Visit to Rio: A Privilege to Lead the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Olympics

I’ve always loved watching the Olympics  --  from swimmer Mark Spitz’s record-breaking victories at Munich in 1972, to Mike Eruzione and the underdog 1980 men’s hockey team Miracle on Ice, to Kerri Strug’s impossible landing on her second vault attempt in 1996. The talent and athletic ability on display at the Games is unmatched by any other competition on Earth.

That’s one of the reasons why it was my great privilege to lead the U.S Presidential Delegation to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. I can say on behalf of the entire delegation that we were honored to have attended the Opening Ceremony on behalf of President Obama.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Mark Spitz - Olympic gold medalist and fellow U.S. Presidential Delegation member - pose with a Team USA jersey as they visit the Brazilian Naval Academy in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 5, 2016, before they meet U.S. athletes training at the facility. [State Department Photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry clasps hands with Olympic gold medalist and track star Allyson Felix as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Brazilian Naval Academy in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 5, 2016, to meet members of Team USA training at the facility. [State Department Photo]

The members of the delegation and I were pleased to meet with the U.S. athletes participating in the Games and express the pride our nation has in them as they represent America in the 31st Olympiad. Qualifying to compete in the Olympic Games makes these athletes champions already, and the stories among them are incredible. It is truly an extraordinary team.

There’s so much more to our terrific athletes than the public often has a chance to see. One member of Team USA was once a refugee from Eritrea and is now working with displaced people and helping refugees to relocate. Many U.S. athletes are working with at-risk youths and giving them a sense of future  --  of their own future. A Muslim American fencer on Team USA is participating in programs hosted by U.S. embassies to empower women and girls through sports and show what women can do when they have an opportunity to fully participate in society. We are proud of these athletes not only for what they achieve in competition but also for the examples they set.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets members of Team USA as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Brazilian Naval Academy in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 5, 2016, to meet U.S. athletes training at the facility. [State Department Photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches the start of the Olympic men's cycling race along the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation attend the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo]

While in Rio, our athletes have the opportunity not only to break athletic records but also to break barriers by engaging with people, in the great spirit of the Games, which is  --  after all  --  a symbol of nations being able to come together and compete peacefully and find a different way to resolve the differences between us. Sports have always been an incredible way of bridging divides, in part, because they inspire us. They inspire us to practice, to compete, to excel. They inspire us to dream  --  and for the athletes gathered in Rio, to dream of what many of us would consider the impossible, an Olympic moment.

I’ve traveled to 88 countries as Secretary of State, representing the values that make us the proud and diverse nation that we are. Our athletes are some of our finest Ambassadors. And I can’t think of anything that unifies people as much as the common spirit of sportsmanship.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with members of the Women's Volleyball team as he and his fellow U.S. Presidential Delegation members visit the Brazilian Naval Academy in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 5, 2016, to meet Team USA athletes training at the facility. [State Department Photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Summer Olympics pose for for a photo with the U.S. men's Olympic gymnastics team on August 6, 2016, at Olympic Park in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. [State Department Photo]

We know Olympic moments are not made of dreams alone, but also of hard work. For us weekend warriors, we stand in awe of the grit and determination that all of the athletes in Rio have demonstrated to be at the Olympics.

As a cyclist myself, I was particularly impressed to watch the start of the Olympic Men’s Road Race. A 241.5 km race, this event demands immense strength and stamina, qualities I saw in all of the athletes I met in Rio.

The athletes in Rio put countless hours into training for the Games, and they are an inspiration to everyone working towards a goal that at times feels impossible. They are proof when you work hard, set your mind to something, and never, ever give up, great things can happen.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with incoming United States Tennis Association President Katrina Adams as they watched U.S. tennis player Venus Williams play Belgian tennis player Kirsten Flipkens on August 6, 2016, during an Olympic tennis match at Olympic Park in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, watched by Kerry and fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the 2016 Summer Olympics. [State Department Photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looks on as biking teams are introduced along the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation tour the men's Olympic cycling area before the start of a race on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo]

As the great American Olympic and professional boxer Muhammad Ali once said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power that they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

The athletes in Rio have already demonstrated to us that impossible is a dare, that impossible is temporary. I can’t wait to see what these extraordinary young people show us in the weeks -- and years -- ahead. Go Team USA!

About the Author:  John Kerry serves as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States. 

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared in the Department's Foggy Bottom publication on Medium.com.

For more information:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for selfies with members of Team USA as he and his fellow U.S. Presidential Delegation members traveled to Rio de Janiero, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympic games.
Posted by John Kerry
August 9, 2016

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