American Olympians Get White House Send-Off

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21 July 2008

Members of America's Summer Olympic team are preparing to head to Chinaafter a formal send-off at the White House. VOA's Paula Wolfsonreports, President Bush

says he is looking forward to joining them inBeijing.

About two dozen members of Team USA went to the White House.

Theyrepresented all the athletes at a ceremony in the Rose Garden, wherePresident Bush praised their accomplishments and their character.

"InBeijing, you will also represent our nation's character," the presidentnoted. "As ambassadors of goodwill, you will be humble in victory andgracious in defeat. And by showing respect for your competitors, youwill demonstrate America's respect for the world."

About 600U.S. athletes will compete in 30 different sports at the Games -fromswimming to fencing, and from judo to gymnastics. The president notedthey represent the diversity of America - a mix of races, ethnicbackgrounds and ages.

"Some of you are young, the youngestteammate is a 15-year-old diver, and some of you are older. There is a58-year-old sailor, which gives this 62-year-old mountain biker hopethat you may need me in Beijing," the president joked.

But thepresident's role in Beijing is more likely to be that of a sports fanand cheerleader-in-chief. He has said on numerous occasions that he isgoing to Beijing to support America's athletes and see some greatcompetition.

And while his decision to attend the openingceremonies has proven controversial, the president made clear in theRose Garden that he is excited about the prospect of seeing the Gamesin person.

"Laura and I look forward to joining you for theOlympics," he said. "I am fired up to go. I cannot wait tosalute our athletes, and I cannot wait to share in the joy of yourtriumphs. And so today we send you off with congratulations on thesuccess you have already achieved, and on the accomplishments we knowwill be yours in Beijing."

Critics have said the presidentshould not attend the opening ceremonies because of the Chinesegovernment's human rights record and its policies regarding Tibet andDarfur.

But members of the Olympic team who came to the WhiteHouse say they cannot wait to share the experience of being at theOlympics with the president.

Kerri Walsh - a defending goldmedalist in beach volleyball - says it is important to keep the truemeaning of the Olympics in mind.

"What is amazing about theOlympic is it is a sporting event and not a political event," Walshsaid. "It is when the world can come together at a peaceful event. And it is an honor that President Bush will be attending the games andwill be at the opening ceremonies to represent our country."

The Summer Olympics open August 8 in Beijing. 

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