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US Olympic Athletes Mindful of International Attention at Beijing Games

As Beijing prepares to host hundreds of thousands of people for the Olympic Games in August, many athletes in the United States are mindful of the issues that have sparked recent protests. While some have expressed their intention to use the games as a platform to draw attention to the genocide in Darfur, or China's human rights record, others feel politics should be removed from the Olympic Games. VOA's Kane Farabaugh has more from Chicago, where some American athletes recently met with the media to discuss the upcoming games.

It is early in the practice cycle for the U.S. Women's Basketball Team. It still needs to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, and leading the team is Coach Anne Donovan.

In 1980, Donovan was a young athlete hoping to compete in the Olympics when President Jimmy Carter made the decision to boycott the Moscow Games in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

"I don't know many athletes who saw it as a patriotic gesture at all. I think it was really seen by many of us as meddling,” Donovan said.

Donovan eventually competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where she won a gold medal. As she prepares her team for the qualification rounds, she is mindful of the so-called meddling in 1980 that prevented her from competing.

"There are very important issues out there about these Olympics, no doubt, and issues I feel strongly about. But Olympic Games are about peace, and it's about setting aside all the politics and making sure that we can make this about the competition of the athletes,” she added.

At the United States Olympic Committee's media summit in Chicago, the question about how to draw attention to certain issues, such as Darfur and Tibet, was a question few athletes could avoid.

Soccer star Abby Wambach says, "I don't think that everyone needs to be an activist. I don't think that everyone has to have an opinion."

Wabach says achievement in the Olympics is the best way for athletes to send a message. “We can really make change by standing up on that gold medal podium and having that gold medal wrapped around your neck and hopefully inspiring others to be better," she said.

Six-time gold medalist Michael Phelps had no opinion on a boycott, and he said he is so focused on training that he has little time to be distracted.

Phelps says. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm just getting myself as excited and as ready as I can for the Olympic trials and the Olympic games."

Still, some athletes are making a point of combining sports and politics.

Team Darfur is an organization of athletes, including several from different U.S. teams, that hopes to use the Olympics as a platform to draw attention to the suffering in Darfur.