The White House said it was long-standing practice because taking individual photos with hundreds of people would not be practical and there are official photographers at such events.
But the request to the Olympians drew attention because it came after the selfie Boston Red Sox baseball star David “Big Papi” Ortiz took with the president during his team’s visit to the White House.
Many criticised that snapshot as a marketing ploy after Samsung, the maker of Ortiz’s phone, used the picture in an advert. Ortiz denied taking the picture as part of a promotion deal.
“I was a little bummed,” said Nick Goepper, a bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing. “I thought about trying to sneak one, but they were pretty adamant about it. I’m sure if they would have allowed it, there’d be 150 people with selfies with the president right now.”
The Olympians were visiting the White House after competing in Sochi, Russia, in February. The president typically invites high-profile sports teams and athletes to Washington to congratulate them on their performances.
The White House confirmed that the athletes were asked not to take their own photos with Mr Obama. It said that in the interest of efficiency, it has been practice for years for an official White House photographer to take pictures for large groups instead. It insisted there was no outright ban of selfies.
“There’s no discussion of a ban,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Ortiz’s selfie shows the sunglass-clad slugger grinning while standing next to the president and holding up a uniform with “Obama” across the back. The White House was not amused. The White House objects any time the president’s image is used for commercial purposes.