THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, THE VICE PRESIDENT, MRS. CLINTON AND MRS. GORE, AND BILLY PAYNE, PRESIDENT AND CEO FOR THE ATLANTA COMMITTEE FOR THE OLYMPIC GAMES AT CEREMONY FOR THE DEPARTURE OF THE OLYMPIC TORCH The South Lawn
7:39 A.M. EDT
MRS. CLINTON: Good morning, and welcome to the White House. The President, the Vice President, Mrs. Gore and I are very happy all of you could join us for this very special departure ceremony. I would like to welcome Billy and Martha Payne and other distinguished guests from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
Also, Georgia Governor Zell Miller and his wife, Shirley, are here, and we want to say a special word of welcome and thanks to Donna and Mack McLarty, who have been working closely with Vice President Gore to coordinate the administration's activities in support of the 1996 Olympics and Paralympics.
We're also pleased we could be joined by members of Congress, the Cabinet, the White House Task Force on the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and also the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, especially the Cochair, Tom McMillan, all of whom are with us this morning. We are also honored to have here today the ambassadors from nations that have hosted past summer olympic games.
I'd like to extend a special welcome and congratulations to the men and women who carried the torch here in the District, especially to the two runners who carried the torch to the White House last night: Dr. I. King Jordan, the President of Gallaudet University; and Sister Mary Poppett (phonetic). I'd also like to acknowledge Martin Begosh (phonetic.), who is here as well, as one of the torch bearers. There were community hero torchbearers that the President first introduced in his State of the Union Address many months ago: Lucius Wright (phonetic) of Jackson, Mississippi and Jennifer Rogers (phonetic) of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
And, finally, let us welcome some of the wonderful exemplars of excellence -- the former and current olympians from the D.C. area. The U.S. Men's Soccer Team and this year's -- (applause) -- who are doing well, and this year's brilliant group of presidential scholars. (Applause.)
Some of you may remember that my daughter and I had the privilege of witnessing the lighting of this same flame almost three months ago in Olympia, Greece. It was the traditional ceremony set amid the ancient ruins of Olympia where the original games were held more than 2500 years ago. On that beautiful, sunny day in a place surrounded by olive, orange and lemon groves, it was very easy for us to feel the tradition, history and symbolism of the Olympic flame. This flame carries much more than light and heat, it carries the spirit of our family of nations, the legacy of friendships formed over centuries of olympic contests, and the hopes of the young men and women who will convene in Atlanta this summer. Through them, the Olympic spirit will only grow faster and higher and stronger, enabling all of us to renew bonds of international goodwill and understanding. That is the heart of the Olympic ideal that we honor here at the White House today.
Now, let me introduce to you a great friend of mine and a great athlete in her own right, Tipper Gore. (Applause.)
MRS. GORE: Thank you very much, Mrs. Clinton. I must admit that sharing in a part of this Olympic spirit has been one of the most -- greatest highlights of my life. I've really, really loved it and been moved at every point.
I had the privilege of greeting the torch when it arrived on American soil in Los Angeles, and I watched with pride as Rafer Johnson, a gold medalist in the decathlon in 1960 gallantly carried that torch through the streets of L.A., beginning its journey to the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. And this community of athletes has been summoned to compete next month because they have reached the peak of athletic excellence, and their abilities command our respect and they have earned our admiration, and they have ignited a very fierce pride in all of our hearts.
It's now my distinct honor to introduce to you the President and the CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, the dynamic and energetic Mr. Billy Payne. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. PAYNE: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Gore, the country's best Governor, Zell Miller of Georgia, ladies and gentlemen. Along with the great honor that America has been given to organize these Centennial Games, so, too, do we feel an obligation -- an obligation to protect this flame, to respect its purity, to carry it high and to pass it on from torchbearer to torchbearer in a seemingly endless chain of humanity, moving ever closer to Atlanta, now turning south to Georgia and the opening ceremonies of the Centennial Games, and the thousands of men and women who are our Olympic torchbearers represent the very best of who we are as a nation. Whether famous or not, they are all community heroes as they demonstrate every single day of their life that unselfish service to others is the lifeblood of this great country. And as we learn by the example each has set, we share with them the belief that in America, all is possible.
And so just as these torchbearers represent the best of our country, this Olympic flame represents the truest and the highest ideals of the Olympic movement, that in spite of our differences, we can assemble to celebrate that which we share in common. And in doing so, maybe -- just maybe -- find our lives so enriched that our differences are no longer our obsessions.
To you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, we extend our heartfelt thanks for your wonderful support of these Centennial Olympic Games.
