WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden dropped in on a global Olympic meeting in Washington on Friday, a move aimed at showing government support for the Olympic movement at a time when the U.S. is bidding for the 2024 Summer Games.
"I'll be the captain of the U.S. Olympic team," Biden joked in his brief remarks to the Association of National Olympic Committees. "I'm running the 100 meters. Don't I wish I could."
Biden's surprise visit came a day after the U.S. government was conspicuously absent at the opening of the ANOC general assembly, a gathering of national Olympic committee officials from 204 countries. It's the first time the meeting is being held in the U.S. since 1994.
The conference comes as Los Angeles bids to bring the Summer Games back to the U.S. for the first time since Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics.
Biden said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been busy here meeting delegates to discuss the bid, pointed out to him that no one from the U.S. administration had come to Thursday's opening.
"He's right," Biden said. "It was an oversight. For that I apologize. For that, I am a poor substitute, but I am delighted to be here."
Los Angeles is competing against Paris, Rome, Hamburg and Budapest. The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in September 2017.
"I'm not here lobbying for any city, though I do love Los Angeles," Biden said. "All kidding aside, Garcetti is my friend and he won't let me back in L.A. unless I say something nice."
The absence of any administration official on Thursday was a disappointment to the U.S. Olympic Committee and was seen as possible fallout from Chicago's failed bid for the 2016 Olympics. President Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen to speak to the IOC at the 2009 vote, only for Chicago to be eliminated in the first round.
Biden sought to smooth the waters in his seven-minute remarks.
"I came to say thank you, thank you for the dedication that each of you has shown," he said.
Biden called the Olympics "the single unifying principle in the world."
"There are more countries represented in this room today than there are in the United Nations," he said.
Biden arrived at the conference hall at a Washington hotel while Brazilian organizers were showing a video of their preparations for next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. ANOC President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah cut in to stop the video and introduce Biden.
Biden said it was "like addressing the U.N. general assembly without any differences."
The vice president spoke of America as a country of immigrants and told the delegates: "If you took a cab to get around the city, you probably found someone who speaks your language."
Biden mentioned that he had attended the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and achieved "hero" status with his grandchildren when he took them to meet the U.S. women's hockey team.
"I hope when I come up to you and say hello," Biden told the delegates, "you won't say, 'Joe who?' and remember me."