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

Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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