And now, it is my distinct honor to introduce the gentleman who has chaired the administration's effort in support of the Games, the Vice President of the United States of America, the Honorable Al Gore. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Billy, and thanks to all of the citizens of Atlanta and Georgia, and all Americans who have made it possible for our nation to host these Games. No matter where it travels in the world, the Olympic Torch is a powerful symbol of unity, hard work, and the burning desire for excellence.
This year, its final destination is Atlanta, and it has been making a remarkable journey to the Centennial Olympic Games. It was carried on a cable car through the hills of San Francisco, and in a jazz parade across the streets of New Orleans. It climbed the Rocky Mountains, drifted down the Mississippi River and circled Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. It has traveled in railroad cars and with the Pony Express. It visited Memphis in May for the Sunset Symphony.
By the time it reaches Atlanta, it will have passed within two hours of the residences of 90 percent of our nation's population.
As Chair of President Clinton's White House Task Force on the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I'm intensely proud of all this torch symbolizes, as I am of all the hard work that this task force has done to ensure that these games are the best games ever. I want to thank my partner, Mack McLarty, and all those who have worked under the President's direction to help our nation ensure that these games are a spectacular success for America and for the world.
The Olympic Torch has been shooting out rays of hope and shining a light on everything that makes our country great. Today, the torch continues its journey now up this South Lawn. A community hero from our Nation's Capital, Lang Brown, along with 12 of the young people whose lives he has touched, will light the torch. (Applause.)
(The torch is lit.) (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I want to begin by thanking Lang Brown, not only for what he has done this morning in bringing the torch up here, but for what he does every day. He gives his best to help troubled teenagers, to teach them how to live responsible lives and to know that they are not alone as they do their best.
Today, we honor that spirit -- the spirit of the Olympics, as we send forth the Olympic Torch to light the way to Atlanta. Thank you, Lang Brown. (Applause.)
This torch has seen more of America than most of us Americans will see in a lifetime, and much of America has seen the torch, cheered it, and the people bearing it. The torch, burning bright and strong, stands for the joy of athletic competition and more -- for the importance of international cooperation and more, for the price we feel when our strong young Americans win the told and more. For this Olympic flame also calls upon each of us to be our very best as individuals, to do our best to build strong families and strong communities and a strong country. It tells us that victory comes to the united, not to the divided. Every Olympian has reached within and worked hard to be the fastest, the strongest, the most graceful.
We all have hurdles to leap -- to finish high school or college, to be a good parent, a good worker, a good neighbor. Every one of us must summon that spirit of responsibility and best effort in our own lives. Every Olympian stands at the starting block or at the beginning of a great game alone. But they do not win alone. They draw strength from a lifetime of support from family and friends, coaches and role models. And every one of us must summon that spirit of community to meet our challenges.
Every Olympian is proof that for all of our differences, we are one America. We cheer our athletes not because they are men or women, not because of the color of their skin, we cheer them because they are Americans. They represent us all and they fill us with pride. And every one of us must summon that spirit of unity, to embrace those things that bind us together, and never to succumb to those things that would keep us apart.
My fellow Americans, in the last several months, we have had to deal with some different kinds of flames. But it is this flame that represents the best of the United States of America. (Applause.)
The Olympic spirit is the spirit of personal responsibility and best effort, the spirit of community, the spirit of unity. The people who carried this torch all across America show us exactly how that spirit can lift all our lives every day. This torch has been carried by a 74-year-old woman in Nevada who has cared for more than 100 abandoned children, by a New York businessman who has put thousands of disadvantaged young people through college, by a North Carolina teacher who organized students in 48 states against violence. This torch has been carried by America's best. They are everyday Olympians.
Now, this torch will be carried by someone who is America's best, who is both an everyday Olympian and a member of our Olympic team. Eight years ago, Carla McGhee was in a car accident. She almost died. Her body was broken, but her spirit was whole. She fought her way back to a promising basketball career that most people thought had been lost forever. She went on to return to the University of Tennessee and to help her team win a national basketball championship. The Vice President is particularly proud of that achievement. (Laughter.) And now we hope that she will help to work the same magic for our Olympic women's team; a miraculous road back for a wonderful young woman. (Applause.)
May the Olympic flame always carry the ideals that burn in athletes and citizens like Carla McGhee, that burn in people like our torchbearers, the community heroes, the veterans of war and the keepers of peace, and all of those who have run with it, walked with it, wheeled with it, and set eyes on it. And may these ideals cast light on every shadow and brighten every dream on America's road to tomorrow.
May God bless America. And to Carla and all our Olympians, Godspeed. (Applause.)
END 7:58 A.M.