President Clinton used a White House ceremony Thursday honoring America's Winter Olympic and Paralympic teams to promote the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
But that had the unintended effect of sparking more controversy between the always-competing figure skaters Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan.The U.S. Olympic Committee chose Kwan to present Clinton with a team jacket on behalf of athletes in part because she aims to compete in Salt Lake City. Lipinski - who won the gold medal over favored Kwan - has turned pro and would be ineligible.
When Clinton introduced Kwan, he praised her "grace and excellence on the ice, and even more after the competition" - when she was credited for classy handling of her defeat.
All that was too much for Lipinski's mother. Pat Lipinski told reporters that she was in shock over what she perceived to be a snub - and said her gold medalist daughter should have made the presentation, even if she won't be in Salt Lake City.
"Tara is the epitome of the Olympics," she told the Washington Post.
Despite that blowup, Clinton used the ceremony to help point toward the Salt Lake Games - and many athletes in attendance said they are making the competition in Utah their top goal for coming years.
"It's also a great source of pride for us that the Winter Olympics of 2002 will be in Salt Lake City," Clinton told the athletes. "We want to help them succeed."
He then introduced Mayor Deedee Corradini and Salt Lake Olympic Committee Chairman Robert Garff to the crowd on the White House South Lawn, saying, "I'd like to ask them to stand and receive our support."
Park City resident Jim Moran, who competed in moguls skiing, said he and other athletes feel competing at home will help Americans achieve their highest levels - and they want to be part of it. He's even making some extra sacrifice to try to be there.
He said the pounding on his knees from his sport likely wouldn't allow him to compete on the World Cup tour for four more years and be in the Olympics. So he decided to take a few years off now to rest his body, maybe attend the University of Utah and then work hard to qualify for the Olympics.
"It's going to be awesome," he said. "I can see the mogul bumps from my house."
The Vermont native added, "I'm 26 now. I would be 29 in the next Olympics - which is about as old as anyone has been in the sport to make it to that level. But I can do it - I want to."
Corradini said other athletes told her how excited they are about an American Olympics in 2002.
She traveled with five to an inner-city Washington, D.C., high school to observe a new program where Olympians encourage students to succeed. "Three of the five want to compete in Salt Lake. They're really excited about it," she said.
She noted that one is Eric Ber-goust, a gold medal winner in freestyle aerials skiing. "He's from Montana but trains in Salt Lake. So he's really a Salt Laker," the mayor said.
Corradini said that in White House meetings on Wednesday, the administration again voiced continuing support to help make the Salt Lake Games a success.
She also reported that Mickey Ibarra, a Utah native who is the White House director of intergovernmental affairs, plans to visit Utah on May 14 "for Olympic venue tours and to see our transportation projects out there."
Among other Utahns who attended the White House ceremony Wednesday were Nikki Stone of Park City, who won the gold medal in freestyle aerials; Maggie Behle of Salt Lake City, who won two skiing bronze medals in the Paralympics; and Brent Benroth of Tooele, who was a cross-country skier in the Paralympics.
Notably absent from the ceremony were members of the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team. They were not invited as a punishment for $3,000 in damage that some undetermined team members caused to the Olympic Village before leaving.