Above all else, the Olympics are about the athletes — the athletes from all corners of the world who have trained for years to be where they are today. But as much as the Olympics are about athletics, they also represent the unification of dozens of very different nations. For that reason, the games tend to attract lots of famous world leaders. So, it's only natural to expect U.S. President Donald Trump to be at the 2018 Winter Olympics, watching from the stands. However, his attendance isn't exactly set in stone.
Just months before the games began, the question of whether or not Trump would attend wasn't exactly at the forefront of the general population's mind. Instead, Americans seriously questioned if the United States would compete in the Olympics at all. On Dec. 6, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley suggested to Fox News that there was an "open question" regarding the United States' participation in the games. "I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have — whether it’s Jerusalem or North Korea — it’s about, how do we protect the US citizens in the area?” she continued, stressing security concerns posed by North Korea. Later, White House Press Secretary backed up Haley's suggestions, saying "no official decision has been made" about the Olympics.
But it didn't take long for Sanders to walk back on her words and confirm that, yes, the United States is participating in the Olympics. She tweeted,
UPDATE: The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues.
Perhaps the administration's empty statements about potentially not attending were supposed to signal to the international community that the United States would not tolerate North Korea's threats. That mentality would certainly fall in line with the one Trump has so consistently demonstrated while sparring with North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un. No one, after all, can forget the time Trump played with fire by calling Kim, a man who has threatened the United States with nuclear weapons, "rocket man."
Especially now that North Korea has officially agreed to send athletes to the games following talks with South Korea, it's possible Trump will try to make a statement by skipping the games. At the same time, it's also possible he'll try to make a statement by showing up to the games, loud and proud. To be fair, though, Trump has actually commended North Korea's participation in the games. “I'd like to see them getting involved in the Olympics and maybe things go from there,” he said from Camp David on Jan. 6. “So I'm behind that 100%.” And on Feb. 7, he tweeted,
Congratulations to the Republic of Korea on what will be a MAGNIFICENT Winter Olympics! What the South Korean people have built is truly an inspiration!
Lee Hee-beom, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee's CEO and president, for one, has not directly expressed a desire for Trump to take part in the delegation. However, he has different hopes for Melania and Ivanka. “It would be an honor for us to have the First Lady and the First Daughter, Ivanka,” Lee told USA Today. “Hopefully they can participate. It would very meaningful for us to have them.” Ivanka, indeed, is set to lead the U.S. presidential delegation.
If Trump decides to stay home for the Olympics, he certainly won't be the first president to do so. Former President Barack Obama opted out of attending the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Michelle Obama went to the London Olympics in his place.
If anything, it will be fascinating to see which world leaders do attend the Olympics considering the controversy surrounding both the Russia ban and North Korea's participation in the games.