Mr. Speaker, Senator Byrd, members of the U.S. Olympic Committee, distinguished American visitors, and particularly the members of the United States Olympic team:
The members of the team and I will be seeing more of each other this afternoon in an informal way at the White House itself, but I came here to express by appreciation and my respect in an official and more formal way.
As President I have had the opportunity to recognize outstanding athletic ability. A few minutes ago I welcomed to the White House, to honor, two beautiful young women, Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe. I've recognized other men and women of outstanding scholastic achievement, and I've recognized Americans of great heroism, those who have demonstrated their love of country through acts of nobility and determination and of courage.
The recognition for excellence of achievement, for nobility, patriotism, and courage are an exciting part of a President's life. Today I have a unique ability and an opportunity to honor Americans who qualify in all these categories—the United States Olympic Team.
The medals that you will receive today recognizes a notable achievement—your selection as a member of the United States Olympic team. This achievement would be commendable under any circumstance, but the congressional medal will have a special meaning. It is a sign for all time, not just of your athletic excellence, but also of the dignity and the resilience that you've demonstrated under extraordinary and difficult circumstances. It's a sign of your courage in the face of adversity. Ernest Hemingway once defined courage as "grace under pressure." You, the members of the U.S. Olympic team, have displayed this kind of courage.
Some people live their whole lives without ever devoting themselves to one major attempt, one chance for outstanding achievement. It's hard for that kind of person to appreciate what it means to endure pain and exhaustion and personal sacrifice through years of intense training and to give not just your time and your energy but your entire self to achieving a great goal. To go through all that and then to suffer defeat in athletic competition is one thing, but to have your chances dashed by a brutal act of aggression and a threat to world peace, something that really has nothing to do with your own efforts, can be an even harder blow.
The overwhelming call by the Congress for a strong response and the decision of the United States Olympic Committee and by 50 other nations not to participate in the Moscow Olympics was a vital and indispensable reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was the only correct course of action for our Nation.
If our Olympic team had been in Moscow these past days, with all the pageantry and spectacle, it would have been impossible for us credibly to maintain our leadership on the world scale in our continuing effort to seek freedom in Afghanistan. No matter what else we had done, no matter what other step we had taken, our participation would have sent an unmistakable message to the Soviet Government, the Soviet people, and to people all over the world. That message would have been this: The United States might not like the idea of aggression and the deprivation of freedom for people, but when it really comes down to it, we are willing to join the parade as if nothing had happened. For the sake of world peace, we cannot and could not allow such a message to be conveyed.
I know that some Olympic athletes disagree with the decision not to compete. You have disagreed with grace and with dignity and, I believe, with credit to yourselves. All of you have maintained arduous training. You've won your place on the U.S. Olympic team against high-caliber. competition. You've come here to accept not simply the applause but the gratitude of a nation for what you've done and for the course that you have set for your lives. All of you, in your own way, have been willing, eager to look to the future, to new challenges. Today I want to join you in looking to the future.
The Soviet invasion and its embarrassing consequences have had an unexpected byproduct. Major national attention has been focused on the importance of the Olympics, on amateur athletics, on the challenges confronting the amateur athletes, and on commensurate human freedom. We're taking advantage of this increased public concern. Congress has appropriated, as you well know, a substantial matching grant for the Olympic Committee to support the amateur sports movement in this country and to prepare for the 1984 Olympic games.
As I did when our Winter Olympic team came back to the White House, today I urge Americans again, from all walks of life, from all parts of our Nation, to demonstrate your appreciation for what you represent in this team by supporting and contributing to the United States Olympic Committee. I know that many of you on the team will lend your talents to make these efforts successful. No other nation on Earth has so many gifted and dedicated athletes and coaches, able to give so much to the growth of physical fitness and sports programs throughout the world, as do we here in the United States.
In closing, I would like to say a personal thing to the members of the team itself. For your excellence in competition, for your personal courage, for your demonstrated love of country, and for your enhancement of freedom throughout the world, I commend you. It is no exaggeration to say that you have done more to uphold the Olympic ideal than any other group of athletes in our history. That is very important, yet the meaning of your action goes far beyond even that.
Future generations of Americans will know what you did, not just from the record books but from the history books. They will know that in the year 1980 you did as much as any other group on Earth, large or small, in any nation, to hold high the banner of liberty and peace. I salute you for it, and the American people salute you for it also.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God bless every one of you.