DALLAS — Men with earpieces and dark suits, two metal detectors and a bomb-sniffing dog whose wet nose dribbled on the marble floor stood outside the Hilton Anatoles Grand Ballroom on Monday.
Air conditioning blasted inside the cave-like ballroom. Twenty-eight Olympians fidgeted on stage, wearing red, white and blue T-shirts, polos and jackets as they were positioned by a press officer.
They faced 40 television cameras, hundreds of media members and a bundle of nerves named Natalie Coughlin at the microphone. The 11-time Olympic medalist swimmer was no stranger to the spotlight she stood under. But introducing Obama made Coughlin stumble over her words.
“I am so nervous right now,” she blurted into the microphone.
Then Obama, who will lead the U.S. presidential delegation to London for the opening ceremonies on July 27, strode onto the stage.
Obama visited the second day of the three-day conference of over 100 Olympic hopefuls to promote her “Let’s Play!” program that combats childhood obesity. Ten governing bodies for sports, including the U.S. Olympic Committee committed to offering beginner athletic programs to 1.7 million children in 2012.
Obama recalled growing up enthralled by the exploits of Olympians such as Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton on television.
“You can tell when you first meet these folks within one meeting,” Obama said, “there’s a special something there.”
Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, raised in Baltimore, was singled out by Obama for her determination to stay active despite both legs being amputated when she was 18 months old.
Around eight minutes and a flurry of handshakes (and one hug to sprinter Allyson Felix) later, the first lady was gone. Smiles and cellphone photos followed her wake.
“Just because you’re missing a leg or an arm doesn’t mean you should feel weird,” Long said.
Soaring music — horns and drums — thumped in the ballroom. Outside, the metal detectors came down. The bomb-sniffing dog’s crate appeared.
The interviews and photo shoots that comprise the summit prepared to resume. And Gabrielle Douglas, a tiny gymnast from Virginia Beach who stood on the stage, looked stunned.
“I didn’t think she was that tall,” the 5-foot Douglas said of Obama.
“All of it was so shocking.”
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