true earlier then he thought,” Nino Salukvadze said. “He’s 85 and taking into account the Brazilian weather and the length of the flight, it was decided that he’ll stay home.”

Salukvadze briefly became a celebrity during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which took place during a war between Georgia and neighboring Russia. After winning a bronze medal, she kissed a Russian shooter on the podium in a demonstration of peace.

“Why did it surprise everyone so much?” she said. “We’re athletes. There’s no conflict between us.”

In the 120-year history of the modern Olympics, it has not been uncommon for fathers and sons to compete at the same games, a reflection of the historical preponderance of men’s events on the program, but mother-child partnerships are much rarer.

Olympic historian Bill Mallon said there have been 56 cases of fathers and sons at the same games, 12 of father and daughter, two of mother and daughter, but none of mother-son — until now.

While Salukvadze won gold at her first Olympics, her son said he’s not under pressure to match her achievement.

“My mother tells me that although she was almost my age when she won her Olympic gold, she represented the Soviet Union at that time and had better training conditions, more experience in tournaments,” he said. “She tells me that we do not have that luxury and she does not demand any results from me. I think this her way to calm me down and minimize my nervousness during the tournament.”

While she can provide on-the-spot coaching, any motherly advice will remain a family secret, Machavariani said with a smile.

“At the Olympics I will be representing my mother, my country and myself,” he said.

MORE: First set of Olympic triplets?

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there’s a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the games. But the IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel also dismissed the suggestion that the NHL’s revived World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China, however, is far less competitive.

After losses to Iceland and Spain last month, China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation which worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined