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

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Tony Azevedo of the USA in action during the USA vs Italy Waterpolo group match at Julio de Lamare Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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