President Bush honored Olympic and Paralympic athletes Monday for bringing home nearly 200 medals, telling the athletes they had served as exemplary ambassadors of the United States.

"To qualify for Team USA (search), you had to set high goals, devote long hours to training and outperform talented athletes from all across our country," Bush told several hundred athletes and coaches in a South Lawn ceremony. "In Athens, you faced the toughest competition and the highest pressure in all of sports. When the games were over, America had earned more than 100 medals, the most in the world."

Paralympians earned another 88 medals and "made us all proud," Bush said.

The president said the opening ceremonies at the Olympics showed why the United States inspires "such great hope in this world."

"Our teams marched alongside men and women from Afghanistan and Iraq, nations that just four years ago knew only tyranny and repression," Bush said.

But Democrat John Kerry's campaign distributed comments from Olympic athletes arguing Bush's Iraq policy has fueled anti-American sentiment around the world -- sentiment they said they felt in Athens.

"It was so saddening to me to see when we were over in Greece this year that Americans are hated in the world, there's so much anti-Americanism going on," said Julie Foudy (search), captain of the U.S. women's soccer team. Foudy is campaigning with Kerry, and her comments were distributed to reporters by Kerry's campaign.

"I feel that a lot of that has been driven by Bush's policies and the way he's dealt with world leaders and his isolationist principles," Foudy said, contending that Bush had failed in "getting the support of the rest of the world" before invading Iraq.