About the Author: Alexander McLaren is a Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China.
Just hours before the opening ceremony, President Bush had a meeting with the entire U.S. Olympic team, and we were there. As you might expect, anything involving the President of the United States has to be planned in advance. There are security concerns, scheduling issues and just practical issues like where will he enter and where the cars in his motorcade can park. This was even more complicated than a "normal" Presidential visit because his father, the former President, his daughter Barbara, the U.S. Ambassador to China and many other VIPs were coming as well. Plus it was on the Olympic Green just before the opening ceremony. So we had meetings, and we drew maps and planned everything to the last detail.
And of course it was all in vain.
I watched the more than 500 young athletes file into the Olympic Fencing Hall wearing their team blazers and caps. It was an incredible sight. Everyone was smiling; they knew that this was one of the most important days in their lives.
The President arrived to cheers from the athletes and gave a rousing speech calling on the team to win as many gold medals as they could and to give it all they got.
After he spoke the plan was to assemble everyone by team in a big semi-circle. The President would walk up to each team, take one photo and move on. But once the President got moving, he was shaking hands and chatting with each athlete. They were throwing their arms around the Commander-in-Chief, and everyone had their own camera for a one-on-one shot. These young people weren't going to stand still and pose, and the President didn't want them to!
So instead we brought the teams to the President, giving each of them time to chat and joke around while cameras clicked and TV crews filmed. We'd give each team a few minutes and then politely ask them to move on to give the next team a chance.
In the case of the boxers and weightlifters, we asked VERY POLITELY.
Meanwhile former President George H.W. Bush, the first daughter Barbara, U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt, Jr., and other VIPs mingled with the athletes giving them all a chance to get to know each other. The President even took a minute to meet with the Chinese volunteers and staff who had worked so hard to make this possible.
The great thing is, although the plan didn't work, the event was wonderful. Everyone got time with the President, the team was happy and most importantly the President was thrilled to spend so much time with our Olympians.
It's always good to see that sometimes things do work out fine.