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  Olympians Greet D.C. Fans

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 1994; Page D1

Whether it's February in Lillehammer, Norway, or April in Washington, D.C., strange things seem to happen to the U.S. Olympic team.

About 150 members of the 1994 Winter Olympic team went to the White House yesterday. Most took buses. But some figure skaters, including Nancy Kerrigan and Brian Boitano, thought they were stranded at the team hotel and nearly accepted a ride from reporters before realizing two limos were waiting to whisk them to see the president.

Meanwhile, another skater, Scott Davis, overslept in Orlando, Fla., where the Olympic skating tour began Monday, and missed the flight the other skaters took to Washington yesterday morning.

So he took another flight and got in very late to the White House, arriving just in time to sneak into the back row of the bleachers to watch the short East Room ceremony with President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

And, when it was all over, when the buses had pulled away, skier Picabo Street was still wandering the grounds, searching for a ride. Left behind, she was last seen being escorted to the front gate to catch a cab.

But the most amazing part of all was that Tonya Harding wasn't even around to get the blame.

All the Olympians were invited except for Harding, who recently pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the Jan. 6 attack on Kerrigan at the U.S. Olympic trials.

And they all came, the rich, the famous, the unknown. They each had a picture taken with Clinton, the first lady and Gore at the White House and later were honored at a black tie dinner at the Washington Hilton. They also showered gifts on Clinton: a team jacket, an autographed T-shirt, a Stetson hat, even a luge.

Earlier, more than 40 members of the Olympic and Paralympic teams visited 20 area public schools as part of the "Champions in Life" outreach program. The athletes spoke about the benefits of pursuing education, staying drug-free, and setting goals.

Five-time Olympic speed skating gold medalist Bonnie Blair and 1994 downhill skiing gold medalist Tommy Moe were among the athletes who spoke at Lincoln Middle School in the District. Before approximately 750 students and faculty members streamers and banners in the school auditorium, the Olympians took turns at the microphone recounting the steps taken en route to their achievements.

During a question-and-answer period, one student asked Moe — who was kicked off his high school ski team at age 15 for marijuana use — how he felt about drugs. Moe responded by saying, "It's hard to say no, but there are a lot of other possibilities to divert your energy into — music, sports, or something else," adding that "if you get in trouble once or twice, don't give up — because there's always a second or third opportunity out there."

"With all the times he {Moe} failed, he still came back to win the gold," said Lincoln seventh-grade honor student Steven Barksdale. "If I fail, I know I can always come back and try again. In school my grades dropped to D's and C's in the third grade, but the next year I came back to make the honor roll."

Reacting enthusiastically to all the athletes, the students were particularly loud in their responses to Blair, Moe and Scott Stoll, a member of the four-man USA II bobsled team, who suggested students chart their goals on index cards so "you can wake up every morning, look at it, and ask yourself, 'What am I going to do today to help me achieve that goal?' " Lincoln Principal Roberto Butler said the school would soon be coming up with a "goal" of its own to be posted on every classroom door.

"As long as you love what you do, it's going to make it that much easier to get out there every day and do it," said Blair. "If something is going wrong for me, I try to ask myself, 'What is going right?' If you all focus on doing that, hopefully tomorrow the thing you're having problems with will be better."

Later at the White House, Clinton, calling himself "just another American cheering on the team," praised the Olympians for visiting area schools and gushed over their accomplishments.

"I may have endangered national security because I stayed up every night watching," he said. "I saw every last event, every last interview and heard the national anthem every time it was played."

But Hillary Clinton might have said the happiest words when she welcomed the Olympians by saying, "How pleased I am we're not freezing to death."

She led the official delegation to Norway, where temperatures hovered near zero degrees.

Interestingly, the four millionaires in the delegation were bunched close together. Speed skater Dan Jansen, Blair, Kerrigan and Boitano stood on risers near one another. Although they were at the opposite end of the room from the Clintons and Gore, most cameras were focused not on the politicians, but on them.

Special correspondents Michael Sandler, Andrea T. Williams and Saul Wisnia contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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