First lady Jill Biden reaps a FLOTUS bonus, cheering Team USA at an unusual Tokyo Olympics

·5 min read

First lady Jill Biden dove in Friday to what's got to be one of the most enjoyable fringe benefits of the job of FLOTUS: representing America at an overseas opening ceremony at the oddest Olympic Games ever.

Biden arrived in Tokyo from Alaska on Thursday for the Summer Olympics – her first solo overseas trip as first lady – and embarked on a busy two-day schedule, starting with dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife, Mariko Suga, at Akasaka Palace, also known as the State Guest House.

Earlier Friday, she joined the Japanese first lady for an engagement at Akasaka Palace and met with Emperor Naruhito of Japan at the Imperial Palace. She also participated in a virtual get-together with Team USA.

"Your entire nation is cheering you on and we are grateful for what you’ve given us: the chance to come together in common awe and appreciation for your accomplishments and the shared joy of rooting for our country on the edge of our seats," she told the athletes in a pep talk later published as an open letter on NBC, which is broadcasting the games.

First Lady Jill Biden observes a moment of silence during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.
First Lady Jill Biden observes a moment of silence during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.

Her day concluded with the most high-profile aspect of her Olympic adventure: her appearance at Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony as head of the U.S. delegation. Wearing a mask, Biden watched the ceremony from the stands and observed a moment of silence at the start.

About 950 spectators, mostly dignitaries — such as Biden — and journalists, were at Olympic Stadium for the subdued festivities, where more than 200 athletes were expected to march.

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First Lady of the United States Jill Biden watches the swimming competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
First Lady of the United States Jill Biden watches the swimming competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

On Saturday, Biden cheered on the U.S. team during several events, including swimming and 3-on-3 basketball. She was dressed in a Team USA Ralph Lauren Blazer, a T-shirt with the American flag across the chest and white sweat pants with "USA" written down the leg. For even more Olympics cheer, she hosted a U.S. vs. Mexico softball watch party with Foreign Service officers and their families at the U.S. Embassy.

The first lady also dedicated a room in the residence of the U.S. Chief of Mission in Tokyo Saturday to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and his late wife, Irene Hirano Inouye.

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As the most prominent Biden administration figure at the games, she'll take her place among most of her recent predecessors in rooting for Team USA before the world at the Olympics – a photo opportunity that can't be beat for displaying patriotism, sportsmanship and general good vibes for viewers back home.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (center) and his wife Mariko Suga met first lady Jill Biden at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo on July 22, 2021, after Biden arrived for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (center) and his wife Mariko Suga met first lady Jill Biden at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo on July 22, 2021, after Biden arrived for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

This is an abnormal Olympics, delayed from 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic and still under unprecedented restrictions, including fewer than 1,000 media people and officials as spectators in a stadium that seats 65,000.

Controversies continue to pile up as more athletes are forced to withdraw because of testing positive for COVID-19, including at least five from Team USA.

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Biden is fully vaccinated, according to the White House. She and everyone else in her entourage were tested between Anchorage and Tokyo, according to pool reporters traveling with Biden.

First lady Michelle Obama hugs Kobe Bryant after Team USA defeated France in a preliminary men's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics on July 29, 2012, in London.
First lady Michelle Obama hugs Kobe Bryant after Team USA defeated France in a preliminary men's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics on July 29, 2012, in London.

The first lady's presence in Tokyo marked a return to recent custom.

With the exception of the just-ended one term of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, most administrations have sought to associate with the Olympics, and often sent the first lady to lead the delegation.

First lady Michelle Obama was a popular figure at the Summer Olympics in London in 2012.

President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush and daughter Barbara Bush cheer on the American team at the swimming arena at the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 10, 2008.
President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush and daughter Barbara Bush cheer on the American team at the swimming arena at the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 10, 2008.

President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush seemed to be having a blast when they both attended the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

First lady Hillary Clinton was at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where she was joined by President Bill Clinton.

The Clintons also sent their daughter Chelsea as a member of the U.S. delegation to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

First lady Hillary Clinton speaks to American athlete Florence Griffith Joyner on Feb. 14, 1994, at the Olympic Hall during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
First lady Hillary Clinton speaks to American athlete Florence Griffith Joyner on Feb. 14, 1994, at the Olympic Hall during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

And President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan made sure to show up in their hometown of Los Angeles when the Summer Olympics were held there in 1984.

Biden's trip wasn't all fun and games: She's a crucial member of President Joe Biden's team of top surrogates who have been crisscrossing the country trying to persuade more Americans to get "shots in arms" to protect against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Before landing in Tokyo, Biden stopped off in Alaska to meet with military and veteran families and to visit the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

She said she asked to stop in Alaska on her way to Tokyo for a reason, dating back to the Bidens' three decades in the U.S. Senate and the friends they made there.

"This state is special to Joe and me – we’ve built deep relationships here over the years," she said, explaining she and her husband were close to the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who hosted them on a trip to see Alaska's beautiful vistas.

"I’ve seen the heart of this state in so many ways, so it’s really special to be here today now as your first lady," she said.

She told the story of a woman she recently met who fought back tears as she told her she lost four family members to COVID-19.

"Four. So when the vaccine came out, she got to work," Biden said. "She said she has personally made sure 140 people got vaccinated. "That is our path forward: reaching out to those who are still undecided, persuading them to protect both themselves and others."

First lady Jill Biden stopped to visit the Alaska Native Health Tribal Health Consortium office in Anchorage on July 21, 2021, on her way to Tokyo leading the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games.
First lady Jill Biden stopped to visit the Alaska Native Health Tribal Health Consortium office in Anchorage on July 21, 2021, on her way to Tokyo leading the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games.

After leaving Tokyo on Saturday, she will head to Honolulu, where she will visit a vaccination clinic at a local high school before returning to Washington on Sunday.

Contributing: The Associated Press, Olivia Reiner USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jill Biden cheers Team USA at Tokyo Olympics, first solo overseas trip

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