Michelle Obama arrives in Britain for start of two-day Olympic visit


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The Independent Online

Michelle Obama arrived in Britain today for the start of a two-day visit designed to showcase the best of Team USA – and perhaps steal a little thunder from her husband's gaffe prone presidential rival Mitt Romney.

The First Lady has taken on an increasingly public role in the run up to this November's elections and is leading America's delegation to the Games without her husband.

Her packed itinerary today included visiting Team USA at their Docklands training camp, hosting a party for 1,000 children in the gardens of the US ambassador's residence and dinner at Buckingham Palace before heading to Stratford for tonight's opening ceremony.

Tomorrow she will meet with Samantha Cameron and watch US athletes compete before flying back to Washington on Sunday.

In contrast to Mr Romney, who began his London visit with a somewhat ill-judged television interview questioning London's ability to host the Olympics, Mrs Obama kicked off with a series of slick choreographed events designed to publicise her campaign against childhood obesity and whip up enthusiasm for the Games.

For the waiting press core it was clear that the Obama show had truly come to town. Heavily armed police officers guarded the sprawling residence whilst inside twitchy Secret Service agents communicated through their earpieces.

White House staff were on hand to advise journalists on the dos and don't of covering the First Lady. “Don't run,” advised one. “The Secret Service don't like running.”

But when she finally appeared, accompanied by an enormous marching band from Florida, the atmosphere turned carnival. In keeping with the Olympic spirit, Mrs Obama decided ditched her political attire in favour of a sporty blue and white tracksuit as she jogged towards a crowd of screaming American and British children in the garden of the US ambassador's Regents Park residence.

Since her husband assumed office in 2008, Mrs Obama has made it her personal cause to try and turn around America's explosion in childhood obesity. And to drill the message home the embassy had drummed up a host of sporting celebrities including David Beckham and former US Olympic champions such as Carl Lewis, Apolo Ohno and Teresa Edwards.

“These are men and women who've won dozens of medals and broken countless records,” she said, referring to the athletes standing behind her. “They have made us all so proud. But let's not forget, these folks weren't born Olympians right. In fact many of them started out just like you. Just playing, playing in a team at school or practising at their local gym, or a rink or a pool. What they did do is that they stuck with it, even when things got hard they stuck with it.”

Mrs Obama used Apolo Ohno as an example. When the speed skater first tried out for the Olympic team in 1998, she said, he came in last. “They were like no thank you Apolo,” she joked. “But he didn't give up, he just  trained a little harder and he went on to win more gold medals than any other American winter Olympic athlete in history.”

Compared to Mr Romney's arrival in Britain, it was a flawless start – something that was not lost on nine times gold medal winner Carl Lewis.

“Every Olympics is ready,” he said when asked by The Independent whether he thought the Republican presidential candidate had a point. “I don't care whatever he [Romney] said. I swear, sometimes I think some Americans shouldn't leave the country. Are you kidding me, stay home if you don't know what to say.”

Asked what the thousands of athletes should be do as they take part in the opening ceremony he said: “Forget about the games and just enjoy the ceremony. Tomorrow is when it all starts. Today they should enjoy it, meet people from other countries. Then tomorrow act like it's a normal competition.”

What she wore: The Verdict

By Rebecca Gonsalves

It seems that patriotic dressing is a fashion disaster that can happen to the best of them as Michelle Obama, who rarely puts a foot wrong appeared in east London in a jacket that looked like it was borrowed from a barbershop quartet.

The panelled patchwork design of an otherwise bog standard white jacket caused her to blend into an unfortunately placed stars and stripes flag in the background. Without the candy cane jacket the ensemble of coral bell shaped top and black trousers was unremarkable for a woman who has won style points for patronising a savvy selection of American designer and high street names from Jason Wu to J Crew.