It’s been 20 years since Salt Lake City hosted the Olympics, but the 2002 Winter Games are still seen as inspiring.
Just ask President Joe Biden.
The president welcomed hundreds of Team USA athletes from the past two Olympics and Paralympics, in Tokyo last summer and in Beijing last winter, to the White House on Wednesday for the first-ever ceremony celebrating both summer and winter competitors.
Biden praised the “incredible character” of the athletes who competed during a pandemic that “made training and competing especially difficult and draining.” COVID-19 kept their families and friends from attending the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo that were delayed a year, as well as the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
“You just don’t quit,” the president said, a trait that helped bring the country together during trying times.
“You helped us unite the nation,” he said. “We’ve been a very divided nation philosophically of late, but you brought us together. For no matter the divisions, when we see you compete, we feel a common pride in those three letters: U-S-A. I mean that. There’s a common pride. It crosses all political spectrums.”
Biden told the story of how bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, who won a bronze and a silver medal in Beijing and spoke at the ceremony on behalf of the athletes, had switched sports after playing college softball to become the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Games history.
“She came close to making the Olympic softball team, but never gave up on her Olympic dream. During the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake, she watched the American bobsledder Vonetta Flowers become the first Black athlete to win a gold medal at a Winter Games,” the president said.
“This is what I mean by inspiration.”
Women’s bobsled made its Olympic debut in Utah. In 2002, Fraser Bullock, now head of Utah’s bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, officiated at a trackside ceremony marking the victory by Flowers and Jill Bakken, her teammate in the two-women bobsled race.
“We had two wonderful firsts,” Bullock recalled on the first anniversary of Utah’s Olympics. “Women’s bobsled in the Olympics for the first time; and Vonetta Flowers,” the first African American to win a gold medal in Winter Olympics history.