Speaking in Luang Prabang in northern Laos, Obama told members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders’ Initiative — some of whose countries suffer from ethnic tensions — that America’s “great strength” was its diversity.
“In our big cities in America you can get really good food from everywhere and then sometimes people come up with new food that’s a mix of different foods. Same thing with music,” Obama said.
He added that diversity was one reason for the US haul of 46 gold medals in Rio.
“Recently we all saw the Olympics and you know, not to brag but the United States did very well,” he said.
Citing America’s size, wealth and laws that encourage women to take part in sport as contributing factors, Obama then turned to genetics.
“Because we have people who came from everywhere, we have people of all different types for every sport, so we have really tall people to play basketball or to swim, we have little people for gymnastics,” he said.
“We have genetically, for whatever sport, we have people who fit the sport.
“That’s a good metaphor for why I think we’ve been very successful.”
Obama’s comments echoed a photo that went viral of the 1.45m (4ft 9ins) gymnast Simone Biles standing back-to-back with much taller volleyball player David Lee